The Big Wedding Directed by: Justin Zackham Cast: Robert De Niro, Diane Keaton, Susan Sarandon, Katherine Heigl, Topher Grace, Amanda Seyfried, Robin Williams, Ben Barnes, Patricia Rae Running Time: 1 hr 30 mins Rating: R Release Date: April 26, 2013
PLOT: A former married couple (De Niro and Keaton) must pretend they are still together to impress their adopted son's (Barnes) biological mother (Rae) when she comes into town for his wedding.
WHO'S IT FOR? Look at the names featured in this movie. "My, what a guest list!" The problem with this roster is that liking these actors is actually not a good reason to slap down dinero for De Niro et al. If you have affection for the likes of De Niro, Keaton, and Sarandon, this will be a painful experience (and some people do like movie pain). So, The Big Wedding: sadists only.
EXPECTATIONS: The more people laughing on a poster, the less funny it is probably going to be. I didn't write that rule, other crappy movies that smelled like this one did.
Robert De Niro as Don: This is another statement from the hardworking De Niro that he doesn't care if you like his wackier endeavors or not. He is fine becoming this movie's instant rimshot punchline to many scenes, always getting in the final word during moments that don't have a good joke to stand on. Here, as the leading male figure in the film caught between his ex-wife, his girlfriend, and his three children, De Niro is a crass "douchebag" who keeps screwing everything up. In such a position, this character's charisma to the audience relies first and foremost on being played by De Niro — were it anybody else, this character would be even more unlikable than he already is. Score: 3
Diane Keaton as Ellie: Keaton remains to be a likable on-screen presence, but her potential for humor is scantly recognized here. When working opposite Sarandon and De Niro, she is the straight woman, a position that doesn't seem to fit her too well. Keaton's presence is overshadowed by much of the nuttiness that is going on around her, even though such events directly involve her character. Score: 3
Susan Sarandon as Bebe: Running a bakery service oddly named "Bebe's Yum Yums" (hide the lemons), Sarandon is playing "the other woman" in this story, with only her kooky characteristics keeping her character afloat from complete nothingness. Sarandon pops in and out of the story to express angst from being moved out of the family picture because of the plot's center scheme, and with no effect. Her bitter moments are as comically ineffective as her softer moments. Here is a character that is most memorable for having two pugs. Score: 3
Rest of Cast: Overall, with maybe the exception of Seyfried, The Big Wedding is a cast made up of either walking classics like De Niro, Sarandon, Keaton, or Williams, or those who have failed to leave a significant impact as distinct Hollywood personalities, like Heigl and Grace. For Williams, this is like Steve Carell's appearance in the not-funny Hope Springs, in which the actors play relatively serious characters with only brief supporting screentime. As for Heigl and Grace, the two are working with some of the year's worst subplots; she has a pregnancy story that is obvious from her first shot (introduced with the word "maternity ward" over her head), and he is a wholly unsympathetic doctor almost 30-year-old who still hasn't had sex because he's waiting for love. And for some reason, he prominently wears an unfunny t-shirt that says, "Owls are A**holes." The couple actually being married in the movie, Barnes and Seyfried, have a few tinges of chemistry, but they aren't given anything to work with. Instead, they are serviceable as the most sane people of the bunch. The presence of Rae as Barne's biological mother in this comedy makes for many moments that already kill the weak pacing, in which all the jokes involve the awkwardness of language barriers. Her character is at best a symbol of the contrivances that are rampant in The Big Wedding. Score: 3
TALKING: Like G.I. Joe: Retaliation before it, this movie makes its biggest bid for wackiness awareness through its dialogue, which includes De Niro saying made-up phrase "poon job" before audience members have even settled into their chairs. Throughout its script Big Wedding uses crass on top of crass words and statements which bait dissenters to misunderstand the script's desired immaturity. The problem here is that such language isn't used with wit, and instead comes off like a desperate bid, a la Adam Sandler's last R-rated comedy That's My Boy. As non-PC as these characters may be, having someone bark to another person "Go f**k a goat!" still doesn't seem natural to their already warped personalities. Score: 3
SIGHTS: For a movie with its overall color palette based on the ironic purity of its title event, The Big Wedding has a very flavorless look to it. The crispness of digital cinematography highlights the blandness constantly found in the movie's vanilla look, in which costume design didn't seem to be coordinated with interior production design; whites on whites on whites, etc. When De Niro dons a hot pink blazer sometime into the movie, it doesn't just stand out for its attempted comedic relevancy, but also because it's the only bit of color this movie has. Also, the last shot of this movie is very strange, showing the water of the pond next to their house. I assume that's where the other children are buried? Score: 4
SOUNDS: The score for Big Wedding proves to be one of its few non-obnoxious elements. Harps and acoustic guitars pick through various moments without being too overbearing, the film's music resisting the temptation to follow the rest of this story to the gates of hell. Score: 5
BEST SCENE: The Big Wedding snuck up and got me with its insanity when Sarandon boxed De Niro's ears with her thighs while Keaton tried to scramble away from them. That was five minutes into the movie. There were no more laughs after.
ENDING: Everyone is vindicated for their flaws. The nuttiness comes full circle and every backstab seems acceptable when a side character reveals herself to be a lesbian.
QUESTIONS: Is the French original movie any better? What are the chances this script threw in more cuss words and sexuality to unsuccessfully seem "mature"?
REWATCHABILITY: I made the mistake of not seeing this movie in the same manner for which it was brought to miserable life, heavily toasted. A second viewing, boosted by booze or not, feels more likely to put me to sleep more than direct me towards any acceptable, manageable levity within the material.
This ensemble comedy is more written and directed by a casting director than an actual writer/director. As in, the R-rated humor of Big Wedding relies greatly on what its audience thinks of its casting, with script jokes coming from the shock of hearing De Niro say this wacky thing, or Heigl doing this gross thing, etc. These are not so much performances but embodiments, with this barely watchable script boosted slightly by at least being performed by actors who still have charisma to cling to, no matter how many Big Wedding-esque disasters they've previously found themselves in.
The jokes in Big Wedding are not so much set up as they are hardly ever spruced up. Writer/director Justin Zackham's script is a-OK with predictable punchlines and contrived set-ups. When De Niro tries to stand up on a diving board, he plays that out over two scenes with an expected conclusion. When biological mother Rae enters the movie, the movie's main conflict focuses around a singular forced sense of anxiety involving approval across cultures, and whether De Niro and his rambunctious American family can keep their composure, before their special guest is insulted.
Even the film's family portrait is stuck as a lazy representation of a new type of family, in which one of the children is adopted, a surrogate mother is found in the husband's mistress girlfriend who is his ex-wife's former best friend, and everyone is open with their sexual business. Thus, the family is established in the beginning as already offbeat, and the script doesn't evolve them anywhere beyond that point. We simply watch these odd characters have chemistry between each other that feels awkward for us, but normal for them. That's this movie's sense of comedy. That being said, this movie features one of those weddings where no extras attending the title event even look like they belong there.
Managing a lot of characters and holding up their arcs is a lot of work for a storyteller, and Zackham is clearly not interested in the task. Watching such a movie only leaves one with more anticipation for the new episodes of "Arrested Development," a story about an already dysfunctional family with cleverness to be made in their unity. In comparison to that show, and many other comedies and/or weddings, Big Wedding is a near-insulting farce on the hard work required to make even a decent comedy.
FINAL SCORE: 3/10