By Elias Savada.
Sad to say, but it wasn’t a good idea for American filmmaker Bart Freundlich to remake the Oscar-nominated Best Foreign Language Feature Efter Brylluppet (After the Wedding), the 2006 film from Danish writer-director Susanne Bier. Bier, whose 2004 Danish war drama Brødre (Brothers) was also rejiggered for American audiences to negligible advantage, remains in demand, particularly after helming the Netflix hit Bird Box. As for After the Wedding (the American version retained the title), it was producer Joel B. Michaels (last credit: Terminator Salvation 10 years ago) who was “stunned by the powerful human drama of the story” and pushed the remake. For those familiar with the original, Michaels suggested the gender tweaks that Freundlich used in his script, but any expectations of upping the ante from an Oscar caliber entry to something more, despite a fine cast, is lost with inelegant writing and overwritten characters pulled from lifestyles of the rich and famous. It’s a great dumb down.
Early in his career, Freundlich remade the 2002 Danish blockbuster Klatretøsen into Catch That Kid (2004), notable as Kristen Stewart’s first starring role at age 14. The box office was barely break even. I suspect a similar theatrical drought with his latest. I’m not sure how the Scandinavians got suckered into this remix abuse.
The original film version starred Mads Mikkselson, Rolf Lassgård, and Sidse Babett Knudsen, with the male leads swapped for female in the reboot. The After the Wedding remake follows the ensemble indie formula, spearheaded by Michelle Williams, Julianne Moore (Freundlich’s wife), and Billy Crudup. This is Moore’s fourth collaboration with her husband and Crudup’s third tie-up with the director; they have shared projects together through the years.
Herein the story: Williams is Isabel, an obsessively compassionate American ex-pat involved with an orphanage in Kolkata (formerly known as Calcutta), India, taking a personal shine to the eight-year-old Jai (Vir Pachisia). When Theresa Young (Moore), a demanding businesswoman at the head of a large media conglomerate, dangles a large donation to the small, near-bankrupt institution, Isabel is forced to hop a plane to New York City and plead her case in-person. What she had expected to be a slam dunk for the promised funds turns into an extended weekend and an invite to the luxurious Long Island home that Theresa shares with her husband Oscar Carlson (Crudup), a devoted family man and renown sculptor. It’s not just a meet-and-greet, but a wedding of their 21-year-old daughter Grace (Abby Quinn). Before you can say uncomfortable, the first twist will hit will hit the fan as the bride is walking down the aisle. The second and subsequent curves tossed to the eventually intertwined characters are foreshadowed for nearly anyone who’s watching. Enough to say that complications most definitely ensue.
Aside from the soapiness of the storyline, I don’t feel that Freundlich put much thought into how he refashioned the tale for American audiences. There seems to be a wandering emptiness where the original left you with an exhausting freshness. The honesty has evaporated this go round. Maybe it’s a case of been-there, done-that, or the overwhelming sense of theatricality I sense in the production. Some of Freundlich’s little touches, one in particular when Theresa crosses paths with a fallen tree in the forest, comes off as overly contrived. Yet another moment between Crudup and Moore, showcases how great they can cry together. Williams, constantly tossing aside her sandals as she navigates the stairways of the Big Apple’s landscapes, presents a fine definition of an idealist caught up in a world that beckons to crush her—and how she fights back.
Despite the earnest intentions in how the film works through its melodramatic twists and turns, while touching on notions of regret, fulfillment, and life decisions, there won’t be many bouquets tossed for After the Wedding.
Elias Savada is a movie copyright researcher, critic, craft beer geek, and avid genealogist based in Bethesda, Maryland. He helps program the Spooky Movie International Movie Film Festival, and previously reviewed for Film Threat and Nitrate Online. He is an executive producer of the horror film German Angst and the new documentary Nuts! He co-authored, with David J. Skal, Dark Carnival: the Secret World of Tod Browning (the revised edition will be published in 2019 by Centipede Press).