Movie review: The Big Wedding
Experiment in broad comedy is a flimsy piece of work that doesn't really entertain
Posted: May 15, 2013
Standing up for traditional values. The Colombian mother is none too pleased with these heathens.
A film in which Robin Williams stars as a priest was never going to be serious. But when you have a Brit playing an American who was born in and adopted from Colombia, you know there were never any serious intentions to begin with.
The Big Wedding, a film that never even tries to live up to its title, wants to be the kind of star-studded vehicle we have come to expect from Valentine's Day's Garry Marshall. Frontloaded with Robert de Niro, Diane Keaton and Susan Sarandon, among others, almost every face is a familiar one, and characters are secondary to the many stars trotted out like cheap commodities.
De Niro and Keaton play Don and Ellie, a divorced couple with three children. One of them, Alejandro (Ben Barnes), was adopted at birth and is on the verge of getting married to Missy (Amanda Seyfried), a nice enough girl whose racist parents are social embarrassments, not unlike the film itself. Unfortunately, Alejandro can't tell his birth mother his adoptive parents are divorced, because for some reason she is sure to flip out.
Somehow, Don and Ellie have never met their son's biological parents, but such formalities are quickly dispensed with in an insensitive introduction, when the long-divorced couple have to hold hands; how awkward. It also doesn't help that Alejandro's birth mother appears to be a conservative woman who is very judgmental, forever frowning and doesn't approve of anything even remotely sexual.
Directed by Justin Zackham
With Robert de Niro, Diane Keaton, Susan Sarandon, Ben Barnes
At the same time, however, she has brought along Alejandro's biological sister, Nuria, whose very openly sexual behavior leads to a hand job with her stepbrother Jared (Topher Grace), a virgin who is waiting for the right one, at the dinner table.
Madonna Soto, the religious mother from Colombia, has apparently left her country, which she said she would never do, though the reason is unclear, to come to her son's wedding. The film wants us to believe this is a big sacrifice, but who are we kidding?
Despite our objections, Soto's Harvard-educated son asks Don and Ellie to pretend they are still together, as Soto gave him to them because she believed he would be in a house with upstanding moral parents.
The argument is convoluted at best, and makes the poor Soto seem like a backward native of a faraway land who has never confronted real issues.
Don used to be married to Ellie, but he is now with Bebe (Sarandon); Bebe and Ellie have always been and continue to be best friends, and in the opening scene Ellie walks in on Bebe spread out on a kitchen countertop with Don between her legs.
We can never feel comfortable with the story, as it seems to be trying too hard to impress us with throwaway lines about love and loss, and when this doesn't work it often resorts to slapstick, like showing Lyla (Katherine Heigl), Alejandro's American sister, vomit all over their father.
But these throwaway lines can also be deplorable. This is a film that actually uses the stunningly offensive line "Who do you have to lynch to get a Cosmo around here?" to make a stab at comedy. It's Lyla who utters it, but she doesn't raise an eyebrow from anyone else in the scene.
There are, however, one or two genuine laugh lines, mostly thanks to Sarandon, whose character - the only one worthy of our attention - will not allow herself to be sidelined for the sake of having her partner and his ex-wife get the conjugal spotlight, and she relishes the opportunity to gently upset the new status quo.
The screenwriter's decision to force Don and Ellie to spend more time is a transparent attempt at making them work things out, although after all is said and done it seems there was nothing much to work out.
Instead of the happy couple, who actually spend most of their time arguing or rolling their eyes, and whom we can't seriously expect to live happily ever after, the main focus is on the parents who need to work out their own problems related to marriage and divorce. The other siblings, while obviously in need of love, don't warrant much attention but have their own thin storylines anyway.
The Big Wedding is silly, superficial and more predictable than a soap opera. But it deserves two stars because even this writer-director, though lacking any apparent visual talent, had the foresight to let his experiment run for no longer than 85 minutes.
André Crous can be reached at