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Matrimonial mayhem – ‘Sister of the Groom’

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Wedding movies tend to be extremely hit or miss propositions.

I understand the impulse to construct a story around a wedding. There’s a lot of emotional energy built into the premise. There’s plenty of room for slapstick goofiness or straightfaced drama. It’s a reason for a lot of people – some familiar, some relative strangers – in a single place at the same time. I get why they keep happening, but the truth is that you never really know what you’re going to get.

“Sister of the Groom” – written and directed by Amy Miller Gross – generally lands on the positive end of the wedding movie spectrum, though it certainly isn’t without its faults. Thanks to some solid lead performances, a game ensemble and a lovely Long Island setting, it succeeds more than it fails, capturing not just the weird vibes that a wedding can inspire, but also an interesting investigation into how we consider the ways in which our choices impact our lives.

Audrey (Alicia Silverstone, “Bad Therapy”) is on the verge of turning 40. She’s struggling a bit; her body never bounced back from the birth of her twins and she’s having a tough time finding her way back into the work force – she’s an architect who stepped away from the business when she had kids. Her husband Ethan (Tom Everett Scott, “Clouds”) is supportive, but there’s no denying that some of the spark has gone out of their marriage.

The two of them are on their way to Long Island for Audrey’s younger brother’s wedding. Liam (Jake Hoffman, “The Irishman”), a successful real estate developer, is marrying aspiring French pop singer Clemence (Mathilde Ollivier, “A Call to Spy”) after a whirlwind romance. The event is taking place at the former home of Audrey and Liam’s parents; their mother passed a couple of years prior, but their father Nat (Mark Blum, “Love Is Blind”) is still around.

It doesn’t take long for things to get weird. Audrey almost immediately finds herself on the wrong side of the temperamental Clemence, a situation exacerbated by Audrey’s stress and insecurities. There’s a combativeness between the two of them that only escalates when Audrey learns of the couple’s plan to ignore Audrey’s renovation designs for the property in favor of a complete demolition and rebuild – one led by Audrey’s ex-boyfriend.

It only gets worse.

As the wedding creeps nearer, Audrey finds herself running afoul of her future sister-in-law at every turn. Whether it is she and Ethan getting stuck in one of the less-amenable guest rooms to the discovery that the aforementioned ex is coming to the wedding to Clemence deciding that Audrey is no longer welcome to be part of the ceremony, it all gets very complicated – particularly when Audrey spills an overheard secret in an effort to derail the entire wedding. And when Audrey decides to take some MDMA offered up by Clemence’s sketchy brother, well … she winds up making some even more questionable choices than the ones she’s already made.

One might argue that “Sister of the Groom” could sport the alternate title “First World Problems: The Movie.” And one wouldn’t be wrong – this is very much a movie about wealthy people dwelling on issues that matter very little in the grand scheme of things. There’s a streak of self-involvement shot through the film, a narcissism vibe in which almost all of the major players are clueless to how their choices impact others.

In less capable hands, a story with this many me-first characters could easily go awry. Gross handles her business with aplomb, however, with a solid aesthetic eye and an ear for dialogue that rings true. She finds ways to take her characters right up to the edge of unlikability, but only pushing them over when absolutely necessary. It’s a dangerous game that she’s playing – if we don’t sympathize with these people, it all falls apart – but one that ultimately pays off.

Much of that sympathy comes from Silverstone. Audrey is the sort of character that could have become legitimately off-putting, selfish and self-absorbed. Instead, Silverstone finds ways to elicit our empathy; we feel for her, even as we recognize that her problems aren’t as life-and-death as she seems to think. It’s a good performance (though it sounds as though she might have had some vocal issues; there’s an unexpected raspiness in many of her scenes).

Scott is a perfect choice as the amicable hubby, a nice guy who does his best to do right by his wife even as he quietly struggles with his own concerns. He’s got charm to spare. Jake Hoffman is enjoyably clueless as Liam; the innocence he conveys helps defuse the general idiocy of some of his choices. Ollivier radiates an ethereal entitlement; she’s so spoiled that she doesn’t know she’s spoiled. It’s worth noting that much of the rest of the cast gets somewhat lost in the shuffle; we meet a lot of people, but never really learn that much about them; obviously, you only have so much you can do in an hour and a half, but a little more development of the tertiary ensemble would have been welcome.

“Sister of the Groom” has its charms, even when its characters are behaving unpleasantly. We’ve got some good jokes and some big feelings – sometimes at the same time. Everyone has moments of selfishness; this movie shows what happens if too many people have them at the same time. It’s lightweight and occasionally uneven, but in the end, it’s a wedding you won’t regret having attended.

[3 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 21 December 2020 11:28

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