'Destination Wedding': Film Review

Destination Wedding Still 3 - Publicity - H 2018
Robb Rosenfeld/Warner Bros.
Too heavy on the negativity.

Victor Levin’s comedy stars Winona Ryder and Keanu Reeves as sparring singles determined to resist any tug of attraction.

Only the third film in the past four years to be titled Destination Wedding, Victor Levin’s second feature proudly shuns the rom-com label in hopes of delivering something edgier, a comedic anti-romance, perhaps. Whatever the intent, forcing a couple of middle-aged misanthropes to reluctantly attend the nuptials of their rather reviled friends sets a hopelessly high bar for delivering satisfying entertainment. Although the virtually unstoppable momentum of Crazy Rich Asians obviously could not have been foreseen, audiences doubtless will be turning elsewhere for romantic distraction this weekend.

Levin at least recognizes that attending a wedding without a spouse or a date is bad enough for middle-aged singles, but the prospect of being forced together with others in similar circumstances seems like a good reason to just send regrets and a nice gift instead. So Frank (Keanu Reeves) and Lindsay (Winona Ryder) must have ulterior motives for traveling to his half-brother Keith’s (Ted Dubost) wedding to Anne (DJ Dallenbach), which they share on the brief, bumpy flight from Southern California to the Central Coast. For marketing exec Frank, it’s an opportunity to score badly needed points with his hyper-critical mother, whose multiple, brutal divorces have caused him everlasting emotional trauma. For her part, Lindsay (a lawyer for liberal causes, or the “PC police,” as Frank pointedly observes), claims she still needs closure six years after Keith broke off their engagement.

It doesn’t help that both are among the most negative people anyone could expect to encounter anywhere, making it truly puzzling why anyone would invite such apparent losers to their nuptials. The wedding-day lunch scene at a rustic winery, where Lindsay and Frank lurk behind stacks of wine barrels and try to one-up each other by lobbing stinging insults at the bride and groom, as well as Frank’s reviled parents, makes them seem particularly pathetic.

Even the picturesque wine-country town of Paso Robles can’t do much to improve their moods. Thrown together as obvious outsiders at every event during the interminable weekend, from rehearsal dinner to wedding ceremony, their constant bickering leads to cautious commiseration and eventually to a tentative truce. Whether this combustible pair can evolve beyond winking wisecracks and zinging put-downs probably depends on how far the filmmakers expect to stretch commonly accepted expectations of comedic situations. 

Writer-director Levin, whose last feature was the 2015 romantic drama 5 to 7, here clearly aspires to the level of bold repartee characteristic of classic screwball comedy, a risky strategy at best. Then he imparts a show-offy twist to emphasize the odd-couple angle by giving Frank and Lindsay literally all of the dialogue in the movie. Not one other character has a line, even the bride and groom, but this intense two-hander approach forces Ryder and Reeves to fill nearly every moment of screen time with incessant chatter. While Levin’s writing is sharp and observant, it’s also often overwrought and eventually just plain tiresome.

Far easier on the senses, Levin’s affinity for sun-dappled landscapes, preferably filmed during the golden hour, helps round off some of the movie’s sharper edges. Aside from some beautifully lit vineyard shots, however, the filmmakers practically ignore the abundance of vinous attractions offered by the Paso Robles winery settings.

Often arranged in static master shots, Ryder and Reeves, in their fourth pairing, have the challenge of making these two unlikable emotional refugees at least relatable. Ryder succeeds somewhat the better, if only because Lindsay retains some tattered shred of hope that romance is possible. Reeves delivers committed cynic Frank’s lines with amusingly deadpan stoicism, resigned to the inevitability of disappointment.

Audiences may feel the same sort of letdown as they await signs of romantic rejuvenation, which just as likely could be a prelude to bitter recrimination. Good thing the wedding gift bags contain plenty of soul-soothing chocolate.

Production companies: The Fyzz Facility, Elevated
Distributor: Regatta
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Winona Ryder, Ted Dubost, DJ Dallenbach, Greg Lucey
Director-writer: Victor Levin
Producers: Elizabeth Dell, Robert Jones, Gail Lyon
Executive producers: David Dinerstein, Cassian Elwes, Wayne Marc Godfrey, James Harris, Mark Lane, Jason Resnick, William Sadler, Jean Wyman
Director of photography: Giorgio Scali
Production designer: Callie Andreadis
Costume designer: Justine Seymour
Editor: Matt Maddox
Music: William Ross

Rated R, 86 minutes