Sundance London ’19 Review: Melodrama ‘After the Wedding’ struggles to find itself amidst mediocrity

It’s hard not to expect some gruelling white-saviour storyline when a movie starts with scenic shots of a white, Hollywood A-lister playing a volunteer at an underfunded orphanage in Kolkata, India. Thankfully, Bart Freundlich’s reimagining of the 2006 Susanne Bier Danish drama subverts this. But this subversion, and an iconic scene with Julianne Moore head-banging to Lady Gaga’s ‘The Edge of Glory’, is not enough to add any prowess to a blatantly unremarkable melodrama.

Michelle Williams stars as the mentioned orphanage volunteer, Isabel. She appears to have buried her past behind her and made her fellow volunteers and the children they lovingly look after her new family. The film’s first twist lays in the solution for the orphanage’s impending closure. To claim a $2 million donation, Williams must persuade the donor that they are worthy of such benefaction in person. Despite strong efforts to avoid flying back to America, she eventually agrees in the name of saving the orphanage.

The contrasts between the two countries are shown immense, the glitzy New York apartments alienating Isobel who has grown accustomed to a life of simplicity. Her disinterest in the big city’s affluent, hustle and bustle is near comical; she is clearly determined to close the deal and leave as quickly as possible. But this all changes when the donor, big media company CEO Theresa (Julianne Moore), offers Isabel an invitation to her daughter’s wedding.

Image result for after the wedding film 2019

It is in this ‘low-key’, yet undeniably affluent, nuptial wherein a prior relationship between Isabel and Theresa’s husband is unearthed. What starts as ambiguous, magnetic glances with the now established artist Oscar (Billy Crudup) is revealed to be something so profoundly significant — especially for the life of Oscar and Theresa’s newly-wed daughter Grace (Abby Quinn).

The events after the wedding are virtually impossible to bring up without spoiling the film in its entirety. On paper, the twists and turns in this family drama promise a moving and heart-wrenching watch. Yet, due to the film’s tendency to gloss over, or cut away from the most crucial moments in the story, it is inhibited it from crafting the emotional punch it could have provided.

While not enough to save the film from mediocrity, After the Wedding affords its three leads to deliver moving and noteworthy performances. Williams and Moore, in particular, exhibit such an interesting dynamic between women who are eager to get what they want but are separated by the classic rivalry between an idealist and a realist. While the gender-switch does prove beneficial and contemporary (Williams taking over Mads Mikkelsen’s role in the 2006 original) it is not enough to pull the heartstrings in the way an effective melodrama should.

For the rest of our Sundance London coverage, click here.

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