After the Wedding: American remake of Danish Oscar-nom lacks emotional payoff

By Karen Gordon

Rating: C

After the Wedding is the English-language remake of an Oscar nominated Danish film, a reimagining that flips the gender of the main characters with disappointing results. 

Michelle Williams is Isabel, an American ex-pat living and working at a small orphanage in India.  The orphanage is in desperate need of money and, as luck would have it, they get word that an American wants to give them $2 million.

But the catch is that Isabel -  and only Isabel - has to fly to Manhattan and make the pitch herself, or the deal goes out the window.  For several reasons, she is resistant to this, but the money is too important.

Julianne Moore is a business mogul stringing along the director of an Indian orphanage (Michelle Williams)

Julianne Moore is a business mogul stringing along the director of an Indian orphanage (Michelle Williams)

When Isabel arrives, she’s set up in a luxury hotel with every consideration for her stay.  She is taken to meet her putative benefactor. Theresa, played by Julianne Moore, is a self-made multi-millionaire who has built  a major company from the ground up. 

Isabel wants to make the pitch, get the money and get back home. But maddeningly for her, Theresa isn’t in a rush to hand over the cash. 

She tells Isabel that she’s, in fact, considering several charities and wants to have some time to sit with the proposal and then meet again.  Once again there’s a catch. Theresa’s daughter, Grace (Abby Quinn) is getting married on the weekend at their country home, and so Theresa will be n/a until after the wedding. But she insists that Isabel attend and smooths the way for that.

The wedding is at Theresa’s home, a mansion in the country she shares with her husband, Oscar (Billy Crudup), who is a highly successful visual artist, and their young boys.

Wedding jitters aside, theirs is a happy, loving family.  But when Isabel shows up to the wedding, things start to tilt. 

In the original film, the part of the millionaire donor and the caregiver from the orphanage were played by men, Rolf Lassgård and Mads Mikkelsen, respectively. Flipping the genders on this story is an interesting idea.  But it requires enough of an overhaul to give the story a slightly different complexion.  That, isn’t at all a negative. In fact, there are nuances and complexities in this version that are worth exploring, and the flm does that.

But still, the transition is problematic. 

The adaptation is by Bart Freundlich, Moore’s husband, who also directs. Although he builds an atmosphere here that quiets the world enough for these characters to do the work the film asks of them, everything stays on the surface. 

The original was made in 2006. In the intervening years, the way we all use social media and the ‘Net has changed things a lot. For instance, it’s tough to believe that, in 2019, Isabel wouldn’t have done some simple internet research of her benefactor before arriving at their meeting.

If you can get past that, the movie has a bigger issue.

This is an intimate drama: a movie about how each character views specific events, and as such as the movie unfolds things become more complex.  Because it’s intimate, each character is taking things seriously and looking for release and resolution, which is a rich idea. 

But the way it unfolds here, every major character seems to have a scene where they apologize for something.  That becomes a kind of go-to emotional motif for the movie. These are modern people who are relatively self-aware, and so they talk and reveal and say things that should make the film emotionally resonant. But the interaction seems inauthentic and that resonance doesn’t happen..

The cast is made up of some of the finest and most interesting actors working in film today. And for the most part they’re doing thoughtful work. Unfortunately, there’s only so much they can do. The film doesn’t go emotionally deep enough to pay off. 

After the Wedding. Written and directed by Bart Freundlich. Starring Michelle Williams, Julianne Moore and Billy Crudup. Opens Friday, August 16 in Toronto and Vancouver and Friday, August 23 in Montreal.