Gareth Negus gets drunk at weddings.
Maybe it’s the fault of Bridesmaids. Maybe it goes back further, to Four Weddings and a Funeral. My Big Fat Greek Wedding should probably take some of the blame. Either way, there has been a plague of wedding-based comedies at the cinema over the past 12 months or so, and they all have one thing in common: they’re crap.
There’s nothing wrong with the basic idea. Weddings have lots of attractions for a comedy writer: they’re universal (most people have been to at least one, if only as a guest), there is ample opportunity for humorous mix ups and exaggerated characters, both of which can plausibly be fuelled by drink. Add the in-built happy ending (assuming the happy couple manage to sort out their differences at the last minute), something we all need more than ever in These Difficult Times, and it’s easy to see why there are so many of things being made. If only they weren’t so terrible.
Last year, I was one of the few people to see The Knot, a British comedy set around a wedding. It was crude, with gags built around unpleasant bodily functions that seemed to have been included in the belief that they were funny in themselves. (I wasn’t keen on the shitting in the street scene in Bridesmaids, but at least that was part of an escalating series of humiliations for the main character rather than existing at random.) The rest of the film consisted of a lot of people (including Mena Suvari, doubling up as both the token American and the gratuitous lesbian) running around, for reasons which now escape me.
Crude, hamfisted and unfunny, The Knot was easily the worst film I saw in 2012; in fact, it was one of the worst films I have ever seen at the cinema. The only entertainment this film was able to offer was provided by the director’s mum leaping to defend her little lad’s work online. A few weeks previously, I had seen The Wedding Video, another British example of the form. That wasn’t great either, but did achieve a level of basic competence that The Knot could only dream of, having characters you didn’t immediately want to kill, and a few jokes.
The worst film I have seen (so far) this year is also wedding-centric, though it’s not all set on the big day. I Give it a Year takes the relatively original idea of starting with the wedding, then skipping ahead to reveal the two leads (Rose Byrne, and the deeply uncharismatic Rafe Spall) aren’t actually that suited to each other.
It drags itself ahead of The Knot by including actual jokes, but falls short of The Wedding Video by playing almost all of them badly. In an early example, Stephen Merchant has a crack at an inappropriate best man speech, which includes a line about hoping to shag a bridesmaid – this is followed by a shot of the bridesmaids, who are all children, and Merchant hastily assuring everyone that he hadn’t known that when he wrote the speech. This could have been funny had Merchant’s character not known who the bridesmaids were before uttering the line, but it defies belief that anyone would knowingly go ahead with the joke in those circumstances.
The film overreaches in an opening scene, when a character declares that the wedding “is like something from a Hugh Grant film”. It never comes close to Grant’s best work, concerning itself with subverting the Grant/Richard Curtis formula despite showing no apparent understanding of either character or comedy, let alone how the two can interact. The cast (token American this time: Anna Faris) are left floundering until the usual last-minute dash to the station to declare their undying love. If you ever see this film, watch Simon Baker closely in this scene: there’s something in his eyes, as he grapples with his wretched lines, that you rarely see actors convey on screen so eloquently. I think it’s despair.
The second worst film I have seen (so far) this year, and one I actually expected to be even worse than I Give it a Year, is The Big Wedding. Shortly to be unleashed on an unsuspecting UK, this is a remake of a French film (Mon frère se marie) that one can only assume was better. The plot this time involves divorcees Robert De Niro and Diane Keaton having to pretend to still be married for a few days to avoid scandalising the birth mother of their adopted Colombian son (Ben Barnes – as an American production, this film has a token Brit) who is about to marry Amanda Seyfried. What ensues is a great deal of arm waving from Keaton, several scenes in which people fall laboriously into bodies of water, and Robin Williams as a Priest. Again.
Though this is very much a film destined to find an audience only on long-haul flights, it scores slightly higher than I Give it a Year thanks to having a few good performances and a couple of genuine laughs. Susan Sarandon, playing De Niro’s current squeeze, works to find some emotional truth in her wafer-thin character and emerges with her dignity intact. (The same is not true of De Niro and Keaton, but that hardly needs saying at this point.) The other standouts are Katherine Heigl and Topher Grace (who really should be in more, and better, films) as De Niro’s children; they are plausible as siblings, and also have the ability to deliver a line. I even laughed out loud at one point; when Heigl, asked by a woman with somewhat unreconstructed views on immigration how Chicago is, brightly replies that it is “crawling with spics and Jews”.
If The Big Wedding tanks (and we can only pray) then maybe, just maybe, that will spell the end of wedding-based hijinks in film for a while. But even as I type, I am filled with the cold certainty that there are budding writers across Britain desperately hoping to be the first into production with a comedy based around a gay wedding. Well, that’s equality for you.
Watch any one of these films, and you can’t help but pine for the good old days when all British romcoms were scripted by Richard Curtis. And if that doesn’t strike you as a sufficiently pernicious sin, consider that these films may cumulatively put thousands of people off marriage altogether. Or worse, cinema itself.
The Big Wedding is released in the UK on 29th May.