Review: After the Wedding

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Friday, August 30th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: And I’m Megan Basham. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: a review of the new film After the Wedding

But first, before I get to that, I want to tell you some news about the latest Kendrick Brothers movie. They have once again shocked all of Hollywood by doing, well, exactly what they did with their last six movies.

EICHER: Yeah, and just to make your point, I see here that Box Office Mojo, wrote that the film “outperformed all expectations.” What you’re saying is, it’s time for Hollywood to get over the shock?

BASHAM: Yeah, because once again a relatively low-budget, Christian-themed film, yet it took in more than $8 million in its opening weekend. They key here is, they’ve already recouped their operating budget. And then some: $8 million in receipts on a $5 million budget. That’s good enough to rank third at the box office, despite playing on far fewer screens than the other major releases.

EICHER: And let me say here also that our sister publication, WORLD Magazine, is great place to read a wide variety of culture reviews, and you can find a review of Overcomer there.

BASHAM: Exactly. 

My print colleague Bob Brown didn’t agree with the low Rotten Tomatoes score. He sided with audiences who gave it an A+ Cinemascore. Bob said the story about a high school track coach is “Genuine and compelling” and called it “the Kendrick Brothers’ best effort yet.”

Just wanted to note that before we dive into today’s review.

EICHER: Consider it noted.

BASHAM: Well, turning now to a movie that actually did surprise me a little a bit.

It is strange when you realize just how much the ever-increasing levels of sex, violence, and ugliness in modern entertainment has affected our expectations while watching dramas. Consider the new indie film After the Wedding

CLIP: I don’t trust your wife. She’s going to give you money for your charity and you’re going to question her integrity, huh? $20 million. What does she want? You know that you’re not the only one affected by this, right? We don’t get to choose. You tell her or I will. I want to know everything. What did you do?

It’s a gender-reversed version of a 2006 Oscar winning Danish film. And it weaves an intriguing mystery around two powerful, dynamic women. They’re each alpha females of a sort. 

Isabel—played by Michelle Williams—runs an orphanage in India. She’s exactly what we picture when we imagine people who give their lives serving in impoverished places. Her flowing palazzo pants, low-maintenance locks, and zen meditation practices give off a distinct air of Earth Mama. Yet she’s so much more than the cliché. She’s not too shy to chat up corporate boards for “suitcases of money.” Or too gentle to roar “I’m not here to teach you compassion!” like a mother bear when arrogant donors try to come between her and her children. Which is exactly what she thinks wealthy Theresa (played by Julianne Moore) is doing after she summons Isabel to New York. Theresa then strong-arms Isabel into staying until she’s ready to decide how much funding she wants to give to the charity.

Theresa, too, is no easy caricature. Her high-powered, demanding professional life doesn’t stop her from being a loving, engaged mom. 

CLIP: Mom, you’ve made this night so special. You are the most caring, loving, best example of a woman I could have ever asked for in a mother.

Sure, she drives brutal bargains and snaps at her assistant. But she also reads her children bedtime stories, worries her sons are playing violent video games, and gets teary thinking about her daughter Grace’s upcoming marriage.

CLIP: What is wrong with the boys? Why are they reading? Hey, did you tell them that they could play that killing each other in outer space game? Lords of Domination? Maybe. So how’s it look? I don’t know. It’s never quite like I imagine. No, it’s going to be great. The work is beautiful. You should try to relax and try to enjoy it. And Gracie called. I think she was looking for some reassurance. She sounded nervous. Oh, I guess it runs in the family. Why are you feeling nervous? Are you feeling nervous? Are you feeling nervous? [playful banter] 

Still, Theresa isn’t the type to do anything without a purpose, especially a seemingly impulsive act like inviting Isabel to Grace’s wedding. When Isabel arrives and realizes she knows Theresa’s husband Oscar (played by Billy Crudup), we start to suspect what it might be. But the knowing makes the revelation no less riveting. The two women circle one another, each trying to prove that their life choices make them the more ideal version of womanhood.

CLIP: What are you doing here? Hi! Good, you made it! I was a little bit late. I missed the first part. Traffic. I was stuck on the—That’s OK. You’re here now. That’s all that matters. You met my husband? Yeah? Isabel runs an orphanage in India that I was thinking about funding. So I thought it would be nice if she could come. 

I won’t spoil the mystery, except to say that as it creates high emotional stakes for all the characters, After the Wedding surprises as much with what isn’t there as with what is. Namely, no sex scenes, save Oscar sweetly romancing his wife when he finds her in the bathtub. The scene shows no nudity or anything inappropriate. 

So why did I keep steeling myself to see that kind of thing? Because After the Wedding is clearly meant to be a prestige drama. It stars two critically-acclaimed actresses at the top of their game. It centers on people with cultured, urban lives. It depicts two women grappling with a charged, unspoken rivalry. And these days, an A-list release like that—about marriage, money, and ambition—without significant R content is almost unheard of. If the film’s PG-13 rating didn’t also come with a fair amount of profanity, it would be quite the unicorn indeed.

Though at times it doesn’t play up the central conflict as much as it should, After the Wedding is well-acted, well-paced, and intelligently crafted. It’s also the rare film that explores tricky topics like class differences and femininity without feeling like it’s pandering. At first it seems the filmmakers want us to envy and resent Theresa’s one percenter status—playing with those conditioned expectations again! But as we come to know her better, we remember that God blesses some with the ability to make wealth. And that wealth creates jobs and funds charities.

Further, we see a depiction of unplanned pregnancy where the only “choice” debated is what kind of life to give the child. “I just knew I couldn’t take care of you,” one character says of her decision not to be a mother, “so bringing you into the world was the best that I could do.” The frequent language notwithstanding, those are expectations upended in the most wonderful way.

(Photo/Sundance Film Festival)

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