It's impossible to write about The Big Wedding without damning it with faint praise. It has the sort of cast that once would have once been a selling point but is now cause for skepticism, and its sprawling plot is haphazard at best. It's worth a chuckle or two, but nothing happens that you couldn't guess from sitting through the first half hour. It's probably better than writer/director Justin Zackham's script for The Bucket List, starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, but you'd have to find someone who actually saw that saccharine mess to know.
Diane Keaton and Robert De Niro star as Ellie and Don Griffin, a divorced couple whose adopted son is getting married. Don is shacked up with Ellie's former best friend Bebe, played by Susan Sarandon, who's become a close mother figure to the grown Griffin brood. Unfortunately for Bebe, the groom-to-be Alejandro (Ben Barnes, wearing a lot of bronzer) never told his Catholic mother back in Colombia that his parents are divorced, and since she's on her way to the nuptials, he asks Ellie and Don to pretend to still be married. Why anyone goes along with this is beyond logic — but logic isn't important here. What is important is that there are plenty of awkward sexual situations (De Niro listing euphuisms for cunnilingus!), bodily functions (De Niro getting vomited on!), and slapstick (De Niro being punched in the face!).
The rest of the plot is rather exhausting to get into and plays on all sorts of icky cultural stereotypes. Alejandro's biological sister Nuria (Ana Ayora) is a gorgeous, hypersexual Latina who doesn't realize she should make men work for it until Ellie tells her about American woman's mores and some sort of possibly feminist jibber-jabber. (If Zackham read any of the hand-wringing essays or books on hook-up culture, he'd realize this is complete BS.) Alejandro's mom doesn't speak English and mostly clutches her rosary while looking on disapprovingly. Topher Grace appears as Alejandro's brother, a doctor who decided at 15 that he'd stay a virgin until he fell in love, an idea that he tosses out as soon as Nuria sheds her clothes to go for a dip in their pond. Katherine Heigl is yet another sibling with problems; she left her husband because they couldn't get pregnant, but now she's upset because he hasn't tried to get in touch with her even though she left him. Amanda Seyfried is Alejandro's fiancée; her parents are WASP-y racists who are apparently horrified that their daughter is marrying someone wearing a lot of bronzer. There's some kerfuffle about Catholicism, so they've hauled in Robin Williams to appear as a priest; he actually plays it pretty straight, which is probably for the best. The themes are: double standards, fear of revealing our true selves to the ones we love, and uproarious revelations. Except not that uproarious.
Based on the French film Mon frère se marie, The Big Wedding is ultimately as forgettable as its generic title. Zackham relies on 360 degree pans and treacly music to try and rouse the audience to care, but that's no replacement for a decent script. The only thing that sticks is De Niro's saucy satyr, which is a refreshing change from his more recent films. Keaton and Sarandon are a pleasing pair, and they deserve not only much better than this, but their own movie about cool female friends in their fifties. In fact, if everything about the wedding was scrapped and this was rewritten as a dramedy about the complicated relationship between these three, you might have an interesting movie.
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In the 2006 animated blockbuster Happy Feet an alienated emperor penguin named Mumbles found empowerment through tap-dancing and in so doing managed to both attract a mate and stop the overfishing that imperiled his Antarctic habitat. Directed by George Mitchell – the same George Mitchell who gave us the post-apocalyptic Mad Max trilogy and the almost despairingly bleak Babe: Pig in the City – Happy Feet paired its broadly conventional narrative with a darker sensibility not often seen in talking-animal fare.
The film’s sequel Happy Feet Two finds Mitchell (co-directing with Gary Eck) both more jovial and more easily distracted. The story begins straightforwardly enough with Mumbles (Elijah Wood) now grown-up and by all appearances well-adjusted ceding the mantle of self-discovery to his son Erik (Ava Acres). Boogie fever has swept the once dance-averse penguin nation but in a cruelly ironic twist Erik has inherited none of his father’s nifty moves. But just as Happy Feet Two appears intent on recycling its predecessor’s basic storyline the film abruptly changes course and embarks on a series of detours that seemed geared more as fodder for throwaway gags and showy set pieces than anything else. The disparate narrative elements while enjoyable in isolation never quite coalesce into a meaningful whole leaving us entertained but unfulfilled.
As before Happy Feet Two features a variety of buoyant song-and-dance numbers with Alecia Moore (aka P!nk) lending her formidable pipes to spirited re-workings of “Rhythm Nation” and “Under Pressure ” among others. Robin Williams returns for double duty as both Ramon a diminutive oversexed Latin lover and Lovelace a fiery Southern-preacher type. (Lovelace later adopts a Rastafarian dialect allowing Williams to achieve the rare culture-caricature trifecta.) His voracious scenery-devouring is all the more impressive given the grandeur of the scenery. Not to be left out of the quasi-Vaudevillian comic shenanigans Hank Azaria lays on a thick Scandinavian shtick as Sven a charismatic Arctic émigré who presents himself as the only penguin in the world who can fly. Azaria is a hoot but the film’s best moments come courtesy of the cast’s highest-profile additions Matt Damon and Brad Pitt voicing Bill and Will (respectively) two tiny krill in search of meaning at the bottom of the food chain.