‘After the Wedding’ keeps most of its vows
Directed by: Bart Freundlich
Written by: Bart Freundlich; the original screenplay (2006) by Susanne Bier and Anders Thomas Jensen
Starring: Michelle Williams, Julianne Moore and Billy Crudup
“After the Wedding” – A honeymoon naturally follows a wedding, however, in director Bart Freundlich’s picture, starring Michelle Williams and Julianne Moore, there are no rose-colored glasses for Isabel (Williams) and Theresa (Moore).
No, they aren’t married or romantic in any way. Life brings them together. Theresa - a wildly successful entrepreneur who proudly wears her philanthropist hat - wishes to donate millions to Isabel’s orphanage in India and flies her to New York City to discuss the terms.
Freundlich, on his terms, successfully establishes both characters and reinforces their striking contrasts. Living as a selfless pauper and bathing in ideals, Isabel sports a boyish haircut, frequently meditates and seldom smiles, except when she’s speaking to a nine-year-old boy named Jai (Vir Pachisia) living at her orphanage. She adores him, like a son. Theresa is a wealthy pragmatist who has it all, including a doting husband and three children. When we first meet Theresa, she’s driving home, blasting Lady Gaga’s “The Edge of Glory” and singing at the top of her lungs.
While Isabel lays down on a modest mat and speaks to Jai about his future, Theresa reads a story to her young twin boys in an enormous house, which could double as a compound best suited for royalty or the Vanderbilts.
It’s no surprise that the film squarely focuses on these two characters played by these powerhouse actresses who earned a combined nine Oscar nominations, including Moore’s Best Actress win for “Still Alice” (2014). Both Williams and Moore are up to the task, as they step into a modern-day mystery, one that feels orchestrated by Theresa and leaves Isabel and the audience guessing.
Based on the 2006 Danish drama starring Mads Mikkelsen, Freundlich swaps genders in this 2019-take on the story, as Williams plays his role. This critic has not seen the original “After the Wedding”, but those who have can make a rightful comparison. Here, the camera frequently presents close ups of Williams, as Isabel’s stoic impressions scream discomfort of Theresa and the surrounding, never-ending opulence. As the movie dives deeper into the narrative, Isabel’s distrust and immediate desire to simply fly back to India grows.
Conversely, the camera pulls back on Theresa and judges her from distances, as she frequently drinks, takes pills in the quiet comfort of her bedroom, occasionally curses, and releases sudden outbursts at her office assistant and husband (Billy Crudup). Looking back, Theresa singing, “I’m on the edge, the edge, the edge…” along with Lady Gaga during her opening scene rings true and further defines her as Isabel’s polar opposite.
“After the Wedding” delivers some devastating turns to the audience and our two leads. Some moments feel as sharp as a heart attack, and others are ham-handed and forced, especially between Isabel and another female character. The movie shines whenever Williams and Moore appear together on-screen. Although, Williams is especially haunting on her own, when Isabel digests her predicament, and Mychael Danna provides some much-needed solace with his gentle, moving score. These individual pieces are better than the surrounding whole, and this creates a semi-flawed but successful union between the film and its audience.
Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008, graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and is a certified Rotten Tomatoes critic. Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.