I went with a friend to see The Big Wedding this weekend, and much to my surprise and disappointment, the screenplay didn’t deliver. I was even more surprised, given the all-star cast led by Robert De Niro, Diane Keaton, Susan Sarandon, Robin Williams and Katherine Heigl. I mean, common… Really?
So, what went wrong?
You know something’s going on when in the first 20 minutes of a comedy, no one is laughing out loud. I remembering saying to myself, “Gee, the premise seemed funny, but no one is laughing, beginning with me!” Worse still, when a comedian like Robin Williams has difficulty getting an audience to laugh, something is definitely amiss.
Let’s go straight for the juggler– the plot didn’t deliver. It had problems. There was a lack of focus; perhaps some misplaced emphasis on elements that really weren’t important; perhaps a part of trying to get a laugh, only it wasn’t working. It’s not really good when an audience is “trying” to figure out the theme and make sense of the plot, which was a continuous issue while watching this film–there was just too much going on!
Can there be too much conflict?
Conflict births action, so in and of itself–conflict is a much needed element in a story. However, though you can’t really have too much conflict, you can have too many conflicts, and that was an issue in The Big Wedding. In fact, the story is basically conflict-driven, but without focus. It felt like I was at a smorgasbord, being dished a combination plate of Meet The Frockers, Bridesmaids, and My Big Fat Greek Wedding, with raunchy French sexual innuendos served on the side.
The film is a loose adaptation of the French film, Mon frère se marie (2006), where a Vietnamese refugee, who was adopted 20 years prior by a Swiss family is about to get married. His Vietnamese mother uses the wedding as an opportunity to “finally” meet the family who so lovingly took in her son. However, all was not as it was supposed. The Swiss couple underwent a less-than amicable divorce, the father is bankrupt, the sister is alienated and the oldest brother gloomy.
The awkwardness and confusion in this storyline starts at the very onset of the film. Imagine a divorced, older woman returning to the scene of the crime—you know…where marital life and family life evolved. In this scenario, Ellie Griffin (Diane Keaton) shows up at her old stomping grounds, only to find her ex-husband’s face creviced between the legs of her former best friend (Susan Sarandon), who is laying on the granite kitchen counter top calling her lover (not husband) Don Griffin (Robert De Niro) a “slut.”
Why did Ellie leave her children and house in the hands of another woman, who happened to be her best friend? How does a mother seemingly laugh off those life-altering events? Of course, perhaps this character has a moment of sweet revenge when she ends up in a lengthy, loud sexual encounter with her ex (De Niro), who is particularly curious about her 90-minute orgasms.
Everyone seems to have an issue—to include the bride-to-be’s (Amanda Seyfried) weird and bankrupt parents. This is dysfunction at its finest. Perhaps a more authentic title would have been, “The Dysfunctional Wedding.” Lyla (Katherine Heigl), the estranged child, who defines the word “bitch,” is as confusing as the day is long (and please someone talk to wardrobe and hair—clothing choices and her hairdo only added to her horrid persona). We do understand that she has obvious disdain for her father, and get a sense of how he sickens her in a metaphorical moment, when she manages to barf all over him as they reunite. Heigl’s character makes no sense, and never fully resolves. You are just left with a million unanswered questions, and a very unlikeable character.
Ellie and Don’s brilliant 29-year-old doctor son Jared (Topher Grace) is saving himself for “Miss Right,” who happens to be Alejandro, his adopted brother’s sexy Colombian sister, Nuria (Ana Ayora). Of course, he’s unaware that she’s “the one,” until she decides to give him a hand-job under the dinner table at the rehearsal dinner. Suddenly, he’s inspired!
When a script is crammed with too many characters, with too much conflict, and too many unanswered questions, it is an indication that there is far too much going on. The idea of “one external conflict” isn’t really present.
Here’s another important fact: For a story to work, the audience has to have a relationship with the main character. They must see relatable characteristics. Even if the character is majorly flawed, the audience is still going to root for him or her. I did not find myself doing that with any of these characters, in fact, they ALL annoyed me.
According to Aristotle, creating a powerful (believable) plot and structure is the most important aspect of writing. In addition, plot and character are unified. Screenwriter and author, Michael Tierno says, “Good writers serve their stories; bad writers serve their own agendas.” Did Justin Zackham serve his own agenda?
For a story to work, the protagonist has to want something, and someone (the antagonist, and I’m still wondering who or what the antagonist is in this film) has to be there to stop that from happening. It’s one major conflict—an important conflict, one that will send him on a journey that will change his or her life!
The Big Wedding promises to entertain—the title itself let’s us know we’re in store for something full-size! But does it? The late Blake Snyder, who authored one of my favorite books, Save The Cat talks about the “Promise of the premise…” Snyder suggests that a movies premise (it’s poster) can only satisfy if we (the audience) “see it in action.” In other words, there must be a pay off! For the audience to feel satisfied, we must see the fulfillment of the promise (the theme) unfold with every scene. If this does not take place, Snyder says, “The audience will consider it to be a bad experience.”
There is no pay-off in The Big Wedding, and by the time it’s over—the audience has only seen fragments of a wedding that never even got off the ground. We’ve seen an ending that feels sudden and contrived, and three main characters that might be more believable if they were working as advocates for AARP.
Unlike the brilliant writing seen in the The Bucket List (2007), the biggest thing Justin Zackham has going for him with The Big Wedding is his exceptional cast, but even their genius couldn’t drive the rudder of this story.