The Big Wedding


Robert De Niro as Don
Katherine Heigl as Lyla
Diane Keaton as Ellie
Amanda Seyfried as Missy
Topher Grace as Jared
Susan Sarandon as Bebe
Robin Williams as Father Moinighan
Ben Barnes as Alejandro
Christine Ebersole as Muffin
David Rasche as Barry
Patricia Rae as Madonna
Ana Ayora as Nuria

Don (Robert De Niro) and Ellie (Diane Keaton) have lived your typical upper middle class life and had your typical upper middle class family. They had their two kids (Katherine Heigl and Topher Grace), raised them to be respectable lawyers and doctors, divorced, and went their separate ways. And of course they adopted a young boy from Colombia (Ben Barnes). And now that he’s graduated Harvard and preparing to marry his middle school sweetheart (Amanda Seyfried), like any good upper middle class couple, Don and Ellie are going to pretend to be married to avoid offending Alejandro’s biological mother (Patricia Rae) so that she won’t make a scene and ruin “The Big Wedding.”

Phew. That’s a lot of people and a lot going on, seemingly straight from an episode of “Three’s Company” or some other 70’s sitcom desperately searching for comedic misunderstanding every week. “Big Wedding” is similarly disparate as writer-director Justin Zackham (“The Bucket List”) mixes and matches errors and comedies as fast as possible to keep things going for a relatively brief 90 minutes which is, when you step back from it, almost entirely lacking of a real narrative drive.

It’s a wonder then that it works as well as it does.

But work it does, and mostly due to a game cast and some more intelligent than not dialogue, which gives most of the actors are little more to do than stand in front of the camera for mechanical set up and volley.

De Niro leads the ensemble with just the right mix of charm and roguishness, making you like the urbane Don while also realizing why his children don’t so much. Though frequently pushed into the silliest of circumstances (not quite as often as Grace, but close) he rolls through it all with a sly glance and a wink and you let him get away with it.

Which actually holds true for most of the cast. Sure, most of them have been cast to type – Keaton is again playing Keaton, the forever Annie Hall neurotic – but these types work together and you can believe they know and care about each other.

For the most part, in fact, the characters are better drawn than the caricatures they play at being, with most of them having surprising layers of humanity and a tendency towards sincerity of feeling that forgoes sentimentality, something movies usually avoid like the plague.

Much of which does come down to Zackham’s script, which is zippy enough that you forget you’re spending most of the plot in the same house–the old family house–and just smart enough, often enough, that you won’t blow your brains out from boredom.

If it had a real plot and real jeopardy, instead of play jeopardy hidden by ridiculous gags ( ‘classics’ like Alejandro’s mother’s inability to understand English or anyone else to understand her) there could be a real movie in here. As it is, it’s a wonder the movie is as good as it is.

Which is good enough this time around. “The Big Wedding” is not a classic, or even really memorable, by any means, but considering the pit it starts at, it gets off light. And that’s better than usual.