The Amazon Prime rom-com basically feels like watching a bunch of talented actors drink cheap red wine for 90 minutes.
A short, patchy, straight-to-broadcast piece of semi-enjoyable content that attempts to combine several different romantic comedies into one movie that doesn’t have the bandwidth (or interest) to mine any of them for prime sources of romance or comedy, “The People We Hate.” at the Wedding” produced by Claire Scanlon, it feels like watching a group of talented actors drink cheap red wine for 90 minutes.
Some of them must be very lucky.
At one point, during what can only be described as the worst bachelorette party ever in movies and/or real life, Kristen Bell dozed off in the River Thames one afternoon while wearing nothing but an American flag bikini (that is Before An activity error occurred). Elsewhere, Ben Platt urinates on the famous “Don’t Fear, Don’t Die” star, Isaac De Bancoli, out of spite, a sentence I never expected to write before.
These are the scenes that make you hope the film’s cast will have more fun than their characters, and Scanlon — whose “setup” convincingly promises operators might spark a rom-com renaissance — will rebound from this with a take on the genre that rewards its clever comic timing with stronger material. .
Adapted from Grant Ginder’s chain-saw bliss of the same name (script credited to “Deadpool 3” writers Wendy Molyneux and Lizzie Molyneux-Logelin), “The People We Hate at the Wedding” purportedly tells the story of a woman named Donna (Allison Janney). She sees her eldest daughter’s impending wedding as her last chance to reunite her estranged children. In fact, Donna is given a brief interest in a movie that tries to split the difference between a sitcom-like ensemble and a “love, actually”-sized mosaic and ends up looking like a loose collection of vaguely related B plots framed as a fairy tale for some reason (as many options are). Here, that might be funny if the movie actually committed to it.)
But it all starts with Donna. Her first husband was a suave, deep-pocketed Frenchman (de Bancoli, in a role that makes minimal use of his talents), who cheated on her with a babysitter. Her second husband wasn’t quite as memorable, but he left her with two squabbling children before he died, both of whom were raised to the dismay of their older half-sister Eloise (Cynthia Addai Robinson) for being posh, idealistic, and living in London while they were milky-tasty, mediocre, and stuck in common American cities.
Neither Alice (Bill) nor Paul (Platt) have any natural interest in flying across the pond to see their older brother walk down the aisle, but fate gives them a compelling reason. For Alice, the trip provides a chance to spend some quality time alone with the boss she usually has to tuck into the office locker (Jorma Taccone) – away from the annoying wife and baby who keep him from committing to her. Unfortunately, it gets delayed at the last minute, and Belle finds herself flirting with a nice guy named Dennis (Dustin Milligan) in business class. It begins with the whole routine of “Paddington ‘is actually good’, in case you can’t immediately tell who you’re ending up with, and then they share a postcoital breakfast that would please Reynolds and Woodcock (a gag that leaves Bell enough room to sneak in a line One so good that it makes you acutely aware of the script’s missed opportunities to be funny).
For Paul, Eloise’s wedding coincides perfectly with the unpaid leave he’s forced to take from his ridiculous job as an aversion therapist’s assistant, and his adventure-seeking friend Dominic (Karan Soni) is thrilled to go along with the trip. Dominic’s easy way out on the trip may be due to an old sexually available friend waiting for the duo in London, a handsome older man appears in the middle of the scene. It isn’t long before a half-naked Paul is used by a man as a piece of human furniture during three improper ways with the couple.
This visual gag — prickly but safe in a way that’s in keeping with the Le Tigre and Wet Leg songs that pepper the soundtrack — proves typical of a film that shrugs with an edge too vague to commit. Alice and Paul’s entire characters are defined by deep agonies that “the people we hate at the wedding” allude to without really touching, while the entire sibling bond is articulated through the kind of reflexive irony that modern screenwriters forget audiences can give themselves. (eg Alice says “that sounds good and normal” when Paul tells her something that doesn’t actually sound good and normal).
Bell and Co. are able to squeeze dialogue for added flavor when the lines are a little more forgiving (she has a wonderfully dry response to the aforementioned breakfast feast), and there’s a constant gag about an oblivious wedding guest who keeps appearing in the worst places at the best possible times, but has real warmth or charm. The real are few and far between. “People We Hate at the Wedding” tends to work best when it forces Donna’s family together so she can make something of a storm of their shared family resentments… though it barely scratches the surface of what those resentments might be.
The climactic sit-down at London’s Taco Bell suggests that a mutual fear of rejection has terrified everyone into a self-fulfilling prophecy of alienation, but this angle doesn’t adequately explain why Alice and Paul are only committed to being the worst of people. At the wedding, perhaps on the surface of the earth.
Choosing to focus on its two most annoying characters has the added effect of forcing Donna to the margins of her own story, while reducing Eloise to an unbothered entity for extended periods at once – a perfectly fitting method for this movie. Ignore the potential optics, implications, or comedy of pitting the black and white sides of her family against each other (or even admitting that she does). It’s par for the course for the disposable rom-com who just wants to get through the ceremony without making a mess of things, and inevitably so he can’t.
“The People We Hate at the Wedding” will be available to stream on Prime Video starting Friday, November 18th.
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