Secrecy in the Family – After the Wedding

Heading into the first weekend in September, It Chapter Two is poised to dominate the box office. If you’re not into clowns or scary movies, there will be plenty of opportunities to check out the alternative offerings at the theater. After the Wedding isn’t the psychological thriller it’s made out to be but a trio of superb performances carry the load.

This film’s biggest problem was the anticipation of something bigger. The trailer definitely sold a tense psychological thriller with some mystery to be unraveled but that’s not where this story ended up. The mystery in question is resolved in the first act. Any questions you had about the relationships between the characters were answered with an abundance of detail. Once the second act rolled around, there was one more primary question that arose but foreshadowing earlier in the film made for a predictable turn there. Then, things just sort of end exactly as you would expect them to, given the information in front of you. Before things were laid out on a silver platter, the anticipation of a resolution branched out in quite a few different directions. Unfortunately, the story went down the least exciting of those potential roads. What started off as a potentially explosive thriller ended up as a bland melodrama. 

To be quite frank, outside of directing some episodes of Californication, I was completely unfamiliar with writer/director Bart Freundlich. Why he chose to adapt and remake and the Oscar-nominated foreign film Efter brylluppet (2007) is between him and the production company but it’s another example of a Hollywood movie machine that’s fresh out of ideas. I never Susanne Bier’s and Anders Thomas Jensen’s original Danish film so it’s tough to draw any straight line comparisons but there was clearly something missing from this adaptation. Ultimately, it came down to the choice of resolution rather than the lack of one. Although the plot left me wanting something more, I still enjoyed this film thanks in large part to the superb performances Freundlich drew from his cast. 

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Michelle Williams gave an intense and troubled performance at the center of this story as Isabel, a humanitarian working with orphaned children in India. As she returns to the United States to solicit funding for her program, you can almost see her skin crawling. This wasn’t a physical role in terms of stunts or fight sequences but Williams masterfully communicated Isabel’s internal displeasure with body language and posture. To this point in the year, there haven’t been many performances on this level and, even though the film is underperforming, the four-time Oscar nominee should be in the Best Actress conversation when awards season rolls around. On a side note, it was refreshing to see Williams with her natural hair again. So many times in recent years she has been saddled with distracting wigs, I applaud Freundlich for not going that route. 

Julianne Moore is one of those actors who immediately elevates a project and happens to be a semi-frequent Freundlich collaborator. Just having her name attached brings her wealth of experience and venerability to any film. Here she plays Theresa, the potential benefactor for Isabel’s charity and we find out right away that she’s a savvy workaholic and shrewd businesswoman. An incredibly successful one at that but there is something else going on and Moore did a great job playing it close to the chest. She pushes a furious pace throughout her interactions with all the other characters and you certainly don’t doubt her…although you are meant to question her motivations. This was the kind of proficient performance we’ve come to expect from her over the years but a stark contrast to the character she played in Gloria Bell earlier this year. As of right now, she could certainly be in contention for both Best Actress and Best Supporting.

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Billy Crudup has also worked with Freundlich on more than one occasion and that familiarity comes in handy with complex character dramas such as this. Playing Theresa’s husband Oscar, a sculptor and revised idealist, he and Moore have great chemistry together. Their relationship is complicated and becomes more so once Isabel shows up, but it’s also honest and supportive in a way that I haven’t often seen portrayed on film. As things begin to shape up, he is the most emotionally volatile of the trio but Crudup did a great job of grounding that emotion in his experience. This was a strong performance from him and I hope he gets more opportunities to take on these kinds of roles.

I never expected it going in but this movie had a very distinct visual footprint. Right away, the opening shot is a continuous drone shot that starts wide to establish the village and gradually works its way to a medium close-up where we first meet Isabel. It covered a lot of ground and communicated a lot of information without saying a word. Cinematographer Julio Macat used that same technique later in the film to lesser effect but the overall shot quality was quite strong.  You can see his feature on the cover of the September edition of American Cinematographer.

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Each character was given a unique visual signature as well, each with their own distinct color palette. Isabel is often shown in orange light or other rich earth tones. Theresa is frequently surrounded by green, from walking the dog in a green field to a snazzy pants suit or the felt tip pens she signs her contracts with. Oscar can be seen wearing cool blues and greys. I’m sure there’s a deeper meaning to it but that’s a question for the filmmakers. 

Recommendation: See it for the cast and the performances but leave your expectations at the door. 

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