Movie Review: ‘After The Wedding’

Review by Jacquelin Hipes

Isabel (Michelle Williams) manages an underfunded orphanage in India, the operation barely able to afford food and school supplies for the dozens of children in its care. An unexpected offer of assistance from wealthy businesswoman Theresa (Julianne Moore) – one that could keep the facility running comfortably for years – draws her to New York in order to finalize an agreement. Once in the meeting, however, Theresa indicates that the arrangements aren’t as concrete as Isabel was led to believe. Caught off-balance and somewhat trapped while awaiting a decision, Isabel agrees to attend the wedding of Theresa’s daughter (Abby Quinn) that weekend. It’s an oddly personal way to kill time, and one that swiftly descends into awkwardness when she recognizes one of the guests. A past acquaintance is only the first of several increasingly dramatic secrets unveiled, the intrigue of Theresa’s bait and switch tactics paling in comparison to what comes “After the Wedding”.

This English-language rehash of the 2006 Danish film starring Mads Mikkelsen hems closely to the plot of its Oscar-nominated predecessor, whose admirers are in for little by way of surprises. The most significant change comes in casting Williams and Moore in roles previously occupied by men. While it adds a discomforting, but engaging, sheen of gender politics to the proceedings, the switch also lends a slightly boggling implausibility to one of the central secrets around which the film revolves.

Because so little has changed from the Danish iteration, dismissal seems like the most expedient reaction to Bart Freundlich’s efforts. To do so, however, would unfairly diminish another magnetic performance from Moore. Selflessness and self-indulgence drive her need for secrets, frustrating Theresa’s family and alienating Isabel. Moore captures a mother caught in one of the central conflicts of parenthood: the drive to do what is best for one’s spouse and children, and the desire to do what feels best for oneself. The result is by turns endearing and alienating; or, in other words: human. Billy Crudup makes himself a plausible equal as Theresa’s artist husband and, although the two don’t quite go toe-to-toe, Abby Quinn works well as daughter Grace, a well-meaning and slightly naïve foil to Theresa’s convoluted machinations.

Williams unfortunately falls flat, particularly in comparison to Moore’s raw emotion. Both women have a right to anger and fear over what transpires, but Isabel meets every development with a similar stony expression (or lack thereof). It’s a stoicism at odds with the earlier warmth on display at the orphanage, and one that puts her at a disadvantage of sympathy.

For those unfamiliar with last decade’s Academy Award contender for Best Foreign Language Film, the Americanized version serves as a capable drama that, thanks to the emotional performance of Julianne Moore, occasionally touches on something greater. Freundlich barely deviates from the roadmap of his predecessor, though, even forgoing a deeper exploration of the dynamics that arise from replacing two male leads with women. It feels like a missed opportunity in a story with room for interpretation and growth, albeit one that’s likely to go unnoticed by the casual moviegoer. And, cynically speaking, maybe that’s pretty darn good for a remake.

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