Stream It or Skip It?
The People We Hate at the Wedding (now on Amazon Prime Video) casts Allison Janney as the levelheaded mother of three screwball jerks played by Kristen Bell, Ben Platt and Cynthia Addai-Robinson. Of course, this is a comedy, so they’re framed as likable squirrely dipshits, but if it were real life, you wouldn’t want these selfish damage cases to be your protagonists. And so they are the thing in the title, but are they capable of transcending the trappings of the dreaded wedding comedy? Let’s find out.
The Gist: The family is not together. And this being either a wedding comedy or a holiday comedy (it’s kinda both), that just WILL NOT DO. Quick background: Once upon a time Donna (Janney) married a rich Frenchman who lives in London, Henrique (Isaach de Bankole), and they had a daughter, Eloise (Addai-Robinson), but Henrique cheated on Donna so they split and she moved to Indianapolis and married a dorkus and had two children, Alice (Bell) and Paul (Platt). Eloise would visit the family a half-year at a time, so they’d cram all the birthdays and holidays together, which is why we get an excruciatingly dumb scene in which they get photos with Santa except they’re all wearing Easter bunny ears.
But here now in the present everyone’s an adult and the dorkus dad is dead and their relationships are strained. Paul is in Philadelphia, living with his S.O. Dominic (Karan Soni), working as a therapist who helps people overcome germophobia by making them stand in garbage cans. He avoids his mom’s texts and calls like they’re infected with bubonic covid pox. Alice lives in Los Angeles, and instead of being an architect like she probably should, she’s the assistant to her boss Jonathan (Jorma Taccone), who owns the company, whatever it does, and she’s also sleeping with him, and you won’t be surprised to learn he has a wife and a brand-new baby but he insists the marriage is as dead as a fat rat in a python tank.
And then there’s Eloise, still rich as balls in London. She sends our principals wedding invitations that look like they cost 80 bucks each. Alice and Paul audibly groan upon receipt but Donna sees this as an opportunity for her children to all be in the same place at the same time for once. That’s a reasonable sentiment, and she’s a reasonably actualized half-character, but this is not a reasonable movie, so it doesn’t give her anything particularly funny or compelling to do.
They all fly to London: Alice meets Dennis (Dustin Milligan) on the flight, and he’s a far more viable romantic option than Cheaty McCheatsalot. Paul and Dominic stay with Alcott (Julian Ovenden), which seems like a ploy for Dominic to set up a situation in which three gay men can do things that two gay men can’t, if you catch my drift. Donna reunites with Henrique, a serial ladykiller of ladies who are much younger than him, and the flame starts to rekindle. Eloise would prefer that all the familial dysfunction they’ve propagated over the years be ignored for a few days so she can get married and get on with the Happiest Day Of Her Life, but there are hijinks that just gotta happen, hijinks including, but not limited to: Lost bikini bottoms, puking, peeing, falling into the Thames, fisticuffs, ruined fancy-ass dessert buffets, etc. You know how this shit goes.
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: Thankfully not Platt catastrophe Dear Evan Hansen, and regretfully not recent rock-solid Janney vehicle Lou. It was more reminiscent of hijinks-ridden Bell-coms When in Rome and You Again, and if People We Hate differentiates itself from those moronic movies in any way, it tells us Bell is ripe for a good, smart script, hopefully soon.
Performance Worth Watching: Bell and Milligan have honest-to-Gump legitimately light and crispy rom-com chemistry, in rare scenes that don’t have us rolling our eyes at desperate attempts at comedy.
Memorable Dialogue: One-liners best left decontextualized:
“It was so nice of that man to give me his pants.”
“My god, you kids still barf a lot.”
“Mom, you bit someone.”
Sex and Skin: A “funny” gay-threesome sequence that’s not particularly explicit (no Bros angles here).
Our Take: There are so few mainstream adult-oriented comedies these days, one’s tempted to forgive The People We Hate at the Wedding for sucking. It feels freshly throwbacky in its badness, its woeful stabs at slapstick and sexcapades, as if it’d been warped here from 1997, with smartphones dropped into characters’ hands during post. It’s watchable, but maybe only as a pressure-release after you’ve spent the day being bombarded by small meteors and news about Elon Musk’s Twitter. But alas, it’s no My Best Friend’s Wedding. And frankly, I’m not sure it’s even a Heiglbomb like 27 Dresses.
No, this plot – penned by Bob’s Burgers writing-room staffers the Molyneux Sisters – is predictable boilerplate stuff: Old secrets coming out during the third act, wacky lies coming back to bite people in the ass during the third act, Janney getting a wrecking-ball scene during the third act (she needs at least three or four of these per film, lest ye be wasting her time), the deployment of sopping wads of sentiment during the third act, on-the-nose emotional needle-drops multiple times in every act, etc. Formula on its own isn’t a sin; there’s plenty of room for comfort-food entertainment in our streaming queues. But if you’re going tried-and-true, you’ve gotta write some god damn jokes. Good ones. And a bunch of ’em. Otherwise, you’re just stirring the fake vomit and treading water in the Thames.
Our Call: SKIP IT, and watch Bros instead. THAT movie had some god damn jokes.
John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Read more of his work at johnserbaatlarge.com.
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