The premise at the heart of The Big Wedding is stupid. The story follows a groom (Ben Barnes) who convinces his divorced mother (Diane Keaton) and his divorced, now remarried father (Robert De Niro) to pretend they’re still together for the benefit of his deeply religious natural birth mother. See? So stupid there’s not even a point in having an is-it-or-isn’t-it debate. It just is.
That idiotic story, however, is not The Big Wedding’s big problem. Lots of great comedies have premises far more idiotic than that. The Big Wedding’s elephant-sized fuck-up is that it hasn’t the slightest idea what genre it is or who its target demographic might be. More often than not, it depends on what characters the story is actually following.
Sometimes, the audience is given a serious R-rated family drama staring those divorced parents and her ex-best friend/ his new wife (Susan Sarandon) who got in between them years ago. This movie feels geared toward HBO’s audience and is filled with frank sexual conversations and heartfelt commentaries about how love evolves. Other times, we’re hit with a wacky romantic comedy about two lovers (Barnes and Amanda Seyfried) trying to make it down the aisle before his Spanish-speaking mother finds out he’s been telling some fibs. This one seems catered to bored viewers who will watch twenty minutes stretches on TNT eighteen months from now. Then again, there’s also a raunchy Showtime comedy about Topher Grace trying to bed his adopted brother’s sister and an IFC dramedy about Katherine Heigl’s marriage/ infertility struggles.
You know that old phrase about not having too many cooks in the kitchen? Well, this is why you don’t have too many cooks in the kitchen. Writer/director Justin Zackham probably thought he hit the jackpot by landing so many A-list actors and actresses, but in actuality, he kind of screwed himself over. Sometimes characters need to be marginalized for the good of other characters. Sometimes it’s better for a character to just be someone’s sister rather than having her own plotline, but because there’s so much talent here, everyone has felt the need to push their character as far as possible to be memorable. Even the priest is played by Robin Williams, so he obviously does his damndest to earn as many laughs as he can during his limited screen time.
There are few things in a film more important than tone. The Big Wedding simply has way too many different ones, and they wind up completely fucking each other over. Characters can’t be treated as pawns and manipulated in stupid ways to get laughs in one moment and be expected to garner genuine sympathy in the next. They either need to be real human beings who act with real human common sense, or they need to be complete idiots who alter their marital statuses to please a super Catholic birth mother. Audiences deserve consistency, and with a plot like this, they deserve a hell of a lot more than the mediocre stabs at comedy attempted.
In a perfect world, this movie would have kept the R-rating, dropped the stupid plot about the Spanish birth mother and made an honest and interesting story about a divorced family all coming together to heel old wounds and forever put the past in the past. That film might not have grossed as much money, or attracted as much talent, but at least it would have had a clear vision. As it stands, everyone involved in this movie has given the world better work in the past and barring some bizarre downfall, will surely give the world better movies in the future.