After the Wedding review: Julianne Moore and Michelle Williams fail to save overindulgent drama

The film may look as gorgeous as a magazine spread, but there’s little grit or humanity here

Clarisse Loughrey
Wednesday 30 October 2019 14:27
Williams (left) and Moore provide the movie’s most engaging moments
Williams (left) and Moore provide the movie’s most engaging moments

Dir: Bart Freundlich. Starring: Michelle Williams, Julianne Moore, Billy Crudup, Abby Quinn, and Will Chase. 12A cert, 111 mins

After the Wedding is perfect for those who like cinematic indulgences. It’s all luxurious settings, high melodrama, and awards-worthy monologuing. There’s an irrepressible appeal, after all, to watching Julianne Moore wear a nice silk shirt and yell at people. But place it side by side with its source material, Susanne Bier’s Oscar-nominated Danish film of the same name, and it’s obvious what was lost in translation. There’s no sense of grit or humanity to it.

The film’s directed by Moore’s husband, Bart Freundlich. She plays Theresa, the founder of “the biggest media-placement company in the United States” and a woman with a lot of spare cash to throw around. She’s interested in donating to a small orphanage in Kolkata, India, partially run by Isabel (Michelle Williams). Having flown Isabel halfway across the world for a quick sit-down, Theresa brushes off the woman’s statistics about child prostitution and malnutrition and instead offers her an invite to the wedding of her daughter (Abby Quinn). She claims it’s to get to know her better. Isabel begrudgingly attends, but when she locks eyes with Theresa’s husband Oscar (Billy Crudup), there’s a flicker of recognition – it’s the first in an increasingly sensational set of revelations that threatens to shake the very foundations of these people’s lives.

While Bier’s film originally starred Mads Mikkelsen as its lead, here the gender of the three main characters has been swapped. It adds nothing new to the story, though it does allow Freundlich to pit the ferocious talents of Moore and Williams against each other. Moore serves as the unscalable cliff face. She’s all hard, jagged edges. Williams’s emotions, meanwhile, pour out of her doe eyes with such force that what at first seems soft, even weak, builds into a tidal wave. It’s a great showcase for some thespian fireworks (Crudup is also excellent, although in a more subtle way).

Yet Bier told her story in a raw, rough-handed way that cut through the suffocating luxury of its setting and right into the hearts of its frail, damaged characters. Freundlich dresses them up even more, with cinematographer Julio Macat making every frame look as gorgeous as a magazine spread.

The film toys with ideas of entitlement, as a bewildered Isabel is paraded through various suites and landscaped gardens, but its wealthy characters are instantly forgiven the second they show even a hint of vulnerability. Neither do we see India as anything other than a picturesque holiday postcard. There’s no sign of the poverty that Isabel so passionately speaks of – it’s only colourful markets and temple ruins. But the film never feels the need to be honest about the social commentary inherent in its story because it has the privilege not to pay attention to it, distracting us instead with all manner of pretty views and frivolous affairs. It’s entertaining, certainly, and occasionally engrossing thanks to its performances. But for all of After the Wedding’s narrative twists and turns, there’s nothing here that feels close to earth-shaking.

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