Sundance 2019 – After the Wedding

I’m ashamed to say it, but I still haven’t seen the Susanne Bier original After the Wedding, nominated for a 2007 Best Foreign Film Oscar, which this film is obviously an American remake of. There’s always an air of apprehension about American remakes – are we sure we need this? Is there more to be explored that couldn’t before? Sometimes they’re great – Let Me In, The Departed, David Fincher’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. But for the most part, they don’t seem to really justify their existence. Even though I haven’t seen the original, despite some great performances, I’m not sure this version directed by Bart Freundlich needed to exist. It has a chance to be a devastating human drama on the level of something Asghar Farhadi might do but then instead decides to be a disappointingly average attempt at a tearjerker.

Isabel (Michelle Williams) is the manager of an orphanage in Calcutta who travels to New York City to meet with a possible benefactor, Theresa (Julianne Moore), who invites Isabel to her daughter’s wedding the next day. Isabel makes a shocking discovery at the wedding that will alter the life of herself and Theresa’s family.

For about 10 minutes the film is amazing. While at the wedding, Isabel looks at somebody and recognizes them in a way that tells us this isn’t a good thing. Minutes later, the other person recognizes her in a way that tells us this is not a good thing. Thoughts start running through your mind, what’s going on??? You start cycling through all the horrifying and damning possibilities, and then when the film tells you the reason why these two characters recognize each other, you’re just kind of let down. Maybe I’m just dead inside, but when they tell what’s going on, I just went “Oh. That’s it? That’s not that bad at all.” For 10 minutes it holds you in a vice grip and you can’t wait to see where this is going, and then it takes one of the less interesting paths out and runs away from being a tense, human drama and into being this lukewarm version of a tearjerker that doesn’t really conjure up tears, nor earns them.

But the main cast is fantastic and keep it afloat enough for it to not be a waste. Michelle Williams is just amazing, she’ll tell you so much with just the look on her face. She doesn’t need dialogue, she’ll cycle through 7 different emotions in a single look that’ll tell you more than words can. She is captivating in every scene in a powerhouse way. Julianne Moore is great as always, and Billy Crudup really brings it in a few scenes. Abby Quinn plays Grace, the daughter of Theresa, and the film really suffers whenever she’s on screen. She’s just not near enough a good performer to hang with the likes of Williams and Moore, she just feels inauthentic and forced. It’s like watching me running out on the court to try to dunk on Rudy Gobert – that shit just ain’t happening and nobody wants to watch it. As integral as her character is to the film, it’s a better one when she’s not in it. Then the film tops it off with a schmaltzy acoustic song she sings at the end. It’s not good.

Bart Freundlich is a director I can quickly forget, because he is boringly passive with his direction of this film. There’s nothing visually about it that grabs you, the score by Mychael Danna is neverly properly utilized to induce an effect of making what’s happening on screen more interesting, he just coasts through the film without ever doing enough to justify him being here. I don’t give the credit of the performances to him, that’s all Williams and Moore. He’s just yelling action. Overall it just feels like a wasted opportunity to do something compelling instead of a tired retread of tearjerker material, and almost feels like a waste for the talents of Williams and Moore to be in such a lacking film.

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