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Review: After the Wedding (Sundance)

After the Wedding (Sundance)
8 10

PLOT: Isabel (Michelle Williams) manages a struggling orphanage in India, which is in desperate need of a cash endowment offered by a multimedia magnate, Theresa (Julianne Moore). The one condition is that Isabel must return to New York for an in-person meeting, and before long she’s sucked into attending the wedding of Theresa’s daughter, with whom Isabel winds up sharing an unexpected connection.

REVIEW: AFTER THE WEDDING is a movie I was cool on going into the Sundance Film Festival, being a big fan of Susanne Bier’s original. The idea of director Bart Freundlich doing his own, Americanized version with a gender swap initially seemed like a gimmick, but to my surprise the twist wound-up paying off in unexpected ways, making this one of the best American remakes since VANILLA SKY.

While the original was a deconstruction/examination of the responsibilities of fatherhood, this version does the same for motherhood, with very few major shifts in the story necessary to make it work. Another positive aspect of the gender swap is that when an actor gives as towering a performance as Mads Mikkelsen did in the original, what’s the point of doing it over - as besting it seems like a fool’s errand.

Switching the character’s gender though gives star Michelle Williams the abilty to forge a performance of her own without having to worry about being compared to anyone else. Williams has her best role in a while as the conflicted Isabel, who initially seems almost too-good-to-be-true and destined for sainthood, only to reveal inner conflict that makes her a lot more intriguing to follow for two hours.

As good as she is though (and she’s often great) this is Julianne Moore’s movie, with Theresa one of the best roles she’s ever had. Juggling her role as a high powered businesswoman with her home life, Theresa initially seems enigmatic, capable of both tremendous empathy and sudden furious mood swings - before the predictable but upsetting revelation changes everything we think we know about her. Her climatic breakdown is among the most devastating pieces of acting I’ve seen in a while, so good in fact that if this manages to snag major distribution I’d wager Moore will be a shoo-in for major awards attention next year.

By swapping the two men from the original into women, that leaves the third major role open for swapping as well, giving us Billy Crudup, who contributes a warm, conflicted performance as Theresa’s husband, which seems to have gotten more fleshing-out compared to the original. It’s a solid role for the always dependable Crudup, and his chemistry with Moore is as good as you’d expect considering their previous work together for Freundlich (who’s actually married to Moore).

Overall, I was surprised at how much this remake of AFTER THE WEDDING worked for me, with Freundlich clearly having his own take on the material. The gender swap is also much more than a cheap gimmick, but rather something that so thoroughly alters the DNA of the story it winds up standing on its own two feet.

Source: JoBlo.com

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