The main purpose of “After the Wedding” is to be a showcase for its three principal actors, veterans Billy Crudup (“Where’d You Go Bernadette”), Julianne Moore (“Bel Canto”) and Michelle Williams (“Venom”). Williams plays Isabelle, an American ex-pat running an orphanage in India who travels to New York seeking funding from the wealthy entrepreneur Theresa, played by Moore. Isabelle is invited to Theresa’s daughter’s wedding, and a flurry of secrets and family drama unfold in the ensuing weekend. Theresa’s husband (played by Crudup) turns out to be an old flame of Isabelle’s. At the wedding, Isabelle discovers that the young woman getting married is in fact her and Oscar’s daughter, who she believed she had given up for adoption over 20 years ago.
The premise is intriguing, and the actors all have enormous talent and impressive resumes. The film has all the hallmarks of a prestige drama, the kind that crackles with tension and brilliantly rendered screaming matches. And yet, despite the juiciness of the conceit and the caliber of the actors anchoring the piece, absolutely nothing in this film captures the attention or imagination of the audience.
“After the Wedding” takes its time — or rather, it takes too much time. It stretches languorously like a cat, puttering around aimlessly from toothless scene to toothless scene. It’s a film about uber-wealthy people who have sprawling estates just outside Manhattan and work in glass offices on the 40th floors of skyscrapers. There’s a minor tension between Isabelle’s discomfort with the grandeur of Theresa and Oscar’s life and the casualness with which they spend money on hotel suites and wedding meals. But ultimately, the film relaxes into the opulence. I’d estimate a third of the runtime is spent with the camera slowly roaming the halls of its sets, lingering on the gorgeous kitchens and massive sofas with all the subtlety and emotional resonance of a Pottery Barn commercial. The remaining two thirds of the film are spent watching people we are given no reason to care about tearfully clutching shawls to their chest and arguing their way through their complicated situation with dialogue that’s as clunky and sparsely written as the characters themselves.
The problem at the heart of the film isn’t that the story is fragile (though it is), or that the characters are thin and poorly rendered (though they are). The problem is that “After the Wedding” is bad in the worst possible way a piece of media can be bad: it’s bland and inoffensive. It’s milquetoast, airy, completely free of any identity, substance or personality. It was a deeply unpleasant viewing experience, but not the kind of unpleasant that’s at all interesting to unpack or provides any kind of insight into what makes films tick. It simply fails at creating stakes, tension or compelling characters. The result is a movie that clocks in at just under two hours but feels like it lasts anywhere between seven and nine. But who knows? “After the Wedding” could very well find a new audience out of theaters — perhaps it simply can’t fill the dramatic demands of a big screen. Maybe it will find a new life being watched by half-asleep passengers on planes, or filling a mid-afternoon time slot on TV, playing in the background while people clean their houses. Maybe that’s where it belongs.