Seasoned drama and romcom director Bart Freundlich mans the helm in this American remake of the 2006 Danish-Swedish film of the same name. In it, stubbornly idealistic philanthropist Isabel (Michelle Williams) needs bags of cash for the orphanage in India in which she works, and fast. Enter wealthy benefactress and self-made woman Theresa (Julianne Moore), who invites Isabel to New York to basically audition for a $2 million windfall.
So far, so straightforward… but once Isabel touches down in New York and receives an apparently impromptu invitation to Theresa’s daughter’s wedding, it soon becomes clear that all is not as it seems. Isabel and Theresa share more in common than a passion for philanthropy and as the revelations come out into the open, both have their worlds shaken at their roots. An investigation into family ties, Kantian ethics and the uneasy relationship between personal prosperity and public compassion ensues.
From the get-go, After the Wedding sets itself out as a sumptuous piece of cinema. A looping drone shot takes in the expansive grandeur and dilapidated surroundings of Isabel’s orphanage, before homing in on our heroine herself. The trouble is, the film knows it’s pretty, just as its characters are cocksure of their own virtues. Isabel is insufferably spiky in her own self-righteousness, Theresa sporadically superior about her own success in the world of business, her husband Oscar (Billy Crudup) supremely confident of his creative genius. They’re not the most likable bunch of leading characters you’re likely to see on the silver screen this year, and by underscoring their flaws (intentionally or not), the film gives itself an uphill battle to win over the audience.
To its credit, it makes a decent fist of doing so by emphasising the humanity of its cast. Sure, these people might not overly inspire faith in the human race, but the situations they go through go some way to explaining their imperfections and invoke empathy, if not amity. The role of Grace (Abby Quinn) also offsets the egotistical behaviour of those around her to some degree, giving the audience at least one touchstone in the film to keep us from suffering an antipathy overload.
Unfortunately, just as we begin to come around to our disagreeable cast of characters, the plot serves up a couple of whoppers that sacrifice credibility for surprise, but are unfortunately integral to the film as a whole. At its close, the very real issues that were unearthed and contemplated earlier in the runtime are drenched in treacly sentimentality and smoothed over with unconvincing speed. Interesting questions are raised and difficult human rites of passage explored, but the ubiquity of ego and the flimsiness of the script undermine any of those positives at the final curtain.
The Hollywood heft of Moore, Williams and Crudup does its best to wrestle things back from the brink by imbuing some later scenes with emotion and heart, and Quinn puts in a commendable turn as the confused daughter stranded in a sea of self-interest, but After the Wedding is ultimately a film that overstretches itself and fails to elicit the emotional response or cinematic integrity it craves.