The Big Wedding (2013) is a slapstick comedy with plenty of slapstick and not very much comedy. The story is that Alejandro (Ben Barns) is marrying Missy (Amanda Seyfried). This brings his family together for the first time in a long time. Alejandro was adopted from Columbia (presumably very young, as he has absolutely no accent whatsoever) by Don (Robert De Niro) and Ellie (Diane Keaton) and was raised with their two biological children Lyla (Katherine Heigl) and Jared (Topher Grace). Don and Ellie divorced because Don took up with Ellie’s best friend Bebe (Susan Sarandon). Ellie is of course coming back for her adoptive son’s wedding, but so is his Columbian birth mother Madonna (Patricia Rae), who does not speak a word of English, and his biological sister Nuria (Ana Ayora). Alejandro is concerned about his mother finding out that Don and Ellie are divorced because she is Catholic and something that Father Moininghan (Robin Williams, in a thankless, glorified cameo) said about divorce being a big mortal sin. He convinces his parents to pretend they are still married for the weekend so his mother does not think she sent him off to live with heathens.
There is no character development because there are no characters, merely caricatures. Writer/director Justin Zackham wrote a script with all gags, putting people there only to execute them.
With all that going on, there couldn’t possibly be room for more, could there? Oh yes there could be. Bebe is angry that Don and Ellie are going to pretend to be married because she was a big part in Al’s life too and storms off. Lyla and her husband are newly separated and he isn’t calling her (though she is reminded by her mother that she left him) and Jared, an ER doctor, is 29 and still a virgin because he wanted to wait for love…and of course all the nurses want to deflower him. He falls for Nuria at first sight and of course then his vow of waiting for love falls by the wayside (he said himself that his resolve was wavering because he made the vow at 15 and it sounded like a good idea at the time, but now he continues it because he doesn’t want those years to have been ‘wasted for nothing’). Oh, and Missy’s parents, Barry (David Rasche) and Muffin (Christine Ebersole) are upper-class racists that are terrified of brown grandchildren, but pretend to support the marriage anyway for reasons not ever explained.
So with all that in the mix, something’s bound to be funny, right? Well, some things are. I won’t say the film is devoid of laughs but they are few and far between. Most of the dialogue is focused on sex acts and that would be fine if the film were set in high school or college when sex is the only thing on many people’s minds. However, the crudest stuff comes out of De Niro’s mouth and no one is exempt from thoroughly inappropriate discussion, predominantly around the dinner table. There are instances where this kind of discourse can be very funny, but here it seems like it’s just there to get shock laughter with none of it being a result of any character development.
In fact, there is no character development. There is no character development because there are no characters, merely caricatures. Writer/director Justin Zackham wrote a script with all gags, putting people there only to execute them. Apparently he based his script for this film off a 2006 French film called Mon Frere se Marie (My Brother is Getting Married), which I have not seen so I do not know if he just took the funny bits and translated them without all that boring character stuff or if he stayed true to the material or if that film was just ‘inspiration’ for this one. Whatever the case, he favors farce and awkwardness over any real human emotion and drains what could have been okay comedic set pieces of any kind of humor. Zackham is also the screenwriter for 2007’s The Bucket List which suffered from the same faults, all jokes and odd situations without any real characters to make anything they did resonate and that tells me Zackham does not understand how comedy works. Something is only funny if the audience cares about what happens to the people in the situation. If the audience doesn’t care about the people, they don’t care about the punchline and that renders the whole joke pointless.
De Niro is a classic jerk who says whatever is on his mind regardless of the company he is in. Sometimes that’s funny and sometimes that’s uncomfortable.
What is good about this film is the cast. It is they who get the laughs out of a laughless script. De Niro is a classic jerk who says whatever is on his mind regardless of the company he is in. Sometimes that’s funny and sometimes that’s uncomfortable. De Niro really isn’t suited for comedy, despite how hard he’s tried over the last 15 years. His delivery is often forced and he never really plays a character, he’s just Robert De Niro making jokes. Sarandon is much the same in that her dramatic work far exceeds her comedic. She’s not bad, really, she just doesn’t seem like she’s trying. Her character is fun and she does what she can with it, but I got the sense that she was just there for the company and not the film. Keaton was splendid as always and it was a joy to see her on the screen again. She has such an effortless charm that is always endearing no matter what she’s in. Grace, Heigl, Barns, and Seyfried are all functional-to-good in their roles and perhaps would have been better if there had been more to their parts.
The other huge fault with the film is that there was no center. Every character was a side character with no one coming to the fore. Sometimes that is fantastic, but usually only when Robert Altman was directing. Without him at the helm, a film like that falls apart because there is no one for the audience to latch on to. All we have here are goofy rich people doing goofy things for no real apparent reason other than to be goofy and that does not make for a cohesive film.
I think this kind of comedy is the most disappointing because at its best it can only be described as mediocre. If the characters had been fleshed out and the importance of Alejandro’s scheme was greater, the film could have been pretty good. Ultimately, though, The Big Wedding is like a dying patient’s heart monitor readout: mostly flat with the occasional blip of a laugh.
[notification type=”star”]49/100 ~ BAD. The Big Wedding is like a dying patient’s heart monitor readout: mostly flat with the occasional blip of a laugh.[/notification]