‘After the Wedding’ explores the aftermath of a single moment
Every choice we make carries consequences.
Years after we choose, we may still deal with those outcomes, even though we know the choice was finalized a long time ago.
Isabel once made a significant choice. After finding herself pregnant at a young age, she and the baby’s father made the choice, together, to put the baby up for adoption. When, years later, the two cross paths, they each find themselves dealing with different dimensions of this choice, as they are forced to confront the decision made, the consequences created and the damages that must now be addressed.
The fascinating film “After the Wedding” deals with the many layers of this choice while exploring the emotional reactions to all the residue. When the film works, it brutally reveals how people can hurt when they can’t press rewind on their lives, when they are forced to look into the mirror and into the eyes of people they love. But the movie needs more of those moments to sustain its long stretches where the plot skips around to focus on incidental situations that distract from the core. At its best, “After the Wedding” makes us think about the long views people should take as we make short-term decisions.
No surprise, this remake of Susanne Bier’s 2006 film benefits from two superlative performances from its female leads. As Isabel, Michelle Williams continues her strong work on screen — most recently in the smash mini-series “Fosse and Verdon” — with a devastating look at a woman who may be trapped by her good intentions to do good (to provide a home to orphans in India) while suppressing her own selfishness. When situations become tense, Isabel tries to remain the positive person she portrays in her work while burning inside with anger, a balance of emotions that Williams perfectly projects. How special to see this most interesting actress continue to stretch herself with these performances.
Williams is matched, emotion by emotion, by the always wondrous Julianne Moore, delivering another magnetic portrayal of a driven career woman who may be less than honest about the reasons for the steps she takes. Moore has always been exceptional at portraying women living with multiple emotional reactions at any given time. Her sense of balance and reason, as an actress, enables her to project the conflicts such women can face. Moore’s creation of Theresa joins this collection of characters as the actress makes us believe that the same person can be so giving and threatening at the same time, so welcoming and dismissive during one conversation.
As strong as these performances may be, the film could be more cohesive. Because screenwriter Bier and director Bart Freundlich don’t consistently connect their sequences, the film can feel disjointed and episodic, with long passages without focusing on major characters. Perhaps a more fluid approach to the storytelling, with more flexibility to move from conversation to conversation, would better enable the narrative to naturally progress.
Film Nutritional Value: “After the Wedding”
Content: High. At its core “After the Wedding” is a beautifully-performed exploration of how guilt can travel through generations of choices.
Entertainment: High. Even with its somewhat choppy narrative, “After the Wedding” is an accessible film because the central characters are so compelling.
Message: High. This meaningful film reminds us that negative events in our lives can repeat unless we learn from our mistakes.
Relevance: High. Any opportunity to talk with older children about the realities of relationships can be valuable.
Opportunity for Dialogue: High. After you share this film, talk with your older children about the different ways characters handle guilt in the film, and what it teaches them about how people can confront the consequences of their choices.
Yes, every choice we make carries consequences, as does each option a moviemaker may pursue. Bier and Freundlich could have made “After the Wedding” more compelling by settling for a less choppy narrative. But they do give two fine actresses rich characters to play.
“After the Wedding” is rated PG-13 for “thematic material and some strong language.” The film runs 1 hour, 50 minutes.