Directed by Theresa Connelly. Starring Lena Olin, Gabriel Byrne, Claire Danes, Adam Trese, Mili Avital, Daniel Lapaine, Rade Serbedzija. (1998, PG-13, 101 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., July 31, 1998
First-time writer-director Theresa Connelly's Polish Wedding is a shotgun affair. This scattershot movie mixes drama and comedy into an uneasy blend that muddles the honesty of each perspective and leaves behind a messy taste. The film wants to showcase the transcendent supremacy of the blood ties that unite a tempestuous Polish family in working-class Detroit. Instead, what it depicts is a slavish commitment to the repetition of old patterns and mistakes. And whenever the film does have the opportunity to get inside the heads of its characters and decipher their thoughts and opportunities for the future, the story line devolves into comic silliness that ruins any chance to interrupt either the old destructive cycles or shed an appreciative light on the resilience of the past. All the marriages in the film's Pzoniak clan are the result of what could be interpreted as a bad Polish joke about family planning. Generation upon generation of knocked-up girls and reluctant boyfriends continue to tie the knot. The situation is no less common for young Hala (Danes), who nevertheless wants to retain her position as the virgin chosen to lead the procession in her church pageant. Like mother, like daughter. Mom Jadzia (Olin), who has four sons in addition to her daughter Hala, calls herself a queen and says that there is nothing more sacred than making life and making love. She is a sultry homemaker yet aloof to her hard-working husband Bolek (Byrne), though she also works as a cleaning woman and is having a rather indiscreet affair with one of her bosses. She is the linchpin of the story, yet as a character she makes very little sense. She talks of how childbirth has ravaged her body yet she has the body of the stunningly gorgeous Lena Olin. Her husband appears to love her and to keep his silence for fear of rocking the boat, yet she treats him like dirt despite hanging on to him with every fiber of her being. Her lover wants to whisk her away to Paris but she sees no reason why anyone would want to leave Detroit. The tension with her daughter comes from her understanding of their similarities, yet she moves hell and high water to make sure that Hala enters into a marriage much like her own. Then there is the matter of her closet full of homemade pickles which she sucks on with all the addiction of a nicotine fiend… that is, when her hands aren't busy “fluting her dumplings.” Meant as a tribute to the filmmaker's ethnic heritage, Polish Wedding instead comes across as a confused blur that is often saying one thing but meaning another. Such confusion is a common part of growing up and growing apart. It takes clarity to turn it into art.