After the Wedding
- Emma Simmonds
- 3 June 2019
Sundance London 2019: Julianne Moore and Michelle Williams head up this gender-swapped remake
Lavish nuptials have been the scene of much melodrama on both the big and small screen. But, as its title suggests, Bart Freundlich's latest collaboration with wife Julianne Moore is in no hurry to reveal its hand, saving its showdown until the morning following the big day. It's a gender-swapped remake of Danish director Susanne Bier's Oscar-nominated original, with Moore and Michelle Williams switched in for Rolf Lassgård and Mads Mikkelsen.
Williams plays Isabel – a gleaming white saviour / earnest charity worker, depending on your perspective. She's the co-founder of an Indian orphanage who reserves particular affection for young Jai (Vir Pachisia), a boy she rescued from the streets at the tender age of one. When she's approached by Moore's billionaire media magnate Theresa with the offer of funding, it comes with the condition that Isabel must travel to New York to meet with her, leaving Jai just ahead of his eighth birthday.
Once there, she's pressed into attending the wedding of Theresa's daughter Grace (Abby Quinn) and is astonished to find that her potential benefactor is married to her old flame, artist Oscar (Billy Crudup). With the players in position, it's not long before the secrets and lies surface.
Focusing on the mother figures could have rendered the film's child separation storylines even more powerful, but the raw tragedy of some of the key scenes in fact seems diminished. The problem is that it's all too blandly polished, while Williams projects a dreaminess that makes her character hard to grasp – a scene where she and Crudup pursue each other round a large rock in his studio is just bizarre. Moore, on the other hand, is reliably terrific; Theresa's mysterious motives draw you in and she's suitably ambiguous before flashes of ruthlessness, anger and vulnerability complete the picture.
Shorn of Bier's devastatingly interrogatory directorial style – which favoured extreme close-ups, as if attempting to see into the characters' very souls – the narrative's flaws are laid bare. What begins as an intriguing critique of philanthropy rapidly descends into soap opera-style revelations – compelling in the original, less so here. As in Bier's film, the Indian sub-plot involving Isabel's attachment to Jai is reduced to bookends and cursory flashbacks; what should have been an agonising parting never carries enough weight. And, even in its more heightened scenes, the anguish rarely packs the punch intended in a film that seems to prize elegance above emotion.
Screened as part of the Sundance Film Festival 2019: London. General release TBC.