Movie review: ‘After the Wedding’ smothers actors with its own story

Michelle Williams and Julianne Moore in "After the Wedding"   Photo Credit: Sony Pictures Classics / Julio Macat

Director Bart Freundlich’s remake of the Oscar-nominated 2006 Danish film falls short of expectations.

Michelle Williams and Julianne Moore in "After the Wedding"  
Michelle Williams and Julianne Moore in "After the Wedding"   Photo Credit: Getty Images / peterspiro

‘After the Wedding’

Directed by Bart Freundlich

Starring Michelle Williams, Julianne Moore, Billy Crudup

Rated PG-13

The promise of dramatic richness hovers above “After the Wedding,” a film starring the wonderful actors Michelle Williams and Julianne Moore, as well as a premise rife with engaging contemporary themes.

But the movie, written and directed by Bart Freundlich and a remake of the Oscar-nominated 2006 Danish film of the same title, never comes close to fulfilling that potential. Where it should provoke, it never demonstrates the courage of its convictions. And when it takes an aggressive turn into melodrama, it hesitates to fully embrace that.

Williams plays Isabel, who helps run an orphanage that she co-founded in India and has come to New York City in order to meet with Theresa (Moore) about a sizable potential donation. Instead of making a commitment at their initial meeting, Theresa invites Isabel to the weekend wedding of her daughter Grace (Abby Quinn).

At the wedding on Theresa’s lavish Long Island estate, we learn that Isabel has a hidden history with Theresa’s husband Oscar (Billy Crudup). Fireworks, at least on paper, ensue from there.

If this sounds like the kind of movie they don’t make anymore, a midrange adult drama with big actors playing real characters without capes, that’s because they basically don’t. That makes it extra painful to finally acknowledge that this juicy build up amounts to little but a series of halfhearted scenes in which characters tepidly confront long-buried secrets. Everyone involved is very nice, in their own way — the movie really doesn’t have a villain — and their motives are all pure and relatable, even when it comes to some less-than-forgivable conduct.

That’s just not a recipe for a compelling cinematic experience.

Williams is asked to underplay things to such an extent that the actor occasionally seems pained, whereas Moore, who is married to the director, gets to be a veritable cannon of emotions. There’s a definite empathy gap here — these characters are not very relatable because their emotional lives are driven by the demands of the story rather than anything approaching a simulation of genuine human experience. Crudup adds little to the picture: a terrific performer in his own right, he is too often cast as the bland husband. He’s saddled with that thankless task once again here.

There’s a kernel of interest in the plot device that brings these characters together, and the movie occasionally wanders its way toward offering an interesting comment on the nature and motivations behind massive global charity, as well as the ethics involved. The vision of lavish Oyster Bay wealth is fully realized; the picture at its best plays up the contrast between that and its scenes of poverty in India.

Yet it doesn’t do much in terms of exploring it, or offering a perspective on it. It is far too tepid and uncertain for that. What’s missing is the sort of dramatic heft required to keep an audience engaged. 

Robert Levin