Review

'The Big Wedding' Review: A Big, Messy Family Equals a Big, Messy Comedy

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Apr 25, 2013 | 9:59pm EDT

Credit: Barry Wetcher/Lionsgate

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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