The People We Hate at the Wedding, 2022.
Directed by Claire Scanlon.
Starring Allison Janney, Kristen Bell, Ben Platt, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, Karan Soni, Dustin Milligan, Isaach De Bankolé, Jorma Taccone, Jaxon Goldenberg, Andy Daly, Milakale Kember, Lexi Janicek, Greg Barnett, Randall Park, Pedro Minas, Tony Goldwyn, John Macmillan, Julian Ovenden, Lizzy Caplan, Rufus Jones, Davina Moon, Jemima Rooper, and Mark Kitto.
Family tensions ramp up among siblings in the week leading up to their half-sister’s wedding in the country.
Following a divorce, a new marriage, and her children growing up, Donna’s (Allison Janney) family emotionally and physically drifted apart. Split up across America and London, she wishes for an occasion that would unite everyone, which is unlikely to happen considering they don’t necessarily want to talk to her and, in some cases, go out of their way to avoid answering her phone calls.
There’s also a divide in that firstborn Eloise (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) remained close to her wealthy father Henrique (Isaach De Bankolé), always spoiled with long-distance allowances as a child and often spending that money on the family’s wants. She then attained a successful career while her siblings floundered with unfulfilling jobs. Eloise is also about to get married to Ollie (John Macmillan), prompting everyone to come together; hence the title The People We Hate at the Wedding (a title that is clumsily worked into some third-act dialogue).
Aside from overly broad attempts at comedy that are typically embarrassing to watch the cast act out (another major third-act issue), the siblings Alice and Paul (played by Kristen Bell and Ben Platt, respectively) are mostly unlikable when first-time feature-length director Claire Scanlon (with a script from Lizzie Molyneux-Logelin and Wendy Molyneux that’s based on the book by Grant Ginder) is going for complexity and depth, something that occasionally works until the filmmakers give up and descend into cartoon antics (like a cringe-worthy fistfight at the wedding).
The running gag is that Eloise wants the family to reconnect and have a normal, happy wedding. Unfortunately, Alice and Paul have made it their mission to take out their unhappiness and life on Eloise, her partner, the wedding, and the British in general (there are also several awkward stereotypical and dated jokes about the locals). This is accomplished by Paul consistently getting detailed about his gay sex life (which does result in one of the only funny scenes, one that sees Donna flagging down a pair of civilians, emphatically repeating some of those sex acts in a misguided attempt at showing she is proud of her son and accepts who he is) and Alice being an all-around rude person.
The good news is that Kristen Bell finds some level of honesty and humanity in her deeply flawed character that is sleeping with her married assistant (Jorma Taccone), who she intends to be her +1 to the wedding, even if he is a complete jerk that is using both of them for sex and might not get on a flight to London. While he is on the fence and continuously makes excuses, Alice is somewhat opened up by Dennis (Dustin Milligan), a passenger on the initial flight to London that is taken aback by her sassy humor and beauty, willing to find the good in her if she is willing to stand up for herself and regain a moral compass. The scenes between them are easily among the best here, whereas everything else is either a cheap gag or falls flat dramatically.
As for Paul, he is the more sympathetic of the two, pushed by his boyfriend into opening up to three ways and other situations that make him feel uncomfortable and that his love is not enough. The problem is that he’s also not an interesting character, and the relationships don’t feel explored nearly enough. Donna and Henrique begin to rekindle their affection for one another, which is slightly more engaging due to the performances but also feels cliché and underdeveloped.
There is also a strange framing device where the film inexplicably begins and ends around Christmas. Much about The People We Hate at the Wedding doesn’t feel fully conceptualized, opting to fall back on lazy humor that drowns out the story’s potential. If there’s anything to hate, it’s that.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at [email protected]