If I were to say that “The Big Wedding” — now available on DVD — stars Robert DeNiro, Robin Williams, Diane Keaton, and Susan Sarandon, you might assume that this is a pretty good movie. Alas, you would be wrong, disastrously wrong. It’s a bomb, a romantic comedy that is not, umm, funny.
Oh, it desperately, falling-all-over-itself wants to be. The cast — which also includes young screen idols Topher Grace, Amanda Seyfried, and Katherine Heigl — is obliged to endure pratfalls, punches in the face, and the obligatory dives into the water (usually) fully-clothed. If the dialogue, conceived by writer/director Justin Zackham, were witty and original, that might have saved it for them and for us. But no: it’s crude, vulgar, and banal, substituting profanity for intelligence, never a good tactic for engaging adult viewers. (The film is rated “R” for language, sexual situations, and some brief nudity, but it should have been rated “PA” for Post-Adolescent.)
As the title subtly implies, the plot involves a large, expensive wedding. The happy couple, Alejandro (Ben Barnes) and Missy (Seyfried), look like a good match. But her parents object, despite his being a Harvard grad who speaks five languages, because he is, well, Colombian. (Don’t ask: these are not real people, not even remotely.) His adoptive parents, famous sculptor Don Griffin (DeNiro) and his now-ex-wife, Ellie (Keaton), divorced ten years ago, though they have evidently remained friends from a safe distance. Don now cohabits with Ellie’s former best friend, Bebe (Sarandon), who functions as an unofficial stepmother to Alejandro, as well as to Lyla (Heigl) and Jared (Grace), the biological children of Don and Ellie.
So far, so dysfunctional. Add to this that Lyla is bitter about her dad and angry at her husband, largely because she can’t get pregnant, and that handsome doctor Jared is a thirty-year-old virgin, and you have the ingredients for what might have been a good screwball comedy. Now stir in the imminent arrival of Alejandro’s very Catholic birth mother, Madonna (Patricia Rae) and his amorous sister, Nuria (Ana Ayora), who believe that Don and Ellie are still married. Should be funny in an awkward sort of way, no?
Again, no, more’s the pity. Like its obvious predecessor “The Birdcage” — also based on a French farce but with Williams in a lead role — the plot’s mechanics dictate that the Americans should try to trick the visitors into thinking that all is well. Unlike “The Birdcage,” the characters are just types, so we never really doubt that there will be anything but a formulaic comic ending, replete with dancing, laughter, reunions, and, of course, the promise of new life.
The only effective scenes are the ones not supposed to amuse us, those involving DeNiro and Heigl confronting each other about their estrangement. In a movie that had some kind of grip on the tone it wanted to establish, these might have led somewhere interesting. Here, though, they are just interludes between the pratfalls, soakings, and low comedy that dominate the proceedings.
“The Big Wedding” did some initial good box office on the strength of the stars’ marquee names. But critical blasting, along with word of mouth from those who wasted ninety minutes, evidently convinced most audiences to avoid paying for this clunker. Follow their lead.