Nobody knows bland, affluent white people quite like writer-director Bart Freundlich, a filmmaker who has made a career out of chronicling the interior struggles of the Haves and the Haves. From his debut feature, 1997’s The Myth of Fingerprints, all the way through 2016’s Wolves, Freundlich has never met a premise he couldn’t infuse with pseudo-philosophical musings on damaged souls who are bound by both their emotional shortcomings and their impeccable wardrobes. That trend continues with After the Wedding, Freundlich’s take on Susanne Bier’s 2006 Danish film of the same name. But whereas Bier was able to wring genuine human pathos out of soap opera shenanigans, such material brings out Freundlich’s worst instincts, resulting in a film that is both wildly over the top and emotionally stunted. Michelle Williams stars as guilt-ridden do-gooder Isabel, who must travel from India to New York to ensure corporate funding for a local orphanage.
But a big secret from the past threatens her present as she encounters a former flame (Billy Crudup) and his current wife (Julianne Moore), who just happens to control the endowment that Isabel desperately needs. And things only get sillier from there, although Freundlich certainly knows how to capture a breathtaking sunset from the balcony of a swanky hotel room. Hell, the man even knows how to make a ratty bird’s nest look chic and expensive. It’s hard to discern Freundlich’s true intent, as he seems to believe that his psychological probings are somehow deep and meaningful, when really they are the mark of a man whose idea of culture is a trip to Martha’s Vineyard. Williams and Crudup try hard to bring shading and a sense of realism to their characters, while Moore — Freundlich’s wife, mind you — was apparently directed to deliver a half-assed take on her character from Magnolia. Freundlich’s decision to gender-swap the roles from the original is especially confounding, as it makes the ending borderline misogynistic, as if needing to punish his lead character for past choices. Then again, that ending is delivered with such a shrug that it hardly matters. Which does at least feel true to the spirit of the characters that populate this film; and as well for the the viewer, since it’s pretty hard to get much worked up about anything here.
Published as part of August 2019’s Before We Vanish.