A retired film star’s wedding to her fourth husband brings chaos when their families (and her ex-husband) shows up for the festivities.
“Patchy” would be one way to describe Damian Harris’s cinematic trajectory; “unpredictable” would also apply. Briefly appearing as Miles in Dick Clement’s 1969 crime comedy “Otley,” Harris didn’t truly resurface until two decades later when he wrote and directed the sex dramedy “The Rachel Papers.” Despite a venerable cast – Jonathan Pryce, James Spader, Michael Gambon, Dexter Fletcher, and Jared Harris (Damien’s brother) – the film failed to live up to its acerbic source novel’s wit and barely made a dent in both the box-office and public consciousness.
That didn’t stop Harris from somehow snagging the then-hot Goldie Hawn for the lead of schlock-fest “Deceived” in 1991, followed by the even-schlockier Ellen Barkin bomb “Bad Company” four years later. Things seemed dire for Harris, not helped by a short string of forgettable TV credits and the awful 2000 erotic thriller “Mercy” – also starring Barkin – which put an end to his lustrous career for eight years.
Then came child abuse drama “Gardens of the Night” – boasting a restrained John Malkovich and a surprisingly terrific turn from Tom Arnold – whose earnestness and reliance on cheap tactics outweighed its genuine ambition. Now, after another decade of radio silence, Harris attempts a comeback with “The Wilde Wedding,” a lukewarm romantic comedy that reunites the writer/director with Malkovich, and adds Glenn Close, Patrick Stewart, Minnie Driver and Noah Emmerich to the head-scratching roster of top-notch actors with whom Harris has worked.
The ingredients of a mature, May-December/December-December rom-com are there. “The Wilde Wedding” contains memorable lines of dialogue, some real chemistry courtesy of its formidable cast, and a sustained melancholy tone, a palpable sense of longing one experiences in their twilight years. Yet it also cannot escape its Lifetime roots, missteps, and cliches pulling it back from… if not greatness, then at least adequacy.
From the get-go, if one manages to overlook the whole “family gets together for special occasion” chestnut, the film’s framing device – daughter Mackenzie (Grace Van Patten) narrating a wedding video – works against it, infusing the otherwise quite mature film with a juvenile tone. Mackenzie has a crush on her cousin Dylan (Tim Boardman) and asks every member of the family what true love means to them. Saccharine, cheesy and generally distasteful, this plot-line clashes with the much more sophisticated – if, again, “patchy” (ugh, all that family singing, pass me the puke bag) – sequences involving the three leads. Perhaps if it were utilized more consistently, it may have had a stronger effect, but Harris starts and ends his film with Mackenzie’s video, while just sort of brushing upon it in-between.
Eve (Close) is a film star, about to marry famous writer Harold (Stewart – with hair!) after stealing the spotlight from her ex-husband and actor Laurence (Malkovich) years ago. By turns sophisticated and saucy, Eve greets both gentlemen at her abode with grace and humor, their rapport knowingly sharp. Laurence, in particular, is quite the character: an erudite eccentric, a cynic and a wine connoisseur, prone to extended, very Malkovichian monologues. “I, for one, would like to commend Eve on her optimism and her perseverance and, of course, her courage in taking this plunge yet again,” he toasts drily during the wedding rehearsal. “The sofa looks like Gorbachev’s forehead,” he comments at the wine stain he had inflicted. There’s real chemistry between him and Eve, especially in the few scenes where they let go and embrace the good old days in bouts of sweet-tinged nostalgia.
Wily and philosophical, Harold is also somewhat of a rabble-rouser and serves as a great – if somewhat underdeveloped – counterpoint to Eve and Laurence. “Our time is nearly done,” he muses. “Sometimes I wonder if we should really be saying no to anything, before we face the long night.” At another point, he exclaims to Eve, “How can you leave me to languish on this moonlit night, alone in my bed?” If Harris made a film about those three, it may have been a fine theatrical piece.
Trouble is, the film has about a dozen plot lines, most inconsequential, like Mackenzie’s crush/quest to find the meaning of true love. More and more characters and their little “intrigues” snowball as they arrive for the wedding until an incident involving a misplaced box of hallucinogenic mushrooms by the rebel, motorcycle-riding playboy son Ethan (Peter Facinelli) changes everything. How inventive, to use drugs as the pivotal means to existential understanding. It’s like “Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus” had awkward sex with “Mother’s Day.”
Characters hook up, Malkovich trips out, and Stewart, after his Poo Emoji appearance in the dreadful “The Emoji Movie” this year, shows up in another sequence not quite befitting of an actor of his age and eminence. Minnie Driver has her moments as the chain-smoking, meditating mother Priscilla, a self-proclaimed “rock goddess” who sings covers at every occasion. All this crisscrossing between storylines and tones allows for little room to breathe though. It’s as if Harris were testing himself, to see how many characters and plots he can he stuff into one 90-minute film.
Most of the dialogue is neither terrible nor terribly memorable – and that applies to most aspects of this film: music, lighting, its cinematic techniques and ideas about, well, love. The momentum never gets going, the film swirling around those white privileged people and their “problems” until it just ends, never getting too anything remotely revelatory. With “The Wilde Wedding,” Damian Harris stays true to his “patchy” and “unpredictable” status – perhaps he could replace those adjectives with “consistent” and “wise”… you know, when he makes another film in five-to-ten years.
In theaters September 15th