The Big Wedding is the latest in a recent string of rom-coms centring around weddings and the dysfunctional families they bring together. Both US and UK film makers have picked up on the fact that this canny device, whilst hardly making way for originality, does allow them to call in an ensemble cast whose faces will draw customers in to see a film which, let’s face it, they have in essence watched multiple times before.
There’s really no point critiquing a rom-com in the same way as movies by celebrated filmmakers such as Steven Spielberg or Sophia Coppola. Rom-com directors (with the possible exception of Richard Curtis) do not set out to make ‘great cinema’, and we do not, or should not, approach films like The Big Wedding expecting to be blown away by character development or innovative visuals.
We turn to rom-coms for escapism and laughter, and The Big Wedding, written and directed by The Bucket List screenwriter Justin Zackham, provides the latter in spades.
Of course the plot is ridiculous; long-divorced Don (Robert di Niro) and Ellie (Diane Keaton) must pretend they are still happily married to prevent offending their adopted son Alejandro’s (Ben Barnes) rigidly Catholic birth mother, who visits from Colombia to see her son marry Missy (Amanda Seyfried). Although Barnes and Seyfried provide a bland central romance, interactions between other characters are far more entertaining.
The opening set-piece sees Ellie arrive at her ex-husband’s house to find it empty. Soon after she nonchalantly lets herself in Don arrives with current partner Bebe (Susan Sarandon), and unaware of Ellie’s presence, they proceed to put the kitchen counters to a non-culinary use. This establishes the low tone and smutty humour scattered throughout.
Katherine Heigl and Topher Grace play Don and Ellie’s children Lyla and Jared, and Heigl’s ribbing of almost-30-year-old virgin Jared makes for a convincing sibling act. Predictable yet still effective humour is supplied by his instantaneous attraction to his adopted brother’s real sister, a supposedly shy young woman who in fact strips naked within her first five minutes of screen time.
Uproarious laughter is also provoked by the caricature-like parents of Seyfried’s Missy, the fake-tanned, ignorant and borderline racist O’Connors. In fact, Seyfried’s best moments are those where she mocks her country-club cut-out parents, who provide as many laughs with their outlandish appearances as their moronic viewpoints.
Although in the past Katherine Heigl has been much criticised for samey turns in various mediocre to terrible films such as 27 Dresses, Life as we Know It and The Ugly Truth, hers is actually a stand-out performance (and plot) among the film’s various strands. Heigl’s Lyla is noticeably sad from the beginning, and her story is handled far more sensitively than potentially serious themes such as cultural divides and sexual identity, which are mainly exploited purely for comic effect. De Niro’s Don may be a womanising bastard, but emotive father-daughter moments with Lyla save him from being completely hateable.
Although Zackman has pulled together an impressive roster of famous faces, they are not all put to great use. Sarandon is sassy as Bebe, but has been far better elsewhere, and Diane Keaton is really just playing an older but less engaging version of the neurotic characters she took on in Woody Allen’s films of the late ‘70s (she’s even dressed the same). Robin Williams’ cameo as a questionable Catholic priest, however, allows for more subtle and well-judged humour than most other plots.
You’d certainly be forgiven for forgetting this film and its characters within a week, but it comes highly recommended for post-essay slumps and hangover cures alike.