There’s never been a better time to release a film like JENNY’S WEDDING, a new drama starring Katherine Heigl and Tom Wilkinson. Arriving on the heels of the Supreme Court marriage equality ruling, the film deals with the familial fallout when a much doted-upon daughter (Heigl) comes out as a lesbian who wants to marry her long-time secret love. The revelation comes as a complete shock to her mother (Linda Emond) and father (Wilkinson), as well as her gossip-mongering sister played by Grace Gummer (Meryl’s Streep’s real-life daughter).
JENNY’S WEDDING is a film you may find yourself rooting for, but that goodwill is only earned by quality and conviction of the performers. Unfortunately, the offensively amateurish plotting and direction sabotage them at nearly every turn.
First, the writing. Both parents are portrayed with a single-minded obsession from the first frame: “why can’t our daughter find a man?” They discuss nothing else. Any other thought or subject of conversation they may have concerning their daughter wouldn’t propel the central plot, so why bother including it? Still, that’s nothing compared to the perils that befall Gummer, who is afflicted by a ridiculously written role full of grade school metaphors. Heigl and her bride-to-be (Alexis Biedel) seem cosmetically right as a couple, but the screenplay fails to distinguish their relationship to any degree so there’s not an ounce of chemistry allowed between them.
The film is shot in a workmanlike fashion; it’s in no way expressive, but at least it isn’t intrusive. The same cannot be said of the film’s use of music. Anytime a performer reaches a moment of truthfulness and genuine emotional connection, a pop song emerges to spell out the context of exactly what you’re seeing. (Immediately following a beautifully played moment, when Heigl stands up to her mother and asserts her true identity for the first time in her life, the music begins to blare with lyrics which inform us that she’s her own woman now. YES, WE GET IT. WE JUST READ IT IN THE ACTOR’S FACE!) This isn’t just directorial incompetence; it’s treasonous to both the actors and the audience. This same musical obscenity marred the otherwise insightful and moving comedy/drama HOPE SPRINGS with Tommy Lee Jones and Meryl Streep. It’s a disturbing trend because it’s lazy, and it conditions an audience to be lazy, too.
There should be a special Oscar for actors who rise so valiantly above hackneyed material. Wilkinson and Emond would be the chief nominees here. They’re largely successful in finding authenticity where none exists on the written page. Heigl also vindicates her role as well as can be expected; she’s an appealing performer who’s given a bad rap for past on-set antics. She isn’t Shakesperean in her abilities, but she’s up for the challenge of realizing depth in shallow waters.
JENNY’S WEDDING releases this weekend in theaters and On Demand services. GRADE: C