Based on the novel of the same name by Grant Ginder, director Clare Scanlon (“Set It Up”) returns to the world of romantic comedies with the charmless, vaguely holiday-set “The People We Hate at the Wedding”. Adapted by Wendy Molyneux and Lizzie Molyneux-Logelin (“Bob’s Burgers, “Deadpool 3”), there is little here to recommend in a film that once upon a time would have been destined for the bargain bin.
“Wedding” follows the grand tradition of these kinds of soulless films. It’s full of hokey setups that force characters to do things no one would ever do in real life. It features a large ensemble cast that has little to no chemistry, and yet we’re to believe they’re family, gathered together for the titular wedding. And, on top of that, it’s completely unfunny. Nothing about prim British philanthropist Eloise (Cynthia Addai-Robinson, “The Rings of Power”), her lavish wedding, or the estranged, awful family members she invited to it works in “The People We Hate At The Wedding.” Consider this film a career low-point for everyone involved.
Eloise’s upcoming wedding forces her to invite her family and their myriad issues. First up, there’s her half-sister Alice (Kristen Bell, doing her usual schtick), a trainwreck one-time architect, now assistant who’s banging her married boss (Jorma Taccone) in one of those clichéd, grunting-against-a-shelf-in-the-storage-closet kind of relationships. Then there’s Eloise’s half-brother Paul (Ben Platt, boring), whose queerness is both a plot point engineered for tears and sanded down to simply palatable assimilationist relationship goals. There’s also Eloise’s mother, Donna (Allison Janney, forced into so many cringe-inducing moments I wondered who she owes money to), a midwestern stereotype. And lastly, Eloise’s father and Donna’s first husband Henrique (Isaach de Bankolé, sapped of all his charm), who’s French; so, of course, he’s a serial chaser of young tail.
Eloise has a fiancé, too, but we see him (John Macmillan, “House of the Dragon”) in so few scenes it’s like the writers forgot they were writing a wedding film. So, why are Eloise and her family estranged? A weird narration that bookends the film explains: Eloise spent half the year with her mother and half-sister growing up, and that’s why she never felt like part of the family. Scanlon underscores this early on when Paul tells Alice that since she’s a “half-sister we can half-ass this relationship,” making excuses not to attend. Of course, though, Paul does attend and shenanigans ensue, even at the airport before their flight. However, it remains unclear why Eloise’s family treats her so cruelly. Molyneux and Molyneux-Logelin’s script attributes most of it to a handful of traumas and envy at how much money Eloise has compared to everyone else, but that’s hardly enough explanation.
Aside from some happy memories at Taco Bell in the ’90s, it’s also unclear why Eloise wants these incredibly self-centered family members at her wedding. That shifts focus to non-family characters, like Alice’s love interest Dennis, played by “Schitt’s Creek” alum Dustin Milligan. Described as a “country mouse from Kansas,” Denis is one of the film’s rare highlights. He could easily be a caricature that coastal elite Alice punches down to, but Milligan brings similar nuanced layers that he lends Ted on “Schitt’s Creek.” Unfortunately, this film can’t figure out where it wants to focus its energies, so Alice and Dennis’ burgeoning relationship only comes into the narrative in fits and starts. The film splits its time haphazardly between that pair, Paul’s screwball storyline with his callous boyfriend (Karan Soni, “Miracle Workers”) involving a threesome, and one scene where Donna may or may not still have a thing with Henrique.
Lost in all of this is the film’s alleged main character Eloise. There’s a wedding here somewhere, yet viewers never get a scene with either parent either discussing their previous walks down the aisle or being generally emotional. Addai-Robinson does her best to play it straight against all the chaos around her, but much like her fiancé, the audience rarely learns anything about her, so it’s difficult to invest in her big day. She finally showcases greater depth in her prerequisite Bridezilla moment over some off-white candles that’s, yup, not entirely about the candles throwing off the wedding’s color scheme, but it’s too little too late. Amid its overstuffed plotting and too-bare characterization, “Wedding” lets its leading woman down.
However, the film also boasts hamfisted cameos, including Tony Goldwyn, Lizzy Caplan, and Randall Park. But the dumbest scene in the whole contrived mess features Bell’s “The Good Place” co-star D’Arcy Carden in a part so incredibly beneath her comic talent it’s hard to stop cringing. It’s not Carden’s fault, though. Everyone in this film is unlikeable, as noted by the title. But with a title like that, the film needs a cast that has chemistry, a la “The Family Stone”. Alas, no one in this witless ensemble, Milligan aside, seems capable of sharing energy, despite everyone in the cast proving at some other point in their career that they are capable of that. Instead, “The People We Hate at the Wedding” is a career nadir for this cast, an asinine, poorly executed-excuse for a comedy. A little advice? Save yourselves and just RSVP no to this disaster. [D]