By Daniel Barnes
It is important to note that I was dared to watch The Big Wedding by my father, Walter Barnes, Jr. Besides being a wonderful Dad, my father is a huge movie fan, and his early influence is a major reason that I grew up to be a film critic. He and my Mom still watch just about every movie that shows in the Sacramento area, and even though he pays for several films each week out of his own pocket, he is infinitely more forgiving of cinematic mediocrities than I am.
That’s why it was somewhat shocking to hear him repeatedly spitting venom about last year’s The Big Wedding, an (AA)R(P)-rated comedy with big stars that seemed to be right in my Dad’s demographic wheelhouse. He was also uncharacteristically inarticulate, confused, and outraged in his criticism, as though still trying to work through a traumatic experience he didn’t yet understand, the sort of symptoms you usually see in the survivors of plane crashes and mountain lion attacks.
Intrigued by his invective, I wondered if The Big Wedding had committed atrocities far more profound than merely sucking. My mind reeled – was The Big Wedding involved in black-market prostitution and human trafficking? Was it a Keyser Soze-like delivery mechanism for faceless nightmares? I even began to suspect that the film might be a Ringu-esque talisman of evil, set to decimate the souls of any poor fool dumb enough to watch it.
Less than five minutes in, every one of these fears was confirmed. The Big Wedding is without a doubt the worst, stupidest, most disgusting and most depressing film released by a major Hollywood studio so far this century. My wife and I have a running joke that our cat Gibbles is the screenwriter of every bad movie that we watch, but The Big Wedding is the first genuinely plausible case study. It’s so lazy and aggressively ignorant of the ways that real live human beings behave, interact, react, form sentences, and sexually reproduce, that it really could have been written by a housecat.
Say this about the screenplay for The Big Wedding – it’s not bad for an animal with a brain the size of a walnut, but it’s exceptionally offensive for a sentient human actively working in the film industry. The Big Wedding is credited as being written and directed by Justin Zackham (a first-time director best known for scripting The Bucket List), whose brain size we will charitably list as “inconclusive”. It turns out that The Big Wedding was technically based on a French film, which makes sense because they hate us.
Blackness and despair set in from the first embarrassing lines of dialogue, delivered by De Niro over a syrupy score generic enough to serve as the main menu music for a Scene It! game. De Niro plays Don, one of those fabulously wealthy sculptors you’re always never hearing about, and his character enters the film asking, “What came first, the Catholic church or cunnilingus?” He later lasciviously comments, “I haven’t seen this much tail around here since the last poochie died,” and at one point uses the phrase, “shittin’ kittens.”
When you hear the stories about how De Niro’s “You talkin’ to me?” monologue in Taxi Driver was the product of hours of improvisational collaboration between him and Scorsese, it is unfathomable that he has allowed himself to reach such degrading lows. Any actor can phone in a bad performance, but De Niro, always the innovator, has taken it a step further. He’s really no better than a child actor here, a mimicking mannequin posed by the director, hitting his marks and reciting his naughty-boy lines without any sense of experience or personality.
The first ten minutes of The Big Wedding are a downward spiral of bad actors and their moth-eaten character types. Each new one is revealed with a dramatic flourish, as though they were the showcase prizes in a nightmarish game show inspired by Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit. Keaton as a dithering neurotic! Sarandon as a passionate Earth mother! Topher Grace as a fumbling virgin! Robin Williams as a daffy priest! Katherine Heigl as anyone or anything! Hell is these people.
Don used to be married to Ellie (Keaton), but has since remarried to her best friend Bebe (Sarandon), and the three of them form a truce in honor of their adopted son’s imminent wedding. Don and Ellie’s children are played by Heigl and Grace, who wears a t-shirt that reads, “Owls Are Assholes” (even the costuming doesn’t make sense here). Their first scene together concludes with Heigl making a gesture to Grace’s co-workers that suggests the size of his abnormally large penis. In other words, this is a film that believes intimations of incest are fodder for light-hearted comedy.
But it doesn’t stop there – just about every character in The Big Wedding is dangerously perverted enough to merit their own Amber Alert. After getting a handjob under the rehearsal dinner table from his future sister-in-law, Grace laments to Keaton, “I can’t believe I’m being cock-blocked by my own mother!” Heigl “jokingly” claims that Chicago is “crawling with Spics and Jews” – her spontaneous vomiting in the subsequent scene is a natural reaction to such bile. Meanwhile, De Niro screws Keaton almost the moment Sarandon turns around, and then immediately informs his already traumatized daughter that he had been “laying pipe” with her tantric sex-loving mother for the last forty minutes.
This leads to a tender reconciliation scene between De Niro and the pregnant Heigl, in which she suggests in the most nonsensical manner possible that she plans to abort the baby because her boyfriend dumped her: “I’m not one of those women who thinks I deserve to have a child just because my uterus suddenly decides to work. He either loves me or he doesn’t.” All of Heigl’s motivations seem pretty deranged, until you remember that this movie may or may not have been written by a cat.
Over a thousand words into the review and I haven’t even mentioned the plot of The Big Wedding, or the hilarious moment where Heigl tells De Niro, “I haven’t picked up a chisel in years.” Not that it matters – the inciting action for this farce is so forced, it isn’t even suitable for a Cindy Snow-era episode of Three’s Company. Don and Ellie learn that their adoptive son Alejandro never told his conservative birth mother that they got divorced, so naturally they’re FORCED to pretend that they’re still married. You know, to mollify the woman who abandoned him as a child. Don’t worry, the story has a heartwarming twist – it turns out his mom was the eager underage whore of a Medellin drug lord who is Alejandro’s real father. Say it with me now: awwwww.
The Big Wedding is unbearable from the word “go” (or more accurately, from the word “cunnilingus”), but the manic and insufferable attempts at crude comedy and dopey slapstick reach an infuriating fever pitch in the climactic wedding scene.
De Niro’s character is supposed to be “plastered” in this sequence, but his performance doesn’t waver from the cow-eyed diffidence he displays throughout the entire film. Sufficed to say that the guests at this wedding are virtual saints for patiently sitting through all of this nonsense, although the loving and lingering insert shots suggest they’re all just related to the producers.
It is the sick joke of De Niro’s career that the more he displays contempt for the craft of acting, the more exponentially prolific and popular he becomes. Justin Zackham’s The Big Wedding pushed that contempt too far, not only for my Dad, but for the ticket-buying public in general, earning just over $20 million against a $35 million budget. It also holds only a 7% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and in a searing indictment of online film culture, all of the critics who deemed The Big Wedding fresh were bloggers.
Still, it’s not all that bad for a first screenplay from a neutered house cat. We can only hope Gibbles’ next movie will be better.
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With The Big Wedding now just another square in the quilt that is my cinematic PTSD disorder, I am officially accepting dares for the next month’s Dare Daniel review. You can hit me up on the Twitters at BarnesOnFilm, or like ESFS on Facebook and message us there.