After the Wedding is an American remake of Susanne Bier's 2006 Danish drama, which was nominated for Best Foreign-Language Film at the Academy Awards. Writer/director Bart Freundlich flip-flops the gender of the main characters but otherwise remains true to the original. Viewers who have seen Bier's movie may not get much out of this one. Anyone who hasn't will find good performances in a story that keeps you invested, even if it never entirely blows you away.
Michelle Williams plays Isabel. She works in an orphanage in Kolkata and seems very happy caring for the children there. Isabel reluctantly travels to New York to meet with a potential donor whose money is much-needed. Enter Theresa (Julianne Moore), the businesswoman interested in supporting the orphanage. They meet, although Theresa is distracted because her daughter Grace (Abby Quinn) is about to be married. She invites Isabel to the wedding, promising they'll discuss the funding afterward.
Saying too much more would give away plot elements viewers might want to discover for themselves, so let's say that Isabel recognizes Theresa's husband Oscar (Billy Crudup) and leave it at that. As their shared history is revealed, the lives of all the characters change irreparably.
There are actually several surprises in After the Wedding. Not the kind of pull-the-rug-out-from-under-you surprises of something like The Sixth Sense or The Usual Suspects, just developments that unfold from the central scenario. (This assumes, of course, you have not seen the original.) Right when you think you have a grasp on what's happening, another layer is added that gets you seeing everything from a slightly different angle.
Watching how the characters assimilate and try to deal with new information provides some pretty good drama. After the Wedding addresses a number of themes, including youthful insecurity, abandonment, and how the emergence of a long-held secret can have devastating repercussions. You feel different ways about these individuals at different times. As they struggle to make sense of their predicament, they sometimes act selfishly, other times with great generosity. To the movie's strength, they feel real people.
The performances here are terrific. Williams brings out the hurt and pain Isabel carries around, and Crudup perfectly captures Oscar's lack of ability to see too far beyond himself. Moore once again demonstrates why she's one of the best actors around in a scene where Theresa has a breakdown. She completely falls apart on-camera, to powerful effect. Abby Quinn, meanwhile, gives Grace a sense of no-nonsense spunk that's vital to making the story work.
As good as the acting is, and as compelling as the drama is, After the Wedding somehow still fails to make the kind of emotional impact that it should. The movie is good, it just doesn't deliver the gut punch you'd expect given the events that transpire. Nothing in particular is massively wrong. Little things just hold it back slightly: Freundlich's dialogue is occasionally a bit too on-the-nose, a couple of scenes end right when the fireworks appear ready to happen, stuff like that.
Is After the Wedding worth seeing anyway? It sure is. You may not be deeply moved when it's over, but the quality of the performances and the poignant ideas explored are enough to satisfy the need for a good human-centered story.
out of four
After the Wedding is rated PG-13 for thematic material and some strong language. The running time is 1 hour and 50 minutes.