Tag Archives: C

AFTER THE WEDDING

Producer: Harry Finkel, Bart Freundlich, Joel B. Michaels, Julianne Moore and Silvio Muraglia
Director: Bart Freundlich
Writer: Bart Freundlich
Stars: Michelle Williams, Julianne Moore, Billy Crudup, Abby Quinn, Alex Esola, Will Chase, Susan Blackwell, Vir Pachisia, Anjula Bedi and Kaizad Gandhi
Studio: Sony Pictures Classics

C

In her Danish films, if not her English-language ones, Susanne Bier has shown a rare ability to frame melodramatic stories in a way that minimizes their sappiness and releases the honest emotion that underlies the often hokey plot turns. When other directors have adapted the originals for English-speaking audiences, however, the result has mostly been pretty dire. Bert Freundlich’s version of her 2006 Oscar-nominated “Efter Brylluppet” unfortunately follows the pattern.

To his credit, at least Freundlich hasn’t simply done a slavish copy. He’s flipped the genders of the leads, and if that choice was made, even partially, to accommodate his wife Julianne Moore, one can understand why he would want to write a juicy part for one of the finest actresses working today. In the end, however, “After the Wedding” represents one of her less effective performances.

In “Efter Brylluppet,” Mads Mikkelson played Jacob Petersen, a Danish man who had become a staffer at an Indian orphanage, and was reluctantly lured back to his homeland by rich businessman Jorgen Hansson (Rolf Lassgaard) with the promise of a large donation that would be made only after a personal meeting. Once there, Jacob was induced to attend the wedding of the man’s stepdaughter Anna (Stine Fischer Christensen) and discovered that Jorgen’s wife Helene (Side Babett Knudsen) was his onetime girlfriend, and that he was most probably Anna’s biological father. The plot proceeded from there, in a fashion that was hardly unpredictable but was played in a fashion that touched the heart rather than squeezing it into teary submission.

In Freundllch’s reworking, Jacob has become American transplant Isabel (Michelle Williams) and Jorgen is New-York based entrepreneur Theresa (Moore). Helene is now Oscar (Billy Crudup), a famous artist-sculptor, and Anna is Grace (Abby Quinn). The basic plot turns are the same, but they feel more manipulative this time around, for several reasons.

Apart from the fact that the Freundlich’s gender switch works less well than Bier’s male-centered original, one is simply that he lacks her sensitivity of touch. While she employed a bare-bones, semi-gritty style, he opts for a lush, opulent look, accentuated by Gracy Yun’s production design, Arjun Bhasin’s costumes, and Julio Macat’s widescreen cinematography, that’s more redolent of Douglas Sirk—or even Ross Hunter. The glossiness italicizes the high-strung tenor rather than suppressing it.

Nor does his approach bring out the best in what is obviously an excellent cast. Williams is really the star here, and works very hard to make Isabel a credible character. But while she makes Isabel’s discomfort with the plush New York environment she finds herself in palpable, she never gets secure grip on the vacillation the woman experiences in trying to balance her desire to get to know her newfound daughter with her continuing attachment to Jai (Vir Pachisia), the shy boy she’s virtually adopted back at the orphanage.

While Williams basically underplays, Moore takes the opposite approach. There are moments in her performance that ring true—especially her interaction with Tre Ryder and Azhy Robertson, who play her sons Theo and Otto. But though there are reasons for her rather frantic ways that won’t be revealed here (as well as an extremely powerful sequence near the close), as a whole her work here lacks her usual subtlety. Crudup (who earlier starred in another Freundlich misfire, “World Traveler”), is meanwhile reduced to a virtual cipher, and Quinn can’t entirely pull off the ill-written Grace, who quickly becomes so obsessed with Isabel that she virtually ignores her new husband, Jonathan (Alex Esola); indeed, you might find yourself feeling more sympathy for him than for the other characters, despite the fact that he’s not the nicest of persons—though you could make a case for Gwen (Susan Blackwell), the assistant Theresa treats like a doormat.

It’s entirely possible that those who haven’t seen Bier’s original will find the film fairly affecting. Those who have, however, will likely consider it a distinct also-ran. The high-toned soap opera, one might add, is just the latest in a list of films from Freundlich that have been disappointing, to say the least.

READY OR NOT

Producer: Bradley J. Fischer, William Sherak, James Vanderbilt and Tripp Vinson
Director: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett
Writer: Guy Busick and Ryan Christopher Murphy
Stars: Samara Weaving, Adam Brody, Mark O'Brien, Henry Czerny, Andie MacDowell, Melanie Scrofano, Kristian Bruun, Elyse Levesque, Nicky Guadagni, John Ralston, Liam MacDonald, Ethan Tavares, Hanneke Talbot, Celine Tsai and Daniela Barbosa
Studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures

C

It doesn’t take a genius to discern that Guy Busick and Ryan Christopher Murphy’s script for “Ready or Not” was inspired by Jordan Peele’s surprise smash “Get Out,” substituting class for race. But the movie’s combination of horror, dark comedy and social commentary, while a substantial improvement over directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett’s previous effort, the dreary found-footage “Rosemary’s Baby” clone “Devil’s Due,” is nowhere near as deftly handled as it was in Peele’s film.

The goofy story—and be aware that the following précis contains spoilers, so proceed with caution should you wish to see the film blissfully ignorant of its plot—revolves around the wedding of Grace (Samara Weaving), a young woman brought up in a foster home, to clean-cut Alex Le Domas (Mark O’Brien). He’s part of a well-to-do family whose fortune was founded on board games but now has exploded via ownership of sports franchises. The Le Domas clan is headed by Tony (Henry Czerny) and his wife Becky (Andie MacDowell), who live in the opulent estate where the ceremonies are about to occur.

Among the guests are the other family members. The most grotesque of the bunch is Tony’s surly sister Helene (Nicky Guadagni). But also present are Alex’s rather dissolute brother Daniel (Adam Brody) and his wife Charity (Elyse Levesque), along with their sons Georgie (Liam MacDonald) and Gabe (Ethan Tavares); and his drug-addict sister Emilie (Melanie Scrofano) and her cowardly husband Fitch (Kristian Bruun). Also on hand are servants, several maids but most notably the devoted family butler Stevens (John Ralston), who seems to be obsessed with classical music, especially Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.

The Le Domases are none too receptive to Grace, with Tony and Helene most obviously hostile, Becky apparently on the fence, and Daniel most accepting. It’s not their attitude that’s really problematic, though: it’s a tradition they have—that newlyweds must participate in a game on their wedding night, which will be determined by the bride’s choice of a card from a mystical box that, Tony explains, has been the key to the clan’s fortunes since it was acquired in the nineteenth century. By chance (or perhaps not), the card turns out to be hide and seek, under the rules of which the bride must hide and the family members must find her—and kill her before dawn. If they don’t, Tony explains, they will all die horribly, victims of a Satanic curse associated with that wealth-bringing box.

So begins the long night’s journey into day, a cats-and-mouse pursuit in which many will die (starting with the maids, two of whom are accidentally dispatched by the addled Emilie) and concluding with a literally splashy bloodbath. Along the way Grace’s bridal grown becomes saturated with gore as she tries to elude the family members who—save for Alex, who tries to help her escape, and Daniel, who is of two minds about the business, sporadically exhibits what in this context passes for mercy.

Of course you’re not meant to take this nonsensical business seriously, especially since it’s played like a parody of creaky old melodramas, with the cast encouraged to put across the mood of breathless dementia at the highest possible pitch. Czerny, Guadagni and Ralston embrace the style most enthusiastically, though the others aren’t far behind, and Weaving conveys both the tremulousness of poor Grace in the early stages of the chase and her steely resolve as she, though reluctantly, does whatever it takes to survive (she even—horror of horrors—punches a kid out cold at one point, though it must be admitted that there’s provocation). In the early scenes she even adds a suggestion that Grace might just be a bit of the gold-digger the family assumes she is.

All of this is done up in full-bore Grand Guignol style, not only from the performance standpoint but in terms of setting. Andrew M. Stearn’s production design is extravagant, to say the least—the interior of the Le Domas mansion is as tackily flamboyant as you could wish—and Brett Jutziewicz’s widescreen lensing gives the visuals a lush, glossy look.

But even with the cast giving their all, the effort of Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett (along with editor Terel Gibson) to keep things moving at a furious pace, and a score by Brian Tyler italicizing the gruesome shocks, “Ready or Not,” while an efficient genre piece, can’t help running down as the ridiculous twists and turns pile up en route to a drawn-out finale and a limp punch-line. (A sequence in which Stewart pursues Grace on the estate grounds, for instance, is cruelly overextended, as well as sloppily choreographed.)

This may satisfy viewers wanting a tongue-in-cheek gorefest with a smidgen of social commentary, but it lacks the edge and subtlety of “Get Out,” its obvious model. It’s also worthy of wondering why “The Hunt” has been—even if temporarily—shelved while this movie, which carries a similar theme, hasn’t elicited equally vociferous criticism from the likes of Laura Ingraham and the folks at Fox and Friends. Could the Fox connection (even if the ties between the various divisions of the former Murdoch empire are now severed) be one of the reasons?