There is something magical about the start of “After the Wedding,” the new movie from writer-director Bart Freundlich (and based on the movie “Efter Bryllupet”). This is a movie with adults who happen to find themselves in a difficult situation, but who are all good people. It is a start without villains, just humans trying to make it work.
But then… it changes.
All of the sudden there are secrets and lies and anger. It is left to the audience to decide whether the change is one simply borne of them not fully understanding the characters initially or the movie pulling a bait-and-switch.
The question is not an easy one to answer, but it is a wholly essential one and the way that question is answered changes the movies from something that just has amazing performances and an interesting story to something far better. This reviewer, for one, doesn’t buy the twists of character and story in “After the Wedding.” The story takes the characters from terribly sympathetic to incredibly unlikable, giving one problem after another to the various individuals.
At some point in the goings-on it feels as though Freundlich needs to keep manufacturing obstacles for the characters because they are too obviously decent for the actions they’re taking. Repeatedly, the tension from the obstacles peters out prematurely because the characters themselves are too good to be throwing up these issues.
What keeps the entire affair afloat is the fact that it’s led by Julianne Moore, Michelle Williams, and Billy Crudup. All three of the actors are regularly able to plumb emotional depths in their work, and it is no different here; the pathos is palpable, but it doesn’t help with the fact that the obstacles become silly.
A movie that offers twist after twist, this is again a film where it is not easy to discuss the plot in more than the broadest strokes. It isn’t that the twists are particularly deft, but spoiler culture being what spoiler culture is, I will do my best to avoid them.
Most easily explained, the film is about Isabel (Williams), travelling from India, where she runs an orphanage, back to the United States in order to secure a two million dollar grant from Theresa (Moore). Upon meeting Theresa, Isabel is invited to Theresa’s daughter’s wedding that weekend. Isabel attends the event, hosted by Theresa and her husband, Oscar (Crudup), meets their daughter, Grace (Abby Quinn), and it all falls apart at some later point.
Crucially, and here’s where the bait-and-switch really comes into play, it doesn’t fall apart immediately after the wedding. Even at that moment, even when things initially look distressing post wedding, the audience still sees a Theresa and Oscar who are very much in love and very much open and honest with each other. It is only later that the lies start to mount, that they are retroactively placed into the movie, and the characters’ worlds turn to shambles.
We feel for them throughout, the cast makes sure of this, but as the obstacles mount and people change, they cease to be humans and turn into sadness delivery vessels – empty husks through which “After the Wedding” can pour out overwhelming helpings of upset.
There is no doubt artistry in this affair. It takes wonderful actors to keep the audience invested. It takes someone capable at the reins to keep it from turning into farce. But nothing can stop the turn from a tale of real people doing their best to a woe-is-they bit of melodrama.
“After the Wedding” is worth seeing for its performances alone, but make no mistake, as the problems expand for the characters, they do for the film itself as well. Take it all with more than a grain of salt.
photo credit: Sony Pictures Classics