Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Aug 08, 2019 7:28 am 
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Another Bier remake, very American, very cloying

Now there is an American remake of Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier's 2006 After the Wedding/Efter brylluppe, as earlier there was one (by Jim Sheridan) of her 2004 Brothers/Brødre. Remakes are often a dicey proposition. I hardly ever like them until I do: Jacques Audiard's great The Beat My Heart Skipped is a remake of James Toback's weird debut film Fingers. Sheridan's Brothers remake, with Jake Gyllenhaal and Tobey Maguire seemed pretty decent, partly because Bier was on somewhat unsure ground in her original so that in certain respects the new version was an improvement. That didn't happen this time.

Bier's operatic wedding surprise film is a wild fable, more sure of itself than her Afghan war-PTSD story. This new version, people note, has a so-so man at the helm (Bart Freudlich) directing his famous wife Julianne Moore again, as he did in Trust the Man, and she and Michelle Williams make a powerful pair, in this flip-the-sex adaptation. The remake may be dubious, some say, but the great actresses save it. But it doesn't work that way. Unlike the splendid Mads Mikkelsen and even better Rolf Lassgård in the original, Michelle Williams and Julianne Moore don't work together in this movie, even as adversaries. Their styles are too different from each other, and too unsuited to the original material. Their casting together (and the gender "flip") wind up seeming pointless affirmative action plus, as with Tobey Maguire and Jake Gyllenhaal in Brothers, making a foreign film more commercial by adding local stars.

What happens in both After the Weddings is that a do-gooder with a complicated past who's involved in an orphanage in India is summoned home (Copenhagen, NYC) to meet with a rich man (or woman) who's considering giving lots of cash that will keep the place afloat, then invites him (her) to the wedding of his (her) daughter that's happening the next day.

The original is farfetched but boldly cinematic. The remake strives for realistic details but is muddled and boring and, as Jordan Hoffman writes, "there's not much happening visually." Manohla Dargis could call the original's rough visual style "Dogme-lite" and "canned realism," but it delivers its twists with bold punch. Everything in Freundlich's version feels darker, glossier, heavier, messier - and visually uninteresting. It's earnest and laborious, dots i's and crosses t's better left unnoticed. Bier handles the wedding and rich people with a touch so light and secure it made me covet Rolf Lassgard's estate and find it "huge and impressive and cozy all at once" and describe it as "surrounded by a great park with deer and grass." The older couple's blond twin boys were joyous; I coveted them too. In the new version the boys' hair has turned brown. Their high-five during the wedding ceremony shows them a bit too full of themselves, just one of those tiny touches that ruins everything. And in America, even rich people's weddings are creepier and more maudlin, it would seem, and it's also a bigger deal to be rich - but that, like the creepy drunkenness of Theresa (Julianne Moore), is a red herring.

What Mads Mikkelson, Bier's visitor from India, learns at the wedding makes him very angry. So does what sullen, awkward do-gooder Michele Williams discovers. The details and the eventual responses to this discovery, however, differ considerably. Billy Crudup is rich Julianne Moore's husband and seems to be some sort of artist who makes tangled metal sculptures. Crudup's such a good actor he seems to be having a good time - at first, till he tangles with Michelle. Is he, though, a trophy husband, with a dubious past? All the changes in the new film go to show you can't just "flip" sexes in a story. As Fran Lebowitz points out, thanks to testosterone, gender isn't merely skin deep, like race, but a profound difference. "Flip" genders in a story and you risk screwing everything up.

Peter Debruge is probably right in his Variety review to claim that various characters get more to do in this remake than in Bier's "incredible strong [sic]" original, particularly the two leading ladies. But that's the trouble. Freundlich's version is gummed up with all sorts of divagations and reconsiderations. Storytelling like this that hinges on melodramatic surprises works better without too much character development or moral pondering. The crux of both versions of this story is that somebody did something very wrong several decades ago and now has got caught out. That's the point, not the marital squabbling, the attempts to make friends, or the pouring over old snapshots. I much prefer the more restrained and succinct way Susanne Bier tells the story. I reject the notion of some of the critics that this new film is no better than Bier's. It's actually a lot less good. In Bier's version, nothing detracts from the magnificent operatic simplicity of the melodrama. This version is somehow very American, - and very cloying and icky.

After the Wedding, 110 mins., debuted at Sundance, Jan. 2019, also showing at Karlovy Vary. Its US theatrical release is Aug. 9, 2019 (UK Nov. 1). Current Metascore: 57.

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