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After the Wedding
★★☆☆☆
First run Theater cinema

After the Wedding is the second American version of an acclaimed foreign film this year to star and be produced by Julianne Moore. The luminous fifty-eight year-old star helped make Gloria Bell, Sebastián Lelio’s near scene-for-scene remake of his Chilean coming-of-middle-age movie Gloria (2013) not only worth seeing but, in some ways, an improvement on the original. The same unfortunately cannot be said about this intriguing gender-flipped remake of Susanne Bier’s Oscar-nominated Danish film Efter brylluppet (2006)written and directed by Moore’s husband Bart Freundlich (The Myth of Fingerprints, World Traveler, The Rebound). 

The original After the Wedding starred Mads Mikkelsen as Jacob, a relief worker in India who reluctantly returns to Denmark to meet with a wealthy businessman named Jørgen (Rolf Lassgård) considering a generous donation to the orphanage where Jacob works. When Jacob agrees to attend the wedding of Jørgen’s daughter while waiting for the millionaire’s decision about the money, he is forced to confront his past and future in profound ways. 

Bier’s film, scripted by her frequent collaborator Anders Thomas Jensen, sublimely handles searing melodramatic material with grace, clarity, and restraint. Freundlich attempts the same, and while his movie is essentially a scene-for-scene remake, his choice to flip the gender of three of the four main characters transforms their motivations, their backstories, and much of the narrative in fascinating ways. The first half of this version will transfix anyone well acquainted with Bier’s original; the emotional beats are dramatically reimagined via this simple change in gender.

But two other seemingly inconsequential alterations prevent this picture from resonating the way Bier’s film does so exquisitely. The first is the extra-textural matter of billing. Neither movie is told through one character’s point of view, but we experience the Danish version grounded squarely in the perspective of Mads Mikkelsen’s Jacob, who is uprooted from his familiar surroundings in India and placed into a situation he must struggle to understand. Freundlich neither changes the order of scenes in Jensen’s script nor devotes much additional screen time to any of the characters in his movie that Bier’s characters aren’t also afforded. Yet the star power of the top-billed Moore inherently shifts our focus in this telling from the aid worker (played here by Michelle Williams) onto the millionaire (played by Moore) who summons her from the orphanage in India to posh New York City. 

Neither of these films is the type of exaggerated melodramas that require two-dimensional heroes and villains; they each explore the lives of decent people trying to make the best choices in a difficult situation. However, rather than gradually discovering the motivations and dramatic arcs of the three supporting characters, as we do in Bier’s film, this new version comes across as an ensemble picture where each storyline has equal weight. This ostensible balance has the curious effect of placing us outside of the characters, observing the story from a distance rather than experiencing it and grappling with its mysteries along with the main protagonist, progressively expanding our sympathies to all four main characters.

And despite a valiant attempt by Freundlich and his cast to underplay the huge emotional stakes of this story, the simple shift from Danish minimalism to American sentimentalism makes this melodrama feel contrived and predictable rather than revelatory. By the end, these narratively identical pictures don’t even feel like they exist in the same genre.

Twitter Capsule:
#AfterTheWedding ('19) ★★ While Freundlich’s film is a virtual scene-for-scene remake of Bier’s acclaimed Danish melodrama, his potentially intriguing shifts in gender, setting, and star billing transform everything about this story, not all for the best.

Directed by Bart Freundlich
Produced by Julianne Moore, Joel B. Michaels, Bart Freundlich, Harry Finkel, and Silvio Muraglia

Written for the screen by Bart Freundlich
Based on the screenplay by Susanne Bier and Anders Thomas Jensen

With: Michelle Williams, Julianne Moore, Billy Crudup, Will Chase, and Abby Quinn

Cinematography: Julio Macat
Editing: Joseph Krings
Music: Mychael Danna

Runtime: 112 min
Release Date: 14 August 2019
Color