Movie critics, like everybody else, only have so many hours in the day.
So that’s going to be my excuse for why I missed the 2006 Academy-Award-nominated Danish drama “After the Wedding”. Well, that and the fact that arty foreign films about sad rich white people weren’t really on my radar at age 14, which is how old I was when it was released in the U.S.
I’ve never seen the original film, but I hear it’s quite good. And, really, it would be hard to be much worse than the film’s recent U.S. remake which alternates freely between pretentious arthouse movie and bonkers B-movie.
It should be better though, considering that the film stars a couple of actresses who, between the two of them, have nine Academy Award nominations. At the very least, it should be fun, but “After the Wedding” can’t even get there.
The setup: Isabel (Michelle Williams) runs an orphanage in India and is offered a large sum of money by a mysterious rich woman named Theresa (Julianne Moore) to sustain the orphanage’s operations. Isabel travels to New York to make her case to her potential donor, but complications, as they are wont to do, ensue.
Theresa’s husband, you see, used to be Isabel’s boyfriend before she moved to India. (Gasp!) And Theresa’s daughter, who is very conveniently getting married the one weekend Isabel is in town, is actually Isabel’s daughter who she thought she gave up for adoption years ago! (Double gasp!) And Theresa is secretly dying from incurable cancer! (Triple gasp!)
It’s all ridiculously contrived, but could have been fun in a Nicolas Cage B-movie sort of way. Unfortunately, director Bart Freundlich doesn’t seem to realize he has a reasonably silly thriller on his hands. His slow deliberate storytelling style deflates any and all tension from his story. The twists, when they come, aren’t as fun as they should be and rarely amount to anything more than an eye-roll-inducing hindrance.
What the film ends up being, instead of the B-movie thriller it should me, is a melodramatic ode to the lives of sad rich white people, complete with long artsy shots of empty coffee pots and tennis shoes. This isn’t a new genre – see everything from “Up in the Air” to “Marriage Story” – but it is particularly upsetting to see a film that is as tone-deaf in its telling as “After the Wedding.”
The only scenes where the film really comes alive are the opening and closing bits in India, which are enlivened by great performances by Williams and young Vir Pachisia as one of the orphans. These scenes made me think the film would be smarter than it was – a story that critiqued rich Americans’ opulence and privilege in light of worldwide suffering.
But Freundlich skips right over these scenes to get back to the travails of the rich white people, which is more than a little condescending, I think. Hollywood directors completely ignoring the suffering in the world is one thing. But acknowledging that it exists and then making the conscious decision to focus on the domestic squabbles of rich people instead is another thing entirely. I found it all more than a little off-putting.
Moore and Williams do the best they can, but the material lets them down time and time again. “After the Wedding” (rated PG-13 for thematic material and some strong language) isn’t dumb enough to be fun and not smart enough to be good.
In the end, Freundlich leaves his sad, rich white people adrift in a sea of mediocrity. I see no reason why we shouldn’t just leave them there to cry melodramatically into their wine in peace.
About the author
Stephen Dow is an award-winning journalist with a passion for film – not just consuming it, but thoughtfully and actively engaging with it. He believes that these modern myths have a lot to tell us about our world and ourselves. He can be reached at email@example.com.