I’m torn about how to review this movie. Usually, I avoid revealing major plot points, because I don’t want to spoil your experience if you choose to see it. But because I don’t recommend you bother with this melodrama, I’m tempted to just give away the story’s twists right now.
Therefore, I’m giving you two choices. Option one is to read only the bare bones information below and stop reading when I tell you to. Option two is to read the whole review, spoilers be damned, because you’re going to follow my recommendation and not see “After The Wedding” anyway.
Let’s see how this goes, beginning with the basics.
Michelle Williams plays Isabel, an earnest woman who works at an orphanage in India that desperately needs more funding. Julianne Moore plays Theresa, a wealthy American businesswoman who is willing to donate two million dollars, but insists that Isabel fly to New York to meet her in person first. When she does, Theresa seems happy to see her but pre-occupied with other business, including her daughter’s wedding, taking place that weekend. She urges Isabel to go to the wedding, meet her family, then return to the office on Monday to work out the details of the contribution.
Isabel has no interest in being part of someone else’s family festivities, but doesn’t have much choice if she wants the money, so she agrees. Of course, something happens at the event that changes the course of everyone’s lives. That’s why the movie is called “After The Wedding.”
That’s where I have to stop. Except I can’t. But you should if you don’t want to know any more. I’m not kidding. Major spoilers ahead.
Okay, here we go.
Isabel is shocked when she walks into the wedding and sees Oscar (Billy Crudup), who is Theresa’s husband and father of Grace (Abby Quinn), the bride. From the looks they exchange, we immediately know there’s something messy in their mutual history. I thought we were headed for a plot twist akin to “Blackbird,” a Broadway show I saw in 2016 (and reviewed here), in which Williams’ character confronts an older man (Jeff Daniels) who had raped her many years earlier. But that’s not where “After The Wedding” goes.
Instead, it turns out that Grace is the daughter that Isabel and Oscar gave up for adoption at birth twenty-one years ago — except that Oscar went back and re-claimed the girl, who he raised on his own until meeting Theresa, who became his wife and mother to Grace. Whenever either of them asked him what happened to Grace’s mother, Oscar told them she was dead. But now she’s standing there, staring at him.
Cue the anger, almost entirely aimed at Oscar. Isabel is livid that he kept the baby and never told her. Grace is horrified to learn that her biological mother didn’t die but her father never told her. Theresa is mad at him — wait for it — because he finds some prescription bottles in her drawer and calls her doctor, who tells him that she has a terminal disease with no cure and is going to die soon. He’s mad at her for not telling her about the diagnosis.
If that’s not enough melodrama for you, hang on.
At this point, Theresa tells Isabel that she’s just sold her company, making her even richer, and has decided to give the orphanage twenty million dollars, not two million. However, Isabel will have to cut her ties in India and move so she can manage the money in New York, where she’d be able to have a relationship with Grace and, presumably, Oscar — as well as the couple’s eight-year-old twin boys, who are soon going to need another mother.
Wait a minute!
Are we to believe that Theresa knew all about Isabel being Grace’s biological mother and engineered this whole thing? Didn’t Oscar tell her that the woman was dead? If she knew all along, why did it take this long for Theresa to track Isabel down and make these arrangements? Or did she only start down that path after receiving her medical death sentence? Are these long-held secrets now supposed to bring everyone together as one big, happy family? And what about the kids Isabel has been caring for in India for all these years, including one boy she’s practically raised as her own?
That’s a lot of questions, and I’ll admit, after the screening of this movie, my wife and I discussed it for at least a half-hour. Not many movies get us talking like that, digging into their details, but the more we did, the more we realized that instead of a decent tearjerker, we got a thread-puller, and the more we yanked, the more it unravelled, leaving us quite unsatisfied.
The pacing is slow and there are whole sequences that do nothing but waste time (e.g. a slow pullback helicopter shot of a large piece of land, a fireworks show that adds nothing to the development of any character). I blame Moore’s husband Bart Freundlich, who directed and adapted the screenplay.
I’m particularly disappointed because Williams has been on such a good run lately, including her sure-to-win-an-Emmy performance in “Fosse/Verdon,” as well as “All The Money In The World” (reviewed here), “I Feel Pretty” (reviewed here), and “The Greatest Showman” (reviewed here). As for Moore, of whom I’m also a fan, this makes two of her movies this year that I haven’t recommended (the other was “Gloria Bell,” reviewed here).
I’m only giving “After The Wedding” a 3 out of 10 — one point for each of its stars, who all perform admirably despite being mired in a boring soap opera.