Destination Wedding (United States, 2018)September 08, 2018
I can easily see how the consensus reaction to Destination Wedding could be overwhelmingly negative. It’s not easy to spend 90 minutes in the company of two narcissistic, self-absorbed misanthropes. For Frank (Keanu Reeves) and Lindsay (Winona Ryder), mutual insults and ruminations about the meaninglessness of life are a form of foreplay. As time wears on, their jabs at one another become a little less pointed and, although neither is willing to openly acknowledge it (at least at first), a bond forms. Love (if that’s what it is) is foreign to both of them. Frank has never known it and Lindsay’s only experience with it was negative.
This is intended to be a romantic comedy for those who dislike the saccharine of typical romantic comedies. It’s a “feel bad” movie in a genre suffused with “feel good” sentiments. It’s Before Sunrise if Celine and Jesse had spent their time together sniping at one another. During Destination Wedding, I often felt like writer/director Victor Levin was striving to make his own twisted version of the Richard Linklater film but he never gets close. Despite having two inherently likable actors in Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder, Levin’s characters are so disagreeable that it’s difficult to become sympathetic toward their whirlwind affair. And a lot of the dialogue rings false. In Before Sunrise, one always feels that Celine and Jesse are having real conversations. In Destination Wedding, about half of what the characters say sounds like what it is: lines being recited from a screenplay.
The setup is simple. Frank and Lindsay have never met one another but they have heard things second-hand. They are both headed for Paso Robles, California where Frank’s half-brother (who is also Lindsay’s ex-fiancé) is getting married. They are stuck together on the plane, given adjoining rooms at the inn, and seated next to one another at the rehearsal dinner. It’s dislike-at-first-sight but that doesn’t prevent them from engaging in lengthy, bile-filled conversations and eventually taking a long nature walk that ends with a close encounter of the feline kind.
Destination Wedding’s success (or lack thereof) relies heavily on the chemistry between the two leads – which is adequate but by no means superior – and their ability to give life and body to Levin’s occasionally witty but more often leaden dialogue. When it comes to giving the lines a snap, crackle, and pop, Reeves does a considerably better job than Ryder. Although not generally regarded as a great actor, Reeves is in his element here and manages to be charming as he delivers some good zingers with perfect rhythm (although I’m not willing to argue he’s ready for the rat-a-tat-tat of a Mamet screenplay). Ryder (playing what my wife accurately assessed as “her character from Reality Bites 20 years older”) is somewhat lost. Reeves chews on his dialogue with gusto. She whines.
The leads are the only cast members with speaking roles. The only other voices in Destination Wedding come from TV sets. We see other characters but they don’t have anything to say, perhaps because Frank and Lindsay’s incessant talking has rendered them mute. Still, it’s tough for me to be too hard on the film. Although I was occasionally impatient with the pace, I laughed several times and there is something refreshing about watching a romantic comedy where most of the usual tropes are either absent or turned upside down. Ultimately, however, the movie is so desperate for a conventional ending that it subverts everything it was willing to try earlier. When it comes to “anti-romantic comedies,” Destination Wedding falls far short of my favorite of this sort, the Coen Brothers’ Intolerable Cruelty. If you can stand Frank and Lindsay, Destination Wedding is an adequate diversion. If not, choose another destination – any destination (except perhaps a Final one).
Destination Wedding (United States, 2018)
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Winona Ryder
Screenplay: Victor Levin
Cinematography: Giorgio Scali
Music: William Ross
U.S. Distributor: Regatta