Adapted from Susanne Bier’s original 2006 Danish film, which scored a best foreign language film nomination at the Academy Awards, “After the Wedding” is an emotional powder keg, as well as timely food for thought, by writer and director Bart Freundlich.
Shifting between two drastically different settings — a struggling orphanage run by Isabel (Michelle Williams) in Kolkata, India, and an extremely affluent home in New York headed by Theresa (Julianne Moore) — “After the Wedding” subtly asks viewers to contend with the inequalities of today’s increasingly globalized and interconnected world. The film is defined by striking contrasts, and launched by an unlikely conflict of interest: Williams’ character travels to New York in search of funding for her orphanage, and Moore’s character delays donating because her oldest daughter is in “desperate need” of an extravagant wedding the coming weekend.
This difficult, prickly premise serves as a thought-provoking and unsettling backdrop for the main focus of the story — the interlacing relationships between Isabel, Theresa, Theresa’s husband Oscar (Billy Crudup) and Theresa’s stepdaughter Grace (Abby Quinn). Long-lost love stories and life-threatening secrets rush to the surface as this quartet of actors faces off for the first time amid the white-draped tables and fairy lights of Grace’s wedding reception. In particular, Quinn and Moore’s scenes are studded with several truly touching mother-daughter moments, prompting a question — with great wealth, influence, a family and finite time, what should one prioritize?
Freundlich’s remake is genuinely electrifying in its excellent casting. Moore truly shines in her deliciously multifaceted role, playing a sassy, severe and loving businesswoman concerned with managing her multimillion-dollar company and her young twin sons’ video game intake. Despite comparatively fewer lines, Williams also conveys immense inner strength, playing a blunt and compassionate do-gooder who’s capable of fierce flashes of vitriol when faced with insult or perceived injustice.
It is delightful to feel the sizzling tension and power flashing off these women in bright, dynamic waves in scene after scene; their interactions are filled with the tingling awkwardness of class tension, an uncomfortably intertwined past and rare moments of understanding. It is simply wonderful to have these two incredible actors talk to each other so much.
An eerie and heartbreaking score by Mychael Danna disallows viewers from submerging entirely into the beautiful, yet narrow world of the upper-class New York elites. Given the film’s basis in the dire struggles of a Kolkatan orphanage, this is a highly necessary act. In one particular moment, Theresa strides through the woods, unplugs her Bluetooth and, upon noticing a bird’s nest perched on a log, becomes completely still. It is the first time that we see this high heels-wearing, check-writing entrepreneur out of the context of her lavish mansion and high-rise office. As Moore picks up the bird’s nest with a fascinating intensity, haunting strings seep into the scene. The camera begins to zoom out, steadily increasing in speed, until Theresa is just a small dot amid a rapidly shrinking grove of trees, and the music swells to a climax. Everything is literally put into a broader perspective.
Danna’s breath-catching score reminds viewers that tiny individual lives have great potential consequences and that so much is always at stake in an increasingly interconnected world.