‘The Wedding Guest’ might serve as a satisfying ‘I do’ or a disappointing ‘I don’t’
Written and directed by: Michael Winterbottom
Starring: Dev Patel and Radhika Apte
“The Wedding Guest” – When approaching a cineplex ticket window, looking up at the selections and times, seeing “The Wedding Guest” starting in 20 minutes, and plunking down 21 dollars for two tickets on a Saturday evening, one has certain expectations for the movie experience.
Take any recent film with wedding in the title. “Wedding Crashers” (2005), “My Best Friend’s Wedding” (1997), “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” (2002), and “The Wedding Plan” (2016) all have weddings as their central themes, and heck, “Four Weddings and a Funeral” (1994) has – at last count - multiple said instances.
Be warned, this is not, not, not the case with “The Wedding Guest” starring Dev Patel and Radhika Apte. Instead, writer/director Michael Winterbottom’s picture is a slow-burning thriller, and pubic vows of love, a best man speech and a first dance are nowhere to be found.
To be fair, Jay (Patel) does step foot into a home after a wedding reception, but he was never invited to the event. He is an intruder on a covert mission, and the shifty, edgy score clues us into his intentions from the opening credits to the actual home invasion. Twenty-something Samira (Apte) is his target.
In a recent interview, Apte describes the movie and says, “It’s about two strangers who meet,” but Patel cuts her off and interjects, “and things happen.”
Quite frankly, that perfectly describes the film’s premise.
Winterbottom directed “The Trip” series with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, and his comedies are aptly named.
Here, the actors, the crew and he spend time on the road in Pakistan and India. Jay and Samira travel in secret, make vital phone calls and play the waiting game, and although their journey is not completely filled with danger, it is littered with complications.
Now, the movie is not littered with problems, but it has pacing issues, despite a runtime of only 94 minutes.
Jay’s motivations are spinning mysteries during the film’s first 30 minutes, but soon after, astute moviegoers might surmise the picture’s ultimate ending. In other words, the surprises are revealed in the first act, but the second and third fall into routine, even with beautiful locales, a lovely score and strong performances by Patel and Apte.
Patel completely embraces his weapon-carrying, singularly-focused, supremely-capable character in an on-screen role that we have not previously seen from him. Despite Jay’s strict attention to his hazardous and morally-flawed task at hand, he carries a righteous core, but one wounded by money and shaded due to his dodgy profession. For Samira, her drive originates from her lack of presentable life-choices, which are unfortunately and directly related to her gender.
Even with gunplay, shrouds of secrecy and changing roles between chaser and chasee, an oppressive patriarchy - that surrounds Samira and millions and millions of other women - emerges as a central theme. Winterbottom’s film is not an amusing, cinematic dance into matrimony. It’s a confrontation against the spirit of it, at least when one half of a two-person party is not a willing participant. So, depending upon your expectations, “The Wedding Guest” might serve as a satisfying I do or a disappointing I don’t.
Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.