PG-13, 112 minutes, drama, Center for Contemporary Arts, 2.5 Chiles
There’s a woman in India working tirelessly and selflessly to improve the wretched lot of orphans. And there’s a mother named Theresa. They are not the same person, but their lives are about to become tortuously intertwined.
This is the dynamic at the center of Bart Freundlich’s After the Wedding, his American adaptation of Susanne Bier’s Oscar-nominated 2006 film of the same (in translation) name. The plot, gender-flipped from the Danish original to put the women front and center, is as full of explosions as the fireworks display that caps the wedding that we’ll be coming to shortly, and designed to produce the same gasps of amazement.
It’s hard to elaborate on this melodrama without spilling too many beans, but we can safely reveal that it begins at the Kolkata orphanage where Isabel (Michelle Williams) devotes herself to the kids, with one particular favorite, a little boy named Jai (Vir Pachisia). But the orphanage is perennially short on funds, and when an opportunity arises for a multimillion-dollar gift from a New York philanthropist, it’s one she can hardly refuse. The catch? The prospective donor, the fabulously wealthy entrepreneur Theresa (Julianne Moore), has stipulated that Isabel must come to New York and apply in person.
If there’s a lesson here, it’s be careful what you wish for, no matter how rich you are. Isabel reluctantly answers the call, and Freundlich gleefully pounds us with the contrast between her simplicity and the over-the-top lavishness of Theresa’s world. Theresa is in the final throes of planning the wedding of her daughter Grace (Abby Quinn) that weekend at her country estate. “A lobster shortage?” she snaps indignantly at her assistant, and orders her to scare some up – I mean, how are you going to have lobster risotto for hundreds of guests without the damned lobster?
Having summoned Isabel to New York, god knows why, Theresa then goes one fatal step further and invites her to the wedding “so we can get to know each other better.” And do they ever.
At the wedding, Isabel encounters Oscar (Billy Crudup), a handsome and successful sculptor who is Theresa’s husband and Grace’s father. A backstory emerges. And from thence devolves the story’s barrage of explosions and contrivances.
It’s a handsome movie, and seldom less than interesting, even if it has a tendency to overplay its emotional hand. The central performances, particularly the divas, are excellent, and if the names are intended as meaningful (Grace, Theresa), the significance of Oscar will likely become evident as Williams and Moore move into contention when awards season approaches.