An Affair to Disremember
By Michael S. Goldberger
Special to the Observer
Remember that time long ago at some cousin’s wedding when your crazy Uncle Herb just stood up, yelled something at your dad and stormed out of the place? Baffling, it was your official indoctrination to family dysfunction. Well, just in case you desire a refresher course in the wacky dynamic, director Justin Zackham provides it in “The Big Wedding.”
Not as funny as you’d like, mixing just OK with not so OK portrayals, and more than a bit awkward in its preachings on tolerance, the film nonetheless possesses a harmless lilt that, were it not for an R-rating, would make it an optimal distraction for airline travel. A steady patter of jabs about family foibles seems appropriate complement to the free nuts.
Essentially the sort of sitcom standard Lucy might have cooked up, but now seasoned with post 1960s sensibilities, it’s a big, clumsy charade, loosely adapted from the French farce, “Mon frère se marie.” In trying to keep up appearances, a divorced couple whose adopted son is about to wed, venture to pull the wool over the biological mom’s eyes.
You see, Ellie, played by Diane Keaton, and Don, acted by Robert De Niro, called it quits several years back. And if she knew, this major sin wouldn’t sit very well with birth mom Madonna (Patricia Rae), a devout Catholic in from Colombia to witness baby boy Alejandro’s (Ben Barnes) nuptials to Missy (Amanda Seyfried). It’s the old tangled web.
To convolute it a bit more whilst trying to fill a script bereft of any fascinating substance, Ellie and Don’s two natural kids, each with their own crisis in progress, pick this family occasion to act out their predicaments. Lyla (Katherine Heigl) has broken off with hubby, and Jared (Topher Grace), although a doctor and all grown up, has never, well, you know.
While we’re supposed to titter about that little developmental anomaly, we’re much more concerned with how Ellie and Don are going to explain Bebe’s role in the scenario. Psst! Don’t tell Madonna, but Bebe, a well-heeled caterer played by Susan Sarandon, has been Don’s live-in paramour ever since she stole him from her best friend…Ellie. Gasp!
Oh, we are so cosmopolitan and mature…so much so that it starts to nag at us. However, more self-conscious than the film’s striving to abash via its très moderne folkways and mores is the pretentious attempt to assure that liberalized behavior doesn’t rule out abiding love, whether romantic or filial. Good thing, too. Everyone here has an issue.
Ironic, however, just as in vino veritas and in jest there is truth, perhaps in sophomoric movie attempts at popular sociology the opposite of the intended thesis is proved. If true, “The Big Wedding” makes an astute observation or two despite itself, the theory being, human emotion, like the candy bar, has been shrunk down both in size and expectation.
Here it is in living color, life watered down, from best friendships, to marriage, to parent-child relationships. Something’s being reflected here. Whether it’s art imitating life or vice versa, this comedy, circa 2013, offers a blurry snapshot of our culture, a media-blitzed civilization that expects to solve its problems in 30, 60 and 90 minute segments.
All of which points to my own dysfunction. Not that I’m necessarily a glass half-full sort of hairpin or believe that there’s some good in everything. Still, the thought that “The Big Wedding” might disclose, intentional or not, an addendum to our current anthropology, captured my curiosity. It wouldn’t behoove to admit a soap opera interest.
Of course, such intellectualization, especially about a film so inconsequential, may be akin to the dipsomaniac claiming to be a wine aficionado. Nevertheless, once “The Big Wedding’s” ball of wax starts accruing, the characters aren’t so two-dimensional so as to preclude my notice. Diluted or not, their problems are recognizable and beg for solution.
And, beside the fact that I was going to be in the theater anyway, it’s old home week. There’s De Niro, thespic icon, Teflon protected from any aspersions that might be lodged for taking the easy money. Likewise, Diane Keaton is Annie Hall on Medicare, and Miss Sarandon, once the hot ingénue in “Atlantic City” (1980), is someone’s sexy old aunt.
Though possible, I can’t believe any of the younger performers, aside from Miss Heigl, will one day wield such nostalgic sentiment. That aside, kindly note that, while some movies demand immediate viewing and others can wait until they go Netflix, I wouldn’t accept an invite to “The Big Wedding” until it plays the dollar bin at the supermarket.
“The Big Wedding,” rated R, is a Lionsgate release directed by Justin Zackham and stars Robert De Niro, Diane Keaton and Susan Sarandon. Running time: 89 minutes