The People We Hate at the Wedding, by Albert W. Vogt III

Randomness is not something I strive for, but I embrace it when it comes.  In some respects, this is an apt way of looking at the faith life.  To be open to God’s will, to be truly listening to His call, takes openness to whatever life may bring you.  Please do not take this as a spiritual free-for-all.  Religion exists to give some structure to how we experience God.  There are those who rebel against what they see as rigid dogma.  I would contend that those views are myopic.  Catholicism may seem hidebound by tradition, but it has allowed for a freedom of expression that has given rise to some of the most incredible expressions of faith the world has known.  This applies whether you are a card carrying Catholic like myself, a member of some other Christian denomination, practice some other religion, or do not believe in God at all.  As my spiritual director reminded me a few days ago, Truth is Truth.  It is inescapable.  Okay, so what does all this have to do with The People We Hate at the Wedding (2022)?  Only that I picked it with little forethought.  The rest of this is me bringing my rigid belief system (which we have already established is not so rigid) into talking about it.  In short, doing what The Legionnaire does.

A narrator begins telling us the story of The People We Hate at the Wedding by introducing us to Donna (Allison Janney). She briefly lived in England, and while there she met and married Henrique (Isaach de Bankolé).  With him she had her first daughter, Eloise (Cynthia Addai-Robinson).  Unfortunately, Henrique is unfaithful to Donna, and she decides to move back to her home in the United States.  Once there, she marries another man, Bill (Andy Daly), and they have two children: a daughter Alice (Kristen Bell) and a son Paul (Ben Platt).  It is somewhat of a strange family situation, particularly for Eloise, who has to split her time between America and England.  To accentuate the strangeness, we see Bill and Donna at Christmas taking all the holiday pictures when they have all three kids together.  Eloise, though, is happy, and she has a special bond with Alice.  We then fast forward to the future and find that everything has fallen apart.  Bill passed away, and when Donna did not let Alice or Paul take any mementos, it alienated Paul.  Alice and Eloise are on frosty terms because the previous summer Eloise did not come to comfort Alice when the younger sister had a miscarriage and a messy break-up.  Nonetheless, Eloise is trying to bring everyone back together in London for her upcoming wedding.  Donna is thrilled.  Alice and Paul are less excited, to say the least.  It takes Donna’s insistence, and their own latent guilt, to accept the invitation.  The film focuses more on Alice, and her life is less than ideal.  She is carrying on an affair with her boss, Jonathan (Jorma Taccone), who is married and has an infant child.  Alice is also buying his line about how his wife does not care for him, and that he plans on leaving her.  In response, she invites him to the wedding, though at the last minute he declines citing problems with his family.  In other words, she is trying to making something where there is nothing.  Paul has no problem securing a date as his gay lover Dominic (Karan Soni) comes with him.  However, Dominic has arranged for them to stay at the home of his former professor, Alcott (Julian Ovenden), who is also gay.  Paul suspects Dominic’s feelings are shifting, though Paul goes along with it.  On the way to London, Alice meets a charming fellow named Dennis (Dustin Milligan).  Being drunk already, she decides to further drown her sorrows over Jonathan not being there by sleeping with Dennis as soon as she gets to her hotel room.  Thus, it is with all this pent-up angst that they finally have dinner with Eloise.  It is the first of what will be many disasters as they cannot get past their grudges, particularly Alice and Paul.  Donna appears to be having a grand time as she reconnects with Henrique, who behaves penitently for all the harm he had done her.  As the shenanigans ensue, all of which need not be enumerated, Alice still holds out hope that Jonathan will join her for the wedding.  At one point, it looks like it is finally decided that he is not coming, which leaves the door open for the persistent Dennis.  Yet, just as she is about to leave for the rehearsal and wedding, she receives a text from Jonathan saying he is coming anyway.  Scrambling, she tries to gives Dennis an excuse, but he is wise to the situation and gently, but firmly, tells her off.  Paul is having problems of his own as Dominic dumps him after a terrible night with Alcott.  All their feelings explode at the rehearsal dinner.  Paul gets drunk and, among other things, pees on Henrique when he finds his mother’s ex-husband kissing another woman.  The worst comes, however, when Marissa (Lizzy Caplan), Jonathan’s wife, arrives at the soiree and attempts to fight Alice.  The brawl this induces lands the Americans in jail and Eloise uninviting them to the wedding.  Eloise makes the right decision, but it clearly has an emotional toll.  The day of the wedding, she has a meltdown over the candles being the wrong shade of white.  When her fiancé, Ollie (John Macmillan), cannot find her, he turns to his future in-laws for help.  They bring him to the place they know she goes to for comfort: Taco Bell.  Alice goes in alone, and she and Eloise open up about what has been troubling them.  Eloise has been scared, too, because she learned that she cannot have children and she does not know how to tell Ollie.  Alice says she will help, and everyone makes amends.  The last thing we see is everyone getting together a year later in Los Angeles for the holiday photos we see in the beginning.

I probably should have turned away from The People We Hate at the Wedding before it started when one of the words describing it on Amazon Prime was “raunchy.”  Actually, there are raunchier movies, though the narrowly avoided gay threesome is awkward enough.  There is a lesson here, though, about love, more specifically unconditional love.  It is a good idea to keep in mind as a film critic, especially a Catholic one.  Filmmakers, I hope, try their hardest.  It may not always come out looking like that, but I am also aware of how hard is the process of bringing one to the screen.  To focus on the movie, while I am not thrilled by what I see with Paul’s character, or the way Alice behaves, it is nice that these people come to realize that a part of unconditional love is loving yourself.  Donna says something along the lines of needing to hold onto each little parcel of love with which we are blessed.  When we do not do so, it leads to bad things, and it starts with ourselves.  We can, of course, see all this with Alice.  As firm believer in the sanctity of life from conception to natural death, I can imagine how painful it must have been for Alice to have a miscarriage.  I do not have personal experience with this, obviously, but I have known women who have had to deal with that kind of loss.  Often, they blame themselves.  This is unfair, not only for the would-be mother, but to God.  God’s love starts within, which is why it is important to love ourselves.  Once you can get a grip on that feeling, the rest flows out.  Alice, Donna, and Paul, and even Eloise, have to learn to do this before they can move on with their lives.

So, yes, there is a decent lesson to be had from The People We Hate at the Wedding.  Does that negate all the negative aspects of the movie?  It does not.  Call this, then, a half recommendation, and the best half are the ones with Dennis in them.  The rest of the characters I am not so sure about.  Then again, since when do we always get what we want?


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