Early in Justin Zackham’s deplorable The Big Wedding, non-religious couple-to-be Missy (Amanda Seyfried) and Alejandro (Ben Barnes) attend pre-nuptial counseling with Father Moinighan (Robin Williams). Typical of this familiar situation, out comes a string of humorless knee-slappers about premarital sex, complete with awkward glances, message nudges, and hokey sacrilegious one-liners. Half kidding that their sinful ways have earned them a ticket to an unpleasant afterlife, the pair continue their self-deprecation until the priest says, “Hell it is,” a statement indicative not only of that scene but a fair assessment of the miserable 80some minutes of inferno that follow.
Set during the titular grand event, the film showcases the dysfunctional Griffin family, whose long-divorced heads Ellie (Diane Keaton) and Don (Robert De Niro) pretend to be husband and wife once more for the sake of Alejandro’s tradition-minded birth mother Madonna (Patricia Rae). Agreed to with laughably minimal reservations, Alejandro’s proposition is an assumed ticket to a wild weekend, yet merely serves as a flimsy launch pad for equally lazy attempts at racy and heartwarming moments. Unwilling to develop his characters’ stories so that audiences may actually care about them, Zackham instead turns to vomiting, predictable slapstick, random gratuitous nudity, nymphomaniacal behavior, and language-barrier gags as distractions from the narrative emptiness. Though the family’s rampant laughter at each other’s jokes suggest otherwise, none of it is remotely funny, just as zero of the sappy family bonding moments do anything but induce their own brand of gagging.
An amateurish mix of Meet the Parents, The Birdcage, and practically every wedding movie since the dawn of cinema, the film telegraphs its twists early and often, leaving little to chance. From the instant Lyla Griffin (Katherine Heigl) sees a hospital maternity ward, gets nauseous, and faints, there’s just no telling what’s in her future. The same goes for her brother Jared (Topher Grace), whose personal pledge for celibacy until finding love could in no way become compromised by Alejandro’s beautiful, sexually frank sister Nuria (Ana Ayora).
With little at stake in their pampered existence, the older generation nonetheless fare just as poorly. Between Ellie slugging Don in the face and him calling her the “c” word, the old flames reminisce of the great love they once had like poster children for bi-polarity. As Bebe, Don’s current erratic lover and Ellie’s former best friend, Susan Sarandon fits right in with the sloppiness, exhibiting little evidence why either ex would crave her company until she holds forced heart-to-hearts with each. Horny, loose-lipped, and able to turn sober with the flick of a switch, these people may be certifiable but their zaniness doesn’t make them fun to watch.
The most recent example of marquee names as fool’s gold, perhaps never before have so many Oscar winners made such a pungent stink bomb together as they do in The Big Wedding. Watching this assemblage of legends embarrass themselves is all the worse knowing that they’re capable of far better, though it also serves as a wake-up call that most of them are well past their respective primes. Vintage De Niro may have showed up last year for Being Flynn and Silver Linings Playbook, but for the most part he, Keaton, Sarandon, and Williams have been spinning their wheels for at least a decade. Here, their combined talent hits that sad point home with nostalgia-tinged intensity and leaves another black mark on these fast declining careers.
Rated R for language, sexual content and brief nudity.
The Big Wedding is currently playing at the Carolina Cinemas on Hendersonville Rd.