Let’s face it: The Big Wedding was more fun when it was fat and Greek — or loud and French, in the case of this adaptation of Gallic laffer Mon frere se marie. Writer-director Justin Zackham awkwardly blends feel-good pablum and raunchy sex jokes with the expected nuptial ingredients: something old (just look at that cast), something new (the groom is an adopted Colombian with three moms to manage), something borrowed (Nancy Meyers called, she wants her ideas back) and something blue (handjobs at the rehearsal dinner, etc.). It’s all catnip for the easily pleased, suggesting possible sleeper success amid louder early-summer studio fare.
Skewing older than other recent R-rated wedding comedies such as Bridesmaids and Bachelorette, The Big Wedding all but ignores the happy couple in favor of the “bigger” sixtysomething names in its starry ensemble: Robert De Niro, Diane Keaton and Susan Sarandon. As in Jean-Stephane Bron’s 2007 original, the grownups’ childish antics threaten to upset the whole event.
Misleading title aside, young Missy and Alejandro’s union is a relatively small affair, held in the groom’s backyard and consisting of only about 100 guests. The vanilla bride (Amanda Seyfried, who’s been down this road before in Mamma Mia!) and her swarthy husband-to-be (British actor Ben Barnes, Prince Caspian in the Chronicles of Narnia series) have known each other since childhood. What makes their engagement interesting is the fact that Alejandro was born in Colombia and raised by an upscale Connecticut couple with two kids of their own.
Naturally, Alejandro wants his birth mother, Madonna (Patricia Rae), to attend, but he doesn’t have the nerve to tell the conservative Catholic woman that his adoptive parents, Don and Ellie Griffin (De Niro and Keaton, a million miles from The Godfather: Part II), have been divorced for the past decade. Instead, he begs Don to stash his new g.f., Bebe (Sarandon), and pretend that everything’s still rock-solid between him and Ellie — the sort of arrangement that must seem all too familiar to The Birdcage star Robin Williams (unusually restrained as the ceremony’s Irish priest).
Surely The Big Wedding’s paucity of genuinely inspired moments is due less to Williams’ involvement than its other officiant, Zackham, who has captured the bright, hyper-sunny look of Nora Ephron and David Frankel movies (simply by using d.p. Jonathan Brown) without grasping those helmers’ gift for comedy. The film isn’t so much funny as it is merely amusing — a laundry list of inappropriate and potentially embarrassing moments that strive mightily, but never quite manage to land the laugh.
The awkward situations begin with Ellie’s arrival at her former home. Letting herself in, she accidentally walks in on Don going down on Bebe (who was once Ellie’s best friend and, evidently, still manages to excite the man she stole 10 years earlier). After the three grownups agree to Alejandro’s charade, Ellie turns the tables, enjoying a 40-minute morning-sex session loud enough to convince not only Madonna but everyone else within a two-mile radius that she and Don are still compatible.
Meanwhile, the Griffins’ two biological children show up with plenty of their own issues. Lyla (a high-strung Katherine Heigl) has just broken up with her long-time b.f., has unexplained barfing spells and faints at the sight of a maternity ward. You don’t have to be an obstetrician to recognize the symptoms, though her slow-on-the-uptake brother Jared (Topher Grace) inexplicably diagnoses her as having a mild concussion. Unlike the rest of his hot-blooded family, Jared has sworn to wait for sex until marriage, but at 29, he’s having second thoughts — and the first available female to cross his path is sister-by-adoption Nuria (Ana Ayora), who stayed behind in Colombia when Alejandro moved to the States.
In the French version of such a scenario, one wouldn’t be surprised by the ensuing sexual antics, but all that rumpy-pumpy seems rather inappropriate in the remake’s upper-crust East Coast milieu. Presenting De Niro’s character as a recovering-alcoholic sculptor only goes so far to explain his licentious nature: He turns up drunk in one scene, reveals all the family secrets, and then sobers up immediately. Otherwise, he’s the pic’s go-to guy for delivering too-eloquent speeches, which occur with regularity whenever the script requires a heart-tugging moment. Such emotional ploys come more naturally to Zackham (who hit it big with The Bucket List script) than comedy does, offering a much-needed dose of charm to the otherwise formulaic festivities.