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Movie review: ‘After the Wedding’ remake is a mess of unearned melodrama

A strong cast isn’t enough to elevate this film’s careening chaos

Michelle Williams, from left, Billy Crudup and Julianne Moore in a scene from the film “After the Wedding.”
Sony Pictures Classics

“AFTER THE WEDDING” — 2½ stars — Michelle Williams, Julianne Moore, Billy Crudup, Will Chase, Abby Quinn; PG-13 (thematic material and some strong language); in general release; running time: 112 minutes

“After the Wedding” has a way of getting lost in its own drama and losing the interest of the audience in the process.

A remake of a 2006 Danish film of the same name, Bart Freundlich’s “After the Wedding” unpacks the tangled web of a wealthy family in New York City. Before we get there, though, we start in India, with a woman named Isabel.

Isabel (Michelle Williams) is an American expatriate who has run an orphanage in India for several years. Isabel is great with the kids — particularly a young boy named Jai (Vir Pachisia) — but her driven sense of mission and justice makes her impatient and awkward around other adults. This becomes obvious when a potential benefactor in New York offers a $2 million donation to Isabel’s orphanage if she’ll return stateside for a qualifying interview.

Isabel’s benefactor is Theresa (Julianne Moore), the successful owner of the multimillion-dollar Horizon Media. The contrast between the two women highlights their different worlds, and an awkward first meeting is only complicated by Theresa’s insistence that Isabel extend her stay to attend her daughter’s wedding.

From here, things go from awkward to uncomfortable to outright life shattering. First we find out that Isabel has a history with Theresa’s husband, Oscar (Billy Crudup), a prominent sculptor. Then we find out that Theresa’s daughter, Grace (Abby Quinn), might be a result of that history. We’re still in the first act at this point, but things continue to get more complicated from there.

Abby Quinn, left, and Michelle Williams in a scene from the film “After the Wedding.”
Sony Pictures Classics

The best thing “After the Wedding” has going for it is a solid cast, and Williams, Moore, and Crudup all try to make the best of their character’s predicaments. Ultimately, “After the Wedding” zeroes in on the trio as they try to reconcile their messy pasts with the demands of their futures.

Unfortunately, the cast’s noble efforts get swallowed up in the twists and turns of a story that keeps getting lost in its own moody drama, veering between tender moments and bitter accusations as important threads are forgotten along the way. While all of “After the Wedding’s” individual parts feel legitimate, their combined careening chaos feels more like the arbitrary machinations of a screenwriter than sincere drama.

Other elements complicate the film as well. Williams’ character is established as passionate and reluctant to leave India for New York, but Isabel’s initial curtness and coldness with Theresa at their first meeting — long before any of the other drama reveals itself — still feels off-putting. And as each successive layer of the plot is peeled away, it feels like previous subplots and emotional points of tension are quickly discarded.

Maybe the big problem is that while we can watch these characters and understand the challenges and difficulties they’re facing, we don’t necessarily connect with them. It might make sense on paper, but that doesn’t make us care, and “After the Wedding” feels more like going through a family’s dirty laundry than making a connection with a moving story.

Rating explained: “After the Wedding” is rated PG-13 for adult themes and some scattered profanity, including two uses of the F-word.