After the Wedding is based on a 2006 Danish film of the same name (directed by Susanne Bier, who later became known for Netflix’s Bird Box). The original was Oscar-nominated for that year’s Best Foreign Language Film.
This year’s American remake (directed by Bart Freundlich) is being released by Sony Pictures in the last week of August. It’s that kind of movie. After the Wedding is a unique “hidden secrets threaten a family” in which the family never really feels threatened because every revelation is immediately followed by characters speaking about their problems person-to-person and arriving at a reasonable resolution for everyone involved. It’s anti-dramatic. Pleasant, affirming … and lifeless.
Isabel (Michelle Williams) is an American expatriate living at an Indian orphanage she helped co-found. She travels to New York City in hopes of acquiring a donation from Theresa Young (Julianne Moore), a wealthy CEO on the verge of selling her business and giving away a small fortune for charity. Upon their meeting, Theresa invites Isabel to the wedding of her adopted daughter, Grace (Abby Quinn). Carlson (Billy Crudup) raised Grace as a single dad before marrying Theresa and, surprisingly, has a hidden past with Isabel. I won’t go into any more detail; just know that it’s all resolved with little hand-wringing.
The original After the Wedding was a different mixture of male / female parents (Isabel’s character was a man) and lost souls, telling the story of a man coming to grips with the past from which he had tried to run. Swapping the roles makes for a more interesting, less conventional story about a woman coming to terms with the life she chose to leave and the one she might yet choose … or more interesting in theory, at least. Something needed to be punched up to make the ending land with more force. Williams, Crudup, Moore and Quinn are all up to the challenge of their roles, which mostly boil down to displays of emotion followed by steely resolve.
It’s worth questioning, too, how empathetic these characters truly are when the movie revolves around a household so rich it can throw a lavish wedding that includes fireworks, where the moral lessons are taught with a large price tag, and the culture clash between Isabel’s role in the orphanage and what she finds in NYC is so under-explored. From a perspective of class issues, After the Wedding fails to illustrate much more than soft problems of rich people, and I can see articles written about Isabel’s role as a well-off American woman going to open an orphanage as a way of feeling powerful and rebellious. I don’t think that’s a fair reading of the material, even if the movie skirts near that territory from time to time.
Isabel has a tumultuous inner-life that remains interesting even as it’s never really all that remarkable or surprising, as do the rest of the characters. Really, you can’t go wrong with After the Wedding if you want to chill on a medium-intensity bandwidth for a few hours and never feel sad or bad about people facing unintended consequences for their past mistakes — because everything in the world of this film is pretty much hunky-dory. Just don’t expect much else.