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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Review: The Big Wedding

A Big Surprise

By Chris Sabga

Release Date: April 26, 2013 – U.S.
Rating: R
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Running Time: 89 minutes
Director: Justin Zackham
Writers: Justin Zackham (screenplay), 
Jean-Stéphane Bron and Karine Sudan 
("Mon frère se marie")
Cast: Robert De Niro, Diane Keaton, 
Susan Sarandon, Katherine Heigl, 
Topher Grace, Ben Barnes, 
Amanda Seyfried, Christine Ebersole, 
David Rasche, Patricia Rae, 
Ana Ayora, Robin Williams

"The Big Wedding" is about a big family with big issues. It's a big, fun screwball comedy with a large all-star cast and dramatic revelations galore. It may not end up being the absolute highest point of anyone's career, but it is a tasty side dish that left me feeling warm and very pleasantly surprised.

Here are the members of the wedding party:

Don (Robert De Niro) was married to Ellie (Diane Keaton) for twenty years before divorcing. Since then, he has been living with his girlfriend, Bebe (Susan Sarandon). As the movie begins, they've been together for about a decade or so.

Their adopted son, Alejandro (Ben Barnes), is getting married to Missy (Amanda Seyfried). I'll get to her parents and his biological family later.

Before adopting Alejandro, Don and Ellie had two children together:

Jared (Topher Grace) is a 30-year-old virgin who is saving himself for marriage. He's obviously a devout Catholic. I'll get to that later as well.

Lyla (Katherine Heigl) may be less uptight about sex than her brother is, but she's certainly uptight enough about everything else. Weddings, babies, and family make her tense and queasy for reasons that will be revealed as the film progresses.

Meanwhile, Missy and Alejandro have their own set of family members and problems to deal with:

Muffin (Christine Ebersole) and Barry (David Rasche) are Missy's parents. They're a bit, shall we say, eccentric. Yes, Muffin is her real name.

Madonna (Patricia Rae) and Nuria (Ana Ayora) are Alejandro's biological mother and sister, respectively. They come from South America, where the values are said to be different and far stricter (in other words, more Catholic). However, Nuria doesn't have the typical American hang-ups when it comes to nudity and sex.

Of course, no "big wedding" would be complete without someone there to officiate it:

Father Moinighan (Robin Williams) is a Catholic priest of the fire and brimstone variety. Pre-martial sex and birth control are unforgivable sins for which there is no redemption. Divorce is even worse. In his mind, that's a sure one-way ticket straight to Hell!

They all practice a type of Catholicism that the rest of the world left behind in the 14th century – or at least they'll have to pretend to. You see, they believe Alejandro's biological mother would be horrified to learn that she gave up her one and only son to divorced heathens who are living in irreparable sin. Oh, the horror!

Therefore, Don and Ellie will do what any former husband and wife logically would when put in a situation like this:

For the weekend of the wedding, they'll have to pretend they're still married.

This plan, as you would expect, does not please Bebe, who already feels like a third wheel. It's bad enough that Don never put a ring on her finger, but now she has to pretend she's not even a part of the family she's been with for ten years?!

If only Don and Ellie had thought about blowing thousands of dollars for no reason to get an annulment, none of this would be an issue. Sometimes it doesn't pay to be cheap, folks!

And all of that, believe it or not, is only a small sampling of what to expect during "The Big Wedding."

Even though every character in the movie is required to lie, the story works because it's based on a big truth:

If a family hasn't seen each other in a while, put them together in the same room for more than a few minutes and conflicts are inevitably bound to arise. 

"The Big Wedding" is nicely acted and well-scripted. All of the plot points that are introduced in the film ultimately have a payoff – and that makes for a satisfying viewing experience.  

Robert De Niro went through a long spell of appearing in projects that weren't worthy of his considerable talents, but between this and "Silver Linings Playbook," it's great to see him once again getting good material to work with. He's surrounded by a large, talented ensemble cast, and all of them interact with each other at some point. It's a treat to watch De Niro sharing fiery scenes with Katherine Heigl, Diane Keaton and Susan Sarandon tiptoeing around each other, Robin Williams taking confession, and dozens of other fun combinations.

Like most weddings I've attended, I walked into "The Big Wedding" not expecting much. It ended up being a big surprise. It has all of the drama with none of the boring speeches.

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