My husband and I didn’t read any reviews before going to see The Big Wedding. We chose it because of the cast: accomplished actors like Robert De Niro, Diane Keaton, Susan Sarandon, and Robin Williams. With a cast like that, how could it be bad?
Well, it could.
Not that it was terrible, because we did enjoy it. There were a lot of funny moments, mostly because of the sometimes witty dialogue. Diane Keaton and Susan Sarandon have great comic timing, and Robert De Niro’s isn’t bad either. Robin Williams, playing a priest, was not at his best.
For perhaps the first 15 minutes of the film, I was chuckling so much that I was thinking this might turn into the next Four Weddings and a Funeral. But then it went wrong.
When you watch a film, you necessarily suspend your disbelief. You accept, if it’s science fiction, for example, that the world you are looking at is the future, and spaceships can travel at warp speed, and so on.
You do the same with films that are set in the here and now: you accept the premises as presented.
So that’s what I did. I accepted that Don (De Niro) and Ellie (Keaton) are divorced, and that Don is now living with his girlfriend, Bebe (Sarandon). I accepted that they have two children and an adopted son, Alejandro (Ben Barnes), who is about to get married to his childhood love, Missy (Amanda Seyfried).
I accepted that Alejandro’s biological mother from Colombia, named Madonna (Patricia Rae), is invited to the wedding. I accepted, because Madonna is an extremely observant Catholic, that Don and Ellie have to pretend to still be married to avoid offending her. Madonna’s daughter, Nuria (Ana Avora), has come along with her, and – surprise, surprise – she’s gorgeous.
I even accepted Ellie and Don’s son, Jared (played by Topher Grace). He is in his 30’s, gorgeous and a medical doctor, yet remains a virgin because he is waiting to find The One. Seems about as likely as a pig in purple polka-dotted underpants trotting through the New York City subway system, but I accepted. And, given the combination of the gorgeous Colombian woman, Nuria, and the gorgeous virgin doctor, Jared, you can already predict what happens.
My disbelief was satisfactorily suspended until the scene that led it to crash to the ground in a million splintery shards.
Nuria and Jared are chatting, getting to know each other, sitting on a lakeside dock outside the family home. They’re flirting a bit, and, given what we already know is going to happen, we viewers enjoy watching. Nuria says she wants to go for a swim. Jared gets up and walks away, saying that he’ll get her one of his sister’s bathing suits.
Now here comes the most blatant male-wish-fulfillment scene I’ve seen in a long time. This young Colombian woman, fresh off the plane, having just met this man for the first time, strips down naked, stands with her back to the camera looking coquettishly at Jared over her naked shoulder – her body turned just enough so we get to see not only her backside, but also a glimpse of her breasts – and dives gracefully into the lake.
And Jared isn’t the only one there. There’s at least one more person in the scene: an unnamed worker, a gardener or something. He and Jared stare, mouths agape, at the beautiful, naked Nuria.
Nuria swims back to the dock, looks up at Jared and says something like “And we will make love later?”
Tell me anyone would do this? With a complete stranger. With other strangers watching. Give me a break!
And then, in the next scene, the whole family sits down to dinner – the rehearsal dinner for the wedding – and Nuria proceeds to give Jared a hand job under the table. Who would do that? With their whole family right there? With someone she’s just met that day? Give me a break!
I assume these male-wish-fulfillment scenes are Justin Zackham’s fault. He’s listed as the director and writer of the screenplay, though it is apparently based on a French film that I haven’t seen, so I can’t say if that scene was already there or if Zackham added it.
It’s easy to say that the film got better from there on: it did. Nothing could beat that level of unbelievability. But the suspension of disbelief was threatened a few more times, particularly in terms of the characters’ astonishing ability to forgive infidelities in absolutely record time.
And the rest of the film was, of course, predictable: it was clear from the first few scenes who was going to end up with whom. But the dialogue was still witty from time to time, so we kept chuckling right to the end.
It’s a shame that older actors – especially women like Keaton and Sarandon – have to accept parts in junky movies because there are so few roles for people their age. The older actors in this film are what save it from total ruin. That, combined with some clever dialogue, that the older actors delivered well, made it enjoyable.
What made it unforgettable was that swimming scene, as the perfect example of what not to do in a film.