The Big Wedding: Film Review
Robert De Niro, Susan Sarandon, Diane Keaton, Robin Williams, Katherine Heigl and Amanda Seyfried lead a star-studded cast in "Bucket List" writer Justin Zackham's directorial debut.
A game cast and lots of gamey R-rated shenanigans can't compensate for the silly comic contrivances that dominate The Big Wedding. The fact that the three actors who do most of the fooling around — Robert De Niro, Diane Keaton and Susan Sarandon — have a combined age of 202 pegs this as a sex romp for the Viagra crowd, which will probably translate into moderate theatrical returns followed by sustained popularity on home screens, where it can be enjoyed in whatever way desired in the privacy of the boudoir.
The fact that this directorial debut by Justin Zackham (writer of The Bucket List) is going places not visited by such previous mature-oriented sexcapades as It's Complicated and Town & Country is announced at the outset, when Keaton's Ellie walks in on ex-husband Don (De Niro) just as he's about to have current live-in flame Bebe (Sarandon) for breakfast on the kitchen counter. Ellie has returned to the lavish Connecticut estate to attend the wedding of the son she and Don adopted together, Alejandro (Ben Barnes), to the daughter, Missy (Amanda Seyfried), of longtime local friends Muffin (Christine Ebersole) and Barry (David Rasche).
Massive complications are core architectural parts of any good farce, but the film's problems begin with how unconvincing and fundamentally annoying the central premise is. In his adaptation of the 2006 French farce Mon frere se marie, Zackham makes Alejandro's Colombian birth mother out to be a woman of such rigid Catholic rectitude that assorted fictions must be concocted so as not to offend her. First, her son's bride must be a church-certified virgin. What's more, it cannot be admitted that Don and Ellie have divorced, which forces Bebe out of Don's bed and Ellie back in for the weekend. On top of that, the couple's real son Jared (Topher Grace), at 29 actually still is a virgin and intends to remain so until he finds the right woman to love.
All these strained inventions dig the film into a deep hole from which it struggles to emerge for its blessedly tight 90-minute running time. Lightening the load of the religious angle is a Catholic priest (Robin Williams in uncloying fleet-footed form) whose nimble way of reconciling doctrine with the realities of contemporary life proves disarming. However, when Madonna (Patricia Rae), who speaks no English, and her hot daughter Nuria (Ana Ayora) arrive from South America, it's almost as if the Pope himself is present, as the others bow and scrape and in all ways try to maintain the charade of propriety.
It's a losing battle, to say the least. Zackham has followed the rules of the form by multiplying the characters' sexual connections, past, present and future, to an almost ludicrous breaking point. These are revealed only with time, but it's safe to say that the old-timers are far more responsible for the bad behavior than the younger generation: Don is a famously randy sculptor for whom morals are a theoretical issue, Ellie has done some high-level sexual questing since the divorce, Bebe is still obviously hot stuff and Muffin ... well, best not to give away her secrets.
As far as the kids go, Alejandro and Missy, the most boring characters around, only have eyes for each other, while a somber and realistic note is struck by Lyla (Katherine Heigl), Don and Ellie's oldest child, who's depressed over being pregnant but just split from her boyfriend. The most frisky twentysomething here is Nuria, who sets her sights on Jared until learning his secret and then playing hard to get.
Cutesy, contrived and formulaic in the early-going when everyone's trying to behave themselves, the brightly lit and designed production becomes rather more bearable when everyone lets their hair down and lets their hormones do the talking. Younger audiences might recoil from the spectacle of actors old enough to be their grandparents jumping each others' bones, even if, unlike Ayora, they don't indulge in any real nudity. But at a certain point, the natural earthy enthusiasm of Sarandon, Keaton and particularly De Niro begins taking over the movie, which provides its own sort of pleasure.
In the original French film, the host couple is Swiss and the mother of the groom is Vietnamese.
Opens: April 26 (Lionsgate/Millennium)
Production: Two Ton Films
Cast: Robert De Niro, Katherine Heigl, Diane Keaton, Amanda Seyfried, Topher Grace, Susan Sarandon, Robin Williams, Ben Barnes, Christine Ebersole, David Rascher, Patricia Rae, Ana Ayora
Director: Justin Zackham
Screenwriter: Justin Zackham, based on Mon frere se marie and based on an original screenplay written by Jean-Stephane Bron and Karine Sudan
Producers: Clay Pecorin, Harry J. Ufland, Justin Zackham, Richard Salvatore, Anthony Katagas
Executive producers: Thierry Spicher, Philippe Martin, Michael Paseornek, Jason Constantine, Eda Kowan, Avi Lerner, Danny Dimbort, Trevor Short, Boaz Davidson, John Thompson
Director of photography: Jonathan Brown
Production designer: Andrew Jackness
Costume designer: Aude Bronson-Howard
Editor: Jonathan Corn
Music: Nathan Barr
R rating, 90 minutes