After The Wedding

Directed by Bart Freundlich

A Sony Pictures Classics Release
112 minutes
rated PG-13
3.5 stars

It is difficult to resist the temptation of comparing a cinematic redux to it’s original version, especially in the case of Bart Freundlich’s After the Wedding. I’ve found that at the end of the day, watching an original production and then comparing it to a new version only dampens the experience of watching both.

So, to avoid this phenomenon, I decided not to watch the original version, After the Wedding (2006) directed by Susanne Bier, until after viewing Freundlich’s 2019 production. With a powerful cast led by Julianne Moore (Teresa), Billy Crudup (Teresa’s husband, Oscar) and Michelle Williams (Isabel), Freundlich delivers a reverently told family story.

Freundlich wastes no time in establishing the universe with breathtaking photography. With a drone camera shot that seems to begin from one mile above the earth, he takes us into the world of Isabel, a forty-something American who runs a financially imperiled orphanage in India. Once there, she’s summoned to New York by a wealthy magazine publisher, Teresa (Julianne Moore) who’s looking to support the less fortunate of the world. Teresa’s overreaching generosity gets personal; she installs Isabel in an opulent five-star hotel where minions fawn over her from the moment she checks in. After chatting out the initial details of the donation, Isabel is taken aback when Teresa invites her to stay the weekend at her stately home, where her daughter, Grace (Abby Quinn) will be married over the course of the weekend. Teresa’s husband, Oscar, is an artist of average talent.

Isabel recognizes Oscar, who also knows her as well. Did they have an affair? Did Oscar break her heart? Or, was it a business deal gone wrong a long time ago? It’s more explosive than any of these. They had a child together, and that child is Grace, who walks down the aisle as Isabel tries to mask her anguish. After the wedding ceremony, Isabel wastes no time in confronting Oscar about the fact that when they were younger, they decided to give up Grace for adoption and part company. But the breakup, Oscar returned to the orphanage, reclaimed Grace, and became a single father. This revelation of truth infuriates Isabel, crushes Grace, and scares the shit out of Oscar. What now? Will Teresa leave him? And what will happen to the endowment to the orphanage?  To complicate all of this, Teresa and Isabel meet in Manhattan the following day. While Teresa does not retract her offer, she tells Isabel that it is far from a done deal. Isabel reveals to Teresa that the heartbreak of giving up her child and losing her relationship was severe to the degree that she decided to move to India in the hopes of building a new life and identity. After the meeting, Isabel is angry. She wants to walk away from the whole situation, but because so many orphaned children depend on the success of her trip, she cannot return to India without the endowment. Teresa is playing for time, but her motive is unclear. Is she going to try to destroy Isabel? Did Oscar leave Isabel to gain access to Teresa’s growing fortune?

The film goes to great lengths to explore the measures to which the super-rich will go to retain control over those beneath them on the economic scale. In one scene, Teresa sits in a restaurant with Isabel and orders for her without asking permission. It also explores moments of brutal truths between two people torn apart by tragic circumstances. In one such scene, Isabel sits in a restaurant with Grace as the biological mother and child awkwardly try to make sense of what has been revealed, and where to go next. In a tender moment, Grace shares that she has canceled her honeymoon, and will have her marriage annulled. Isabel is supportive of this. Moment after moment, fallout from the events of Grace’s wedding day sprinkles over the characters. Isabel privately tells Oscar that she thinks his artwork is terrible. But the biggest bomb of all has yet to fall.

Teresa summons Isabel to her office to tell her that she is not only going to move forward with the endowment, but that she is going to increase it ten-fold. Instead of saying thank you, Isabel flies into a fit of rage. Feeling manipulated and confused, Isabel flees Teresa’s office and heads to the street. Teresa chases after Isabel her and reveals her true motives: She is dying of cancer and wants to bequeath a large portion of her fortune to the orphanage.

The question of whether Teresa knew of Isabel before the wedding could have been explored in greater depth, but the film does not suffer much from it’s exclusion. This is because of the work of the actors. Julianne Moore and Michelle Williams work off of one another like the veteran professionals that they are. Billy Crudup turns in his best performance since 1999’s Jesus’ Son, and Abby Quinn is a revelation as Grace.

When producer Joel B. Michaels saw the original version by Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier, he was stunned by the compelling human drama of the story. “What attracted me to the piece,” he recalled, “was that it dealt with the gray areas of life, and the idea that what is morally right or wrong can get muddied. We humans are nearly all guilty of manipulations both large and small, but even with the best intentions, bending the truth to fit your personal narrative often results in great damage. Bart (Freundlich) immediately understood the intention of the film, and spoke to me about the story in the way that I always envisioned it,” said Michaels. We had a series of conversations, and I found that he tapped right in to the psyche and the psychology of all of the characters.”  Freundlich found the intensive character development and very modern way the high drama unfolded to be compelling. “It’s a story that lives in the real world,” he said. “one that I think we all recognize. I was fascinated by and wanted to explore that human frailty further, and the joys derived from people we form relationships with over the course of our lives. At the end of the day, we’re all on this journey, but we don’t really have a choice about where it takes us fully.” Michelle Williams was deeply drawn in by the emotional peaks and valleys that are inherent in the story. “I’m always keen to do something that I haven’t done before, and that I don’t quite know how to do,” she said. “It felt exciting to stretch for Isabel, and for that growth to be a little bit painful, because I would up in new places each time.”

After viewing Freundlich’s After The Wedding, I did take in Susanne Bier’s 2006 version.  After seeing it, I was happy that I chose not to watch her version beforehand. The experience reminded me of when I saw Jim Mc BrBride’s Breathless, starring Richard Gere.
I’d heard so much about it’s predecessor, Â Bout de Souffle, by Jean-Luc Goddard. With all due respect to Monsieur Goddard, Mc Bride’s Breathless was a superior telling of that story, by far.  The same principle applies here. Go and see After The Wedding.

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