‘The Big Wedding’ movie review: Robert De Niro, Robin Williams in ensemble comedy


It must have been hard work getting this cast to be in something so dull. Robert De Niro, Diane Keaton, Susan Sarandon, Robin Williams…and that’s just to start. I could watch them eat dinner and be entertained. Instead, The Big Wedding (you can tell how bland this thing will be just from the title) is a dreary slog through formula that had me checking my watch every five minutes.

It’s never offensively bad – though the material is much racier and the language more colorful than you might expect – and it’s capably filmed in a workmanlike manner, with good performances (or at least, good actors, performing). But it’s just so maddeningly…banal.

This is, you may infer from the title, one of those wedding farce movies, where a disparate group of family members gathers for the wedding of one of their own and all Hell breaks loose, threatening to compromise the ceremony and ruin everything. Most audiences can relate to the stress and effort surrounding marriage and the wedding ceremony, and it’s fun watching everything go wrong.

And that’s the problem with The Big Wedding: nothing goes wrong. No conflict, no tension, no question  about the marriage actually happening…no, just a few loose subplots strung together against the backdrop of a wedding that more or less goes according to plan. I kept wondering when the central storyline was going to present itself; after an hour of setup, I realized there was none.

De Niro plays Don Griffin, whose adopted son Alejandro (Ben Barnes) is about to get married to Missy (Amanda Seyfried) at Don’s country home. Sarandon is Don’s current wife, Bebe, who is also catering the wedding, and Keaton plays Ellie, his ex and Alejandro’s adoptive mother.

Because Alejandro’s real mother (Patricia Rae) is coming to the ceremony, and she’s a devout Catholic, Don and Ellie have to pretend that they’re still married, divorce being a sin and all. Lest she think poorly of them, shock, horror. You think, OK, Don and Ellie can’t stand each other and will be at each other’s throats and ruin the wedding. But no, they get along as pleasantly as can be expected. 

Side note: it’s pretty weird seeing British-born Barnes, with a light tan and a non-distinct accent, playing a Colombian; putting him next to Rae and Ana Ayora, both of whom actually are Colombian, as his biological mother and sister, makes it even weirder. 

Also around to pad things out are Don and Ellie’s daughter Lyla (Katharine Heigl), who recently ended a relationship, and has an axe to grind with her father, and is having biological clock issues, and their son Jared (Topher Grace), a doctor and 30-year-old virgin (even though all the nurses make goo-goo eyes at him?) who hits it off with Ayora’s character.

Robin Williams plays Father Moinighan, the ex-alcoholic Irish priest who officiates the wedding ceremony. I know what you’re thinking, but no, they’ve gone in the complete opposite direction. To say that he’s wasted here would be an understatement. Robin Williams as a drunk Irish priest should produce hours of blisteringly funny improv; here we get a few somber minutes. The only explanation I can come up with is that the big joke was to have him completely underplay it. Well, they got me.

But Williams isn’t the only cast member wasted here. The Big Wedding is a big mess, wasting an incredible amount of talent for a production that feels entirely superfluous. 

Someone needs to shoulder the blame, and that would be writer-director Justin Zackham, adapting from the little-seen 2006 French film Mon frère se marie. Zackham’s only previous directing credit is the campus comedy Going Greek in 2001 (he also wrote The Bucket List); I’m not sure how he secured this gig, or managed to get this cast together, but it won’t happen again. Along with the critical drubbing (the film holds a meager 8% on the Tomatometer) it also tanked at the US box office. 

The Big Wedding begins and ends with the same mirrored shot, of the lovely country estate reflected in a lake. It seems to want to imply some significance, but there’s no context to it, nothing underneath. That’s actually a nice metaphor as a whole: pretty to look at, empty inside.

The Big Wedding


Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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