In The Big Wedding a long-divorced couple, played by Robert De Niro and Diane Keaton, pretend to be happily married at their adopted son’s wedding for the benefit of his biological mother.
Hijinks ensue, but like all movies with the word “wedding” in the title, audiences don’t buy a ticket for the shenanigans, they go to see the ceremony. Anything that happens before the walk down the aisle is window dressing, the journey that gets the audience where they really want to be, at the altar.
The famous wedding scene in The Godfather—including the much-quoted Luca Brasi line, “Don Corleone, I am honored and grateful that you have invited me to your home on the wedding day of your daughter. And may their first child be a masculine child.”—featured many Staten Island Italian-Americans as extras. They were invited to the set to enjoy homemade wine, traditional Italian food and enjoy themselves as though it were a real wedding.
Inspiration for the film Four Weddings and a Funeral came when writer Richard Curtis realized he had been to 72 weddings in 10 years. The movie, about a confirmed bachelor who discovers love, made an international star of Hugh Grant, who won the role after auditioning with a tape from when he was best man at his brother’s wedding.
Both those films, plus others like Wedding Crashers, My Big Fat Greek Wedding and Fiddler on the Roof feature wonderful wedding scenes, but what about when nuptials turn nasty?
Who could forget Mr. Robinson howling, “You punk! You crazy punk! I’ll kill you!” at The Graduate’s Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman) after he interrupted the wedding of Elaine Robinson (Katharine Ross) to another man? Elaine leaves her intended at the altar, running off with Ben to an uncertain future, creating one of the classic endings in movie history.
In Runaway Bride Richard Gere plays a reporter investigating the story of Maggie Carpenter, a serial bride who has had multiple disastrous weddings, leaving three men at the altar. “Always a bride,” she says, “never a bridesmaid!”
The biggest bummer wedding in movie history has to be in Kill Bill Vol. 2. “How it happened, who was there, how many got killed and who killed them, changes depending on who’s telling the story,” says The Bride (Uma Thurman). “In actual fact, the massacre didn’t happen during a wedding at all. It was a wedding rehearsal.”
“The Big Wedding” is is the kind of movie that you only buy a ticket for when everything else is sold out. You arrive at the theatre at 7:30, hungry for popcorn because you missed lunch, only to discover that “42,” the movie you really wanted to see, is packed. Ditto for “The Croods,” “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” and even “Jurassic Park 3D.”
Then you see a poster for “The Big Wedding” and notice it stars Robert De Niro, Susan Sarandon, Diane Keaton and that nice boy from “That 70s Show.”
“How bad can it be?” you think.
I’m here to tell you how bad it can be.
In a bit of farce that, no doubt, has Molière spinning in his grave, the movie has at its wizened dark heart an elaborate ruse. Alejandro (Ben Barnes) is the adopted son of a long divorced couple, Don (Robert De Niro) and Elle (Diane Keaton). Don is now happily living with Elle’s former best friend Bebe (Susan Sarandon). Al’s planned wedding to Missy (Amanda Seyfried) is going to be a big affair, but there’s a hitch. His devoutly Catholic mother is coming over from Columbia for the visit, and Al fears she won’t give her blessing to the marriage if finds out that Don and Elle are divorced, so he asks them to masquerade as a married couple for the weekend.
There’s more. Lots more. Topher Grace is the twenty-nine-year-old virgin doctor son who falls for Alejandro’s sister. Katherine Heigl is a sour-faced lawyer and Robin Williams plays a priest.
The supporting characters sound like the set-up to an old joke—A doctor, a lawyer and a priest walk into a bar!—except that there’s nothing remotely funny about any of them.
It’s frustrating not because it isn’t funny but because it wastes the talents of almost everyone involved. Forevermore when anyone tells me that De Niro is the greatest actor of his generation, my mind will flash back to his most painful scene, a bit of slapstick on a diving board. Maybe I’m in denial, but I chose to remember the good times.
The set-up sounds family friendly—everybody loves a wedding, especially grandma!—but the movie is far from it. Language and nudity make it inappropriate for kids, and the general lack of anything else makes it a no go for everybody else.
With a story as imaginative as the title and “jokes” telegraphed so far in advance you need binoculars to see them coming, “The Big Wedding” is as appealing as a cash bar at the reception. It’s bad even for a Katherine Heigl movie.