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There has been a reliable mediocrity coursing through the films of Bart Freundlich, some of them starring his wife Julianne Moore, including the breakout 1997 drama The Myth of Fingerprints. That was met with a quiet acclaim which has grown quieter with each film, from shapeless romcoms including The Rebound and Trust the Man to indie dirge such as World Traveller and Wolves. Given the critical apathy that tends to meet his output, he might seem like a strange choice to open this year’s Sundance film festival. But for his latest, he has recruited not only his wife but Michelle Williams, a duo whose combined skills would illuminate even the drabbest of films.
In a year marked by the festival’s increased inclusivity – from a majority of critics coming from underrepresented groups to a record-breaking diverse set of directors – it might seem odd that a film written and directed by a straight, white man is kicking it off. But Freundlich has crafted, or rather recrafted, a female story with his gender-swapped remake of Susanne Bier’s acclaimed 2006 drama After the Wedding. The two central male characters have been turned into women, one an idealist, the other a millionaire. Williams plays the former, Isabel, an American working in India, helping to run an orphanage with scarce financial support. She receives an offer from a potential benefactor, Theresa, played by Moore, who wants her to fly to New York to prove why she deserves her investment. Frustrated by the need to justify a charitable donation yet under pressure for funds, Isabel agrees. The pair meet on the eve of Theresa’s daughter’s wedding for which Isabel receives a surprise invite.
As the title suggests, most of the drama takes place post-nuptials, with some revelations that are best kept in the dark. From the outset, Freundlich announces that his film is heading into grander territory than the original, with some handsome, swooping cinematography and an emphatic score. But while he dresses his film up as worthy Oscar bait, the contrivances of the plot are more befitting far soapier territory, often making it feel like a more restrained episode of This Is Us. It would be difficult to invest in if not for its two main stars who work hard to elevate the overly engineered plot, filling in the emotional gaps left by the haphazard script.
Williams, who has been wasted recently with such ill-fitting roles in Venom and I Feel Pretty, plays a convincingly uncomfortable co-lead, confronted by wealth she’s not familiar with and a newfound position she didn’t expect. It’s a frustratingly necessary reminder of her ability to bring nuance and empathy to smaller, more intimate fare. Moore acts as her antithesis, brashly using her wealth to exert power over others, but as the film progresses, an existential vulnerability takes over and in one scene near the end, she’s phenomenal. Given the setup of these characters and their positions in society, there is ample room for some incisive class commentary, and while there are some minor attempts, Freundlich is far too seduced by the packaging. He displays a Nancy Meyers-like obsession with the luxurious lives on screen and the sumptuous spaces within which they are taking place. Coupled with an eye-rolling moral lesson that insists we shouldn’t be so judgmental toward those with extreme wealth, it works against any sharp critique.
There are a few nice touches, such as Williams’ character being the only one to consistently wear the same clothes, and a rarely seen dynamic that results from one of the aforementioned revelations, but, despite the glossily confident aesthetic, it feels confused. Too many scenes finish abruptly while some major confrontations are either avoided or not shown in full. It’s a film that demands our emotional involvement, tinkering with our heartstrings until we cave in, but, by the end, it’s a weepie that won’t make you weep, even if Moore and Williams try their hardest.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: After the Wedding review – Julianne Moore and Michelle Williams lift confused melodrama | Film