'The Big Wedding': Not completely worth celebrating
By Glenn Kenny, Special to MSN Movies
"Hope for the best, expect the worst," goes an old adage coined, or at least popularized, by the great Mel Brooks. The promo materials for "The Big Wedding," a new all-star comedy top-billed by venerable talents Robert De Niro and Diane Keaton, and also featuring younger contemporary bad-rom-com accessories Katherine Heigl and Amanda Seyfried, were so packed with predictable old-people-being-randy/young-people-being-weirdly-uptight gaglets and tropes that hoping for the best was nearly impossible. So what's it mean when the movie is not as bad as you feared but not quite so entertaining as to be entirely worthy of recommendation?
See, and you thought movie critics had it easy. The premise for "The Big Wedding" is oddly anachronistic, which makes it a little surprising to learn that the scenario was adapted by writer-director Justin Zackham from a recent French mainstream rom-com (and if you think lame rom-coms are strictly the province of us stoopid Americans, you needs to get out more, or maybe not). De Niro's Don and Keaton's Ellie are a divorced couple whose third child, the adopted Alejandro (Ben Barnes), is about to marry lovely Missy (Seyfried). While Don and Ellie's biological kids (Heigl and Topher Grace) are different flavors of hot messes, Alejandro's an ideal child. Should go smoothly, as Don and Ellie have adjusted to their estrangement and Don's happily ensconced with a lover of a decade-plus, Bebe (Susan Sarandon). But wait! Alejandro's strict Catholic biological mother is flying up from Colombia for the nuptials! She doesn't approve of divorce! Might Don and Ellie masquerade as still-marrieds for the weekend?
Why, yes, they might. Thus the stage is set, in a terribly forced fashion, for embarrassed hilarity and lots of resentments coming to the fore. Also, it turns out Alejandro has a hot younger sister who seems keen to seduce Grace's virgin doctor brother character. Also, it seems that post-divorce Ellie's become a master of tantric sex. Heigl's still nursing several grudges at Dad. A lot comes out in the wash when Don and Ellie are compelled in their charade to confess to a potentially wacky priest played by, yes, Robin Williams.
Sounds bad, I know, but, honestly, it has its moments. De Niro and particularly Keaton bring a lot more to their portrayals than the material either demands or deserves, and truth to tell, some of De Niro's very salty dialogue is delivered with genuine comic brio. (He may be the first actor in recorded history to credibly use the words "incandescent" and "douchebag" in the same sentence.) Even Williams turns tolerable after a rocky, male Church Lady-like start: His confessional scene with De Niro, in which the two characters discuss their respective alcoholism, is not only relatively wry, it's an amusingly meta-touch given the performers' strong roots in the excessive '70s. And the other performers, even Heigl, manage to pull off appealing or better. None of them can even begin to transcend the inescapable tepid banality of the material, but they give it the old college try. Unless you're Diane Keaton's stalker or something, I wouldn't advise you to spend 12 bucks on it. But it might wind up pleasantly surprising if you ever come across it during a plane flight.
Glenn Kenny is chief film critic for MSN Movies. He was the chief film critic for Premiere magazine from 1998 to 2007. He contributes to various publications and websites, and blogs at http://somecamerunning.typepad.com. He lives in Brooklyn.