Does anyone want to see Robert de Niro doing slapstick; raging bull becoming whinging fool? Not many Americans went for his turn in THE BIG WEDDING, accounting for the film’s $7 million opening. In the UK, Lionsgate have been optimistically over-previewing the film to every demographic. But though de Niro falls into a swimming pool at one point, the film is unlikely to make a big splash.
Here, the film is posited as a counter-programmer to summer blockbusters. If you don’t want to see Vin Diesel and Michelle Rodriguez tearing up the streets of London (and later a Spanish motorway) in FAST AND FURIOUS 6 – Diesel shifts gears on a car that he can’t manage in his performance – then you might want to see de Niro, Diane Keaton and Susan Sarandon fretting over appearances. It’s not appearances they need to be worried about; rather the quality of the script.
De Niro and Keaton play divorced parents, whose adopted son (Ben Barnes) is about to marry into MAMMA MIA royalty (Amanda Seyfried) – sorry the daughter of a swindling stockbroker. The set-up has Keaton return to the family home and catching Sarandon, as her former husband’s live-in lover and, we later learn, her former best friend, and de Niro about to make love on a kitchen unit. Forget elderly amour, check out the interior decorations! Anyway, no problem about Keaton turning up, but Barnes’ biological mother is flying in from Colombia. She’s a devout Catholic and will be heart-broken to learn that her adopted son’s parents have divorced. De Niro and Keaton have to pretend to be married, but where does that leave Sarandon? (Answer: doing the catering.)
The film’s only funny scene has de Niro, Keaton and Barnes’ mother take confession to a priest (Robin Williams, under-playing neatly) who also had a drink problem; forget Williams’ difficulty, we’re still recovering from the schmaltz of PATCH ADAMS and BICENTENNIAL MAN. Subplots involve de Niro’s daughter (Katherine Heigl) splitting up from her husband and being unable to have children (she vomits in an early scene and faints at the sight of babies - what does that tell you?) and de Niro’s son (Topher Grace), a 29 year old virgin falling for his adopted brother’s sister – her nude swimming turns his head.
De Niro is supposed to be a sculptor – his grin is falsely chiselled – yet he speaks like a labourer, using the expression ‘toots’. He is also a recovering alcoholic – they don’t use that word in the movie (it’s not funny), they use ‘drink problem’ – and you expect that a sober man in Act One to be a roaring drunk in Act Five. Of course! The film disappoints in the scale of de Niro’s behaviour. Where’s the toppling into the cake; he’s supposed to go full Oliver Hardy.
‘Let’s elope,’ Seyfried tells Barnes at one point and at this point I wanted to switch screens at the multiplex and see THE MOTH DIARIES instead. But a film reviewer has a duty to follow a film to its manufactured happy ending: de Niro being repeatedly slapped in the face, two loud sex scenes (off camera) two weddings and a reference to TELEMUNDO. Meanwhile Williams stays on the wagon.
The film begins and ends with a shot of de Niro’s lakeside house, light reflecting in the water, representative of prosperous and enduring WASP America. Do audiences believe in the myth perpetuated by writer-director Justin Zackham. I don’t think so. With so many of de Niro’s pieces still in his studio, he would have doubtless defaulted on his mortgage. The film would be notable for the first screen pairing of Keaton and Sarandon, but they like each other (off screen they both like dogs) so there’s no fireworks. That pretty much sums up THE BIG WEDDING: all frosting and no cake.