Two of the best contemporary American actresses, Julianne Moore and Michelle Williams, enrich this somber drama about class and family, those we create, either by choice or by accident. It’s a juicy two-hander, with roles veering on melodramatic that might once might have been played by Bette Davis and Mary Astor.
Moore is, as usual, terrific even when playing a sometimes unlikable prima donna. Her Theresa is a super rich media magnate who instigates the action by offering a game-changing donation to an orphanage in India run by Isabel (Williams). Isabel is suspect of the proposal because Theresa has not only put Isabel up at a swanky New York hotel but insists that Isabel attend the wedding of Theresa’s daughter Grace (Abby Quinn) before signing off on the gift.
After the Wedding is directed by Bart Freundlich, Moore’s husband, who based it on the 2006 Danish film directed by Susanne Bier. It was Moore who suggested that the two male protagonists be replaced with female ones and certainly this dynamic makes the movie more interesting, if only for giving choice parts to Moore and Williams. The reason for Theresa’s interest in Isabel is the heart the movie — Billy Crudup as Theresa’s sculptor husband Oscar figures prominently in this triangle, too — and probably the less said the better, since there are twists that explain the motivations for each woman’s behavior.
But in the end the motivations are not so surprising: “After the Wedding” falls into soapy melodrama about parents and kids and the universal ties that bind, whether in a wealthy suburb or in a dirt-poor orphanage. The glaring class differences that divide Therese and Isabel at the start of the film when Theresa interrupts their interview to answer a question about lobsters from the wedding caterer, fade with the mother love that takes up the rest of it. Despite turns into predicability and sentimentality, Moore and Williams never disappoint, especially in their showdown scene. Davis and Astor would be proud.