The invitation is extravagant: sturdy paper, elegant typeface, a hint of rosemary perfume. On it a generous request, although to Alice (Kristen Bell) and Paul (Ben Platt), it reads as a threat: The pleasure of their company? To celebrate the marriage of their rich half-sister, Eloise (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) to her equally wealthy fiancé Ollie (House of the Dragon‘s John MacMillan)? “It would be an honor to have you there,” says the accompanying handwritten note. Alice and Paul — fierce in their disdain for their estranged sibling, dramatic in their expressions — would rather set themselves on fire.
But they won’t. They will fly to London, where Eloise lives, and attend the wedding. They will acknowledge their sibling’s nuptials and make small talk with her future in-laws. They will show up in the most literal sense of the phrase, but they certainly won’t be happy about it.
The People We Hate at the Wedding
The Bottom Line
The People We Hate at the Wedding is the latest addition to the eclectically stacked genre of holy matrimony films. The airy comedy — directed by Claire Scanlon (Set it Up) and based on the novel by Grant Ginder — chronicles an acerbic family reunion fueled by the fantasies of its emotional matriarch (Allison Janney). Scanlon’s breezy production is heavy on the laughs but light on the details — a turn from the slow-burn, nostalgia-laden Set It Up. The People We Hate at the Wedding doesn’t stray too far from the formula of our streaming-dominated visual landscape, but a witty screenplay from the Molyneux sisters and strong performances from Janney, Platt and Bell make it reliably diverting.
When Donna (Janney) finds out that Eloise, her daughter from her first marriage (a passionate but unsuccessful relationship with a flighty Frenchman), is getting married, she envisions the event as the perfect setting for her kids to heal wounds opened during childhood and deepened by the death of her second husband. Her only son Paul — a gay OCD therapist living in Philadelphia with his sharp-tongued boyfriend Dominic (an excellent Karan Soni) — hasn’t talked to her since her second husband’s funeral. And her other daughter Alice, an assistant at an architecture firm in Los Angeles, is too busy sleeping with her married boss to maintain regular contact. Donna, whose happiness depends on the family unit’s health, hopes the wedding will revive memories of a happier time. The only person who shares this unrealistic vision is Eloise, who is desperate to reconnect with her siblings after a rocky incident the previous summer.
Playing on each character’s myopic vision of the family and their general insufferableness, the Molyneuxs craft a story that provides a steady stream of laughs and gives the performers a chance to flex their comedic chops. Bell and Platt, in particular, are a wellspring of zingy one-liners. The siblings’ conversations — first over the phone and then during their weekend in London — reflect how much of their intimacy is borne of their shared deadpan humor and lack of self-awareness. When Alice calls Paul about Eloise, the two engage in an extended bit jokingly one-upping each other in their hatred of the other sibling’s invitation. At a family dinner arranged by Eloise for the evening they arrive in London, Paul supports Alice as she defends herself against Dominic’s disapproving response to her career choices and Eloise’s unsolicited advice.
Janney doesn’t disappoint as a mother trying to balance her own needs alongside those of her adult children. Her best scenes are those in which she overshares with strangers: the attendant at a clothing store where she’s trying on dresses, a random woman sitting near her at the airport cafe, Eloise’s coworker, who happens to walk by the family after that awkward group dinner. .
Laughs are sufficient for this kind of project — a brisk observational comedy — but it’s hard to totally ditch the desire for a more substantial attachment to these characters as the film moves towards a sentimental ending. Alice and Paul’s terrible decision-making and general mistreatment of their mother and half sister leave little room to sympathize with them when they finally display any emotional acuity. Eloise and her father, Henrique (Isaach de Bankolé), get more screen time as the family goes through the motions of a wedding weekend (an intimate dinner, the rehearsal and then, at last, the big day), but they still remain relatively one-note. It’s especially hard to buy Eloise’s character arc — she shifts somewhat abruptly from an aloof and uptight bride to a vocally neurotic one — considering how little we know about her.
Each scene in The People We Hate at the Wedding operates as a comedic set piece as we watch Alice, Paul, Eloise, Donna and Henrique work their way out of absurd situations like when Eloise’s hen-do turns into a disastrous afternoon in the river or when Paul and Dominic try to have a threesome. The characters don’t just feel enlivened during these scenes; their behavior helps us understand why their relationships are so fractured and realize that they are more similar than they’d like to admit.
When the film switches gears, committing fully to its saccharine and cozy ending, it loses some of its bite and confidence. Eloise’s rehearsal dinner becomes a chaotic battleground for hashing out unresolved issues, but after that The People We Hate at the Wedding zealously ties up its loose ends. The movie keeps you entertained, if not totally satisfied.
Distributor: Amazon Prime Video
Production companies: Amazon Studios, FilmNation, Wishmore
Cast: Allison Janney, Kristen Bell, Ben Platt, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, Karan Soni, Dustin Milligan, Tony Goldwyn, Isaach De Bankolé, Jorma Taccone, Julian Ovenden, John Macmillan
Director: Claire Scanlon
Screenwriters: Lizzie Molyneux-Loglin, Wendy Molyneux, Grant Ginder (based on the book by)
Producers: Margot Hand, Ashley Fox
Executive producers: Ben Browning, Alison Cohen, Christos Konstantakopolous, Milan Popelka
Director of photography: Oliver Stapleton
Production designer: Jane Musky
Costume designer: Annie Hardinge
Editor: Wendy Greene Bricmont
Composer: Tom Howe
Casting director: Theo Park
Rated R, 1 hour 39 minutes
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