The Wedding Guest
2019, R, 97 min. Directed by Michael Winterbottom. Starring Dev Patel, Radhika Apte, Jim Sarbh.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., March 22, 2019
The film opens on a man in a bedroom hurriedly packing a suitcase and then heading for the airport, where he books a flight from London to Lahore. Is he to be the wedding guest? Why then, did he pack four passports with different aliases and stop once in Pakistan to purchase a burner phone and guns? Curiosity only mounts when he kidnaps a young Punjabi woman about to celebrate her nuptials. During the scuffle, one of the bride-to-be’s guards is shot dead. The stage has been set for a crackling crime thriller. However, this being a film by Michael Winterbottom, the prolific British filmmaker who has made a career out of thwarting narrative expectations and becoming pigeonholed by genres (A Mighty Heart, The Trip, The Killer Inside Me), The Wedding Guest arrives with unexpected gifts.
Dev Patel, the soulful hero of Slumdog Millionaire and Lion, plays the kidnapper Jay here. Not only is it unusual to see the British actor of Indian heritage playing a character who wields a gun, it’s also clear from Jay’s multiple passports that he is a professional outlaw. Another curious fact is that Samira (Apte), on the eve of her arranged marriage, does not fight back against her kidnapping. However, instead of a cat-and-mouse pursuit the film now slows down to allow the characters to get to know one another. Problems arise as Jay attempts to unite Samira with the person who hired him to kidnap her, and while the delays continue Jay and Samira are locked up in hideaways getting to know one another and slipping across borders. With the thriller elements tamped down and the narrative mysteries growing almost as quickly as other questions are resolved, The Wedding Guest turns its focus to interpersonal connections. The film skirts classification as nimbly as it does pursuers, and in the process creates something that simmers on its own timetable.