Based on the 2006 Oscar-nominated film by Danish director Susanne Bier, “After the Wedding” gets the Hollywood treatment thanks to director Bart Freundlich (“Wolves”) and his wife Julianne Moore. In the original film, Mads Mikkelsen played a Danish man living in India running an orphanage who is forced to return to his homeland when a wealthy businessman offers to donate millions to the orphanage with one catch.
In the remake, the genders have been reversed with Michelle Williams as the former Peace Corps volunteer running the Indian orphanage and Moore as a wealthy NYC media mogul interested in making a hefty donation.
When dealing with an Oscar-nominated film you have to consider what you can bring to the table to justify a remake. The 2006 original was very good and not in need of an update. But the story by Bier and Anders Thomas Jensen is a powerful one and the idea of reversing the genders with two female leads makes sense. Julianne Moore and Michelle Williams deliver emotional performances that connect with the audience and just having the two actresses in the film is reason enough to recommend it. But the performances by Billy Crudup and Abby Quinn are also exceptional. Crudup has perfected the supporting husband role (he also plays Cate Blanchett’s hubby in “Where’d you go, Bernadette”) and Quinn is such a natural in the film that her performance feels effortless.
Isabel (Michelle Williams) runs an orphanage in the impoverished section of Calcutta, where she has dedicated her life to serving homeless children. She doesn’t have any children of her own, but she has become a surrogate mom to Jai (Vir Pachisia), an adorable seven-year-old boy. Williams tackles the role in a very realistic manner. She’s not a happy-go-lucky savior running around saving the day, she’s a realist who spends her time worrying about getting the orphanage funded. She’s loving towards the children, but years of heartbreak have made her distant and guarded.
Julianne Moore plays a media mogul named Theresa Young. She’s a multi-millionaire who’s built a very successful company located in a luxurious skyscraper in New York City. Whenever she’s not brokering deals from her office or while out walking the dog at her beautiful Oyster Bay estate, Theresa is spending time with her family, eight-year-old twins Theo and Otto, 21-year old daughter Grace (Abby Quinn) and husband Oscar Carlson (Billy Crudup) a successful artist.
The orphanage receives a letter from Theresa’s company indicating that are willing to make a big donation, but Isabel must fly to New York to meet with Theresa. At first, Isabel suggests they send another rep since she doesn’t want to leave Jai who requires special attention. But the offer is non-negotiable and so Isabel reluctantly travels to NYC where is put up in a 5-star hotel, given a cell phone, and a car at her disposal. It’s a bit overwhelming for the former Peace Corps volunteer and she doesn’t seem very comfortable in her new surroundings. After an initial meeting with Theresa, she’s asked to stay the weekend to attend the wedding of Theresa’s daughter Grace and then on Monday, the two will iron out all the details for the donation.
The film moves to Theresa’s beautiful estate where Grace is marrying Jonathan (Alex Esola), a young executive from Theresa’s company. Isabel arrives late and while seated for the ceremony she recognizes Oscar. The look of shock on her face confirms that he is someone from her past and once Oscar notices Isabel he quietly approaches her to ask, “What are you doing here?” This is where the mystery begins as the film throws one twist after another at the viewer.
There is something about an emotional scene with Michelle Williams that brings on the waterworks every time. Even when she’s standoffish you can’t help but get emotional. Freundlich knows how to pack on the melodrama including a very emotional scene between Moore and Crudup that only the heartless can resist. “After the Wedding” is a polished version of Susanne Bier’s 2006 film that resolves itself too easily but the performances by Williams and Moore shouldn’t be missed.
(3 ½ stars)
Opens Friday, August 23 at the Landmark River Oaks in Houston