Writer/director Justin Zackham must have some kind of movie Midas Touch. His script for The Bucket List attracted Oscar winners Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, while his current release, The Big Wedding, offers four Academy Award favorites-Robert De Niro, Diane Keaton, Susan Sarandon, and Robin Williams. Both films are benign burlesques catering to a crowd that doesn’t want to go all out into post-Apatow scatology, but doesn’t mind a few “F” and “C” bombs tossed in to seem hip. Besides, the white bread family found at the center of this comedy of mild manners is so earnest and emotionally overwrought that we can’t help but sympathize, even if it’s just a little. What we don’t do, however, is laugh.
It’s been years since Don (De Niro) and Ellie (Keaton) Griffin have stayed under the same roof together. She left when he had an affair with her best friend Bebe (Sarandon) and ever since, the post-coital couple have been shacking up. While they were married, Don and Ellie raised three wonderful kids-doctor and 30-year-old virgin Jared (Topher Grace), unlucky-in-love lawyer Lyla (Katherine Heigl) and their adopted son, Harvard grad Alejandro (Ben Barnes). He’s now getting married to a girl named Missy (Amanda Seyfried).
This causes a problem, however. Alejandro’s biological mother is coming from South America to attend the ceremony and he is convinced she will not understand his parent’s divorce. So he begs Don and Ellie to “play house” once again, much to Bebe’s chagrin. Naturally, this puts everyone, including recovering alcoholic priest Father Monighan on edge.
The Big Wedding is not as bad as you imagine. Sure, it’s one of those pointless Western adaptations of a presumably better French farce. It contains enough performance goodwill to get us past the lapses in taste and the tired narrative stereotypes. It does thwart expectations a bit, especially when Zackman drops the desperation act and lets his characters breathe, and with a cast as exceptional as this, the more dramatic material feels like the film’s true nature. In fact, it’s safe to say that The Big Wedding would be a much better movie if the filmmaker had toned down the attempted jokes and instead offered up a multi-dimensional family portrait revolving around divorce, deception, and forgiveness.
As it stand, we get De Niro and Sarandon interrupted by Keaton during a bout of spontaneous kitchen counter attempted oral sex. We have Grace as a “saving-it-for-marriage” wimp who instantly falls in lust with Alejandro’s biological sister (Ana Aroya). Missy’s parents are country club racists (they live in fear of their daughter having “beige” grandbabies) who harbor secrets that go nowhere, and Williams refrains from endless tangential joking to play his priest as “straight” as possible. Vomit passes for physical shtick and a nine-hour tantric orgasm becomes an unnecessary running gag. Clearly, his actors are game and Zackham believes he has given them ripe, ribald material. But these are easy chuckles, not the sustained sidesplitting that comes from character combined with circumstance.
With its audience friendly facade and never-say-die spirit, The Big Wedding manages to bring a bit of human honesty to what is otherwise a collection of disconnected diversions. We appreciate the cast and Zackham’s attempted avoidance of cliche. Too bad it’s just not very funny.