After the Wedding
American remake of Danish film milks the mama drama
After the Wedding (2019)
Directed by Bart Freundlich
Cast: Michelle Williams, Julianne Moore, Billy Crudup
With After the Wedding, C-list writer-director Bart Freundlich (The Myth of Fingerprints, Catch That Kid, Trust the Man, Wolves) and his A-list actress wife Julianne Moore (Boogie Nights, The Big Lebowski, Far From Heaven, The Kids Are All Right) have cannibalized Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier’s Academy Award-nominated 2006 film of the same name. Bier (Brothers, Things We Lost in the Fire, In a Better World, Bird Box) burst onto the international scene with After the Wedding, which lost out on the Best Foreign Language Oscar to Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s excellent The Lives of Others. Luckily, no one has attempted to remake von Donnersmarck’s film. Yet.
Freundlich’s brilliant innovation (besides the now English dialogue) is to gender-swap most of the film’s roles in order to provide a juicy part for his wife. The story now centers on Isabel (Michelle Williams), a middle-aged woman penitently working at an orphanage in India (a role played by Mads Mikkelsen in Bier’s version). Isabel is desperate to vaccinate India’s street kids, to rescue child prostitutes and to basically save the world. And yet she’s still got time to devote attention to one lonely kid in the orphanage she co-founded. Makes you wonder what she’s making up for. Unfortunately, Isabel’s saintly mission is hamstrung by a lack of funds. She’s hoping for a big donation from some rich folks in New York, but they want an in-person report from Isabel before they’ll hand over the proposed two million dollars.
Reluctantly, Isabel gets on a plane and flies to New York. There’s she’s put up in a luxury hotel and chauffeured to the chic uptown office of Theresa Young (Julianne Moore), a wealthy media buyer with money to burn. Theresa is very busy right now, has a lot of charity offers on the table, evidently, and asks Isabel to stick around through weekend. Theresa’s daughter Grace (Abby Quinn) just happens to be getting married the next dy, and Isabel ends up on the guest list for the chi-chi ceremony.
At the impossibly posh wedding, Isabel’s distaste for the extravagances of the 1 percenters is barely disguised. Then she crosses paths with Theresa’s husband, a famous sculptor by the name of Oscar (Billy Crudup, who starred opposite Moore in Freundlich’s 2005 rom-com Trust the Man). The film’s pushy score gets all dark and moody, Isabel makes a bunch of sour faces, and we just know that these two have a past together. And not just any old past, but a past. To say much more would rob the film of its few melodramatic pleasures. Suffice to say that there are plenty of mysteries, secrets and recriminations to unpack—all centered around some mighty convenient coincidence.
Freundlich, to his credit, doesn’t oversell the melodrama. There are plenty of human-sized moments of pain and confusion between the various surprise announcements. Though maybe that’s more to the credit of his well-picked cast and not to Freundlich’s inconsistent secondhand script and workmanlike direction (including some sledgehammer-subtle symbolism and several pointlessly extravagant drone shots). Williams and Moore do quite well bouncing off one another, giving off polite sparks and radiating quiet mistrust. Their relationship—a mixture of admiration, suspicion and philanthropic condescension—is certainly the most complex and interesting in the film. Crudup mostly turns his face 25 degrees away from the camera lens and stares off into space, indicating deep thought and internal conflict.
The actors do their best under the circumstances (particularly Quinn, who stood out in Gillian Robespierre’s underrated 2017 comedy Landline). But Freundlich’s script continues to toss emotional hand grenades into the room and slam the door shut on these poor characters. He expects, by the end, that audience will have dissolved into an exhausted weepy state. But the plot machinations feel too preordained, too easy for audiences to telegraph. The story of people whose best intentions often end up steamrolling over the lives and emotions of others is both touching and universal. But overall, the film lacks the teary-eyed impact of Bier’s tightly controlled original.