“Big” is an awfully ambitious modifier to affix to this pale wisp of a film, which puts a generically dysfunctional family through the wringer during one long weekend. The pending marriage of adopted son Alejandro (Barnes, shellacked with what looks like “ethnic” pancake, or at least tanning-bed overdo) brings the family back together, including his recovering alcoholic father, Don (De Niro); Don’s girlfriend, Bebe (Sarandon) and his ex-wife, Ellie (Keaton), who used to be besties; Ellie and Don’s eldest child, Lyla (Heigl), an attorney whose fertility issues threaten to collapse her marriage; and son Jared (Grace), a surgeon – and a virgin. The clan is big on sharing – they subscribe to a “let it all hang out” philosophy, which is how Ellie justifies interrupting her unsoiled son’s first hand job in order to school the handee on feminist politics – but when Alejandro’s very Catholic birth mother arrives for the wedding, the entire family conspires to keep Mom and Dad’s long-ago divorce a secret. Cue antics here.
The antics, alas, are toothless. Adapting from Jean-Stéphane Bron’s 2006 source film Mon frère se marie, writer/director Justin Zackham huffs and puffs to produce one uninspired set-piece after another. That the rehearsal dinner will end in disaster, that the virgin will find deliverance – it’s all predestined, and delivered with no special zing to offset the predictability. Zackham has corralled a good cast but played to its weaknesses: There’s De Niro mugging broadly, Keaton doing dippy, Heigl playing shrill, and so on. (An aside: Haters tend to pile-drive on poor Heigl, but I rather like her bracingness. Still, she needs savvier management to nudge her toward better roles less likely to reaffirm standing complaints about her screen persona.) Perplexingly, Zackham sidesteps the more fecund possibilities of the script. Devout Catholicism – not exactly de rigueur in contemporary American comedy – and various permutations on sexuality are trotted out as plot constructs but not sincere points of interest – or empathy. Instead, the film flails at frisky/edgy with some “risqué” bits that just come off as embarrassing, like your parents still clinging to “gettin’ jiggy wit it” two decades too late. I’m not saying there isn’t comic gold to be mined in the topic of cunnilingus and the senior set, but The Big Wedding couldn’t hit pay dirt even if it face-palmed the film first.
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