Conventional wisdom has it that, now the planet has personal publishing capability, a networked universe in which to publish and a convenient means of sorting the rare grains of wheat from the deluge of chaff, there is no longer any chance Hollywood’s resources will be committed to any script not thoroughly deserving of them.
On this view, the idea that titans of screen like Robert de Niro, Susan Sarandon, Robin Williams or Diane Keaton could have the bandwidth, let alone the inclination, to toy with anything but the most brilliant screenplay is baffling: with their agents deluged with scripts before which Bacon, Beckett or even the Bard himself would tremble in wonder, the only dilemma which such gem to pick up.
This theory seems, a priori, correct, transcendentally true and unanswerable. How could it be not so? The Homo Economici who populate the finance departments of studios like Lionsgate would insist upon it. They would require Excel projections to prove it. Granted, a Beckett might be overlooked in favour of a Boyle, the driving imperative being commercial and not artistic, but nonetheless the raw material would assuredly be infinitely tuned and finely sharpened to give the punters precisely what they want.
Now to be sure, even with these precautions box office success is never entirely assured, but in this day and age it will at least have as much statistical probability as financial projections and a properly configured business model can deliver. Failure scenarios are restricted to “black swans”: at any rate, things less soluble than basic defects in the raw material of the motion picture itself.
However self-evident that truth seems, recent Hollywood fare such as Justin Zackham’s forthcoming romantic comedy The Big Wedding, seems heartily to falsify it. Some of the greatest craters ever augured into Southern Californian soil are papered with the charred pages of dismal scripts. Zackham’s new movie might be about to make another one.
The Big Wedding manages little in the way of sense or logic, let alone romance or comedy, and is burdened by a screenplay so poor and misshapen as to beggar belief. The film is not without its virtues: it is nicely lit, coloured and framed. The magnificent cast is heroic in its effort to work this scant material into something face-saving. Susan Sarandon and Katherine Heigl work overtime to imbue their characters with dimension wholly unadverted to by the script. Robert De Niro skilfully converts a couple of tricky dead-ball opportunities that a lesser actor would have skied into the stands. But outside these small redemptions, there is much stony ground.
Any screenwriter possessed of a cast as strong as this who still plumps for gross-out gags and pratfalls for laughs deserves to have his practising certificate taken away. Justin Zackham derives comedy from Katherine Heigl throwing up and fainting, Robert de Niro being repeatedly punched, a dinner party being rained on, and a wedding party falling into a lake.
This is not all. Zackham cavalierly stakes everything, five minutes in, on a Gigli gambit. Now you may not know what one of those is. If you don’t, you should feel blessed, and I would not presume to burden you. (If you’re not sure, the keyword is “gobble”. Trust me, if you do, you’ll know instantly what I mean).
But Gigli‘s moment, ghastly though it was, took place between Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck; at the time, these were two beautiful people in their sexual prime. Zackham’s involves Robert De Niro and Susan Sarandon, neither of whom should be offended to be considered long past theirs, with Diane Keating watching. Generally, one is meant to be quiet at the cinema but, even bearing that in mind, a profound sense of speechlessness descended on the theatre as the scene played out. This alone would be enough to bury most pictures singlehandedly. Zackham, however, leaves nothing to chance.
Thereafter the plot doesn’t so much as lose its way as demonstrate total disorientation from the outset. Try this for size, and this is just the premise: Freelance sculptor Don (De Niro) and estranged wife Ellie (Keaton)’s adopted Colombian orphan son Alejandro (Ben Barnes), now a Harvard alum, is marrying their social-climbing neighbours’ daughter (Amanda Seyfried) at the beautiful Connecticut house which De Niro randily cohabits with long-time girlfriend Bebe (Sarandon). Orphan son’s non-English-speaking mother Madonna (Patricia Ray), a Catholic of such devotion that she cannot abide the idea of divorce even in a father-in-law, is flying in from her South American convent with her fruity daughter Nuria (Ana Ayora), who oscillates between saintly forbearance and outright nymphomania, based purely on the unsolicited advice of Ellie (her step-brother’s mother-in-law to be).
De Niro and Keaton’s other adult children are Heigl, a childless lawyer having marital troubles, and Jared (Topher Grace), a handsome but chaste doctor who, to the frustration of every nurse on the ward, is saving himself (but is not, despite all appearances to the contrary, “otherwise inclined”). Robin Williams is the family priest who may or may not be hardline on pre-marital fornication (it changes scene to scene) notithstanding being, like De Niro, a recovering alcoholic.
This is just your starter for ten: All these dramatic potentialities are played out over the eighty-five minute running time of this comedy. It might have been possible for a Beckett, or a Boyle, or a Richard Curtis, to have constructed a screenplay that could develop and resolve all these interlocking possibilities satisfactorily in an hour and a half, but it’s a task that seems well beyond Justin Zackham.
We are remaindered with farce so farcical it’s farcical.
The Big Wedding is in cinemas 29th May 2013.
Director: Justin Zackham
Stars: Robert De Niro, Susan Sarandon, Amanda Seyfried, Robin Williams, Diane Keaton, Ana Ayora, Katherine Heigl, Ben Barnes
Running time: 85m