This weekend, "The Big Wedding," a movie about a catastrophic wedding-gone-awry, opens everywhere. It comes stocked with a veritable three-course meal of big-time movie stars, including Robert De Niro, Diane Keaton, Robin Williams, Susan Sarandon, Amanda Seyfried and Katherine Heigl. While the movie, which was based on a 2006 French film, looks kind of dopey (a divorced couple has to pretend that they're still together for the sake of the young groom's staunchly Catholic mother), it was, at the very least, enough to get us thinking about our favorite wedding movies – and not just movies which end in dream nuptials, but the messy, heartbreaking, awkward, complicated emotions that often accompany what many feel is one of the single most important days of their lives.
When learning the works of William Shakespeare, a quick shorthand can be developed in terms of identifying what the play is – if it's a comedy, then the play will end in a wedding (Love! The promise of babies!) and if it's a tragedy, then the play will end in death (Nothingness! The promise of the grave!). Elsewhere in the cinematic universe, things aren’t always so cut and dry, and a number of wonderful dramas (and at least one horror movie) have explored how a day endless magazine and cable shows promote as being so unbelievably fun and special, can also be just as painful and complex (sometimes in the same moment). Our list reflects this. So sit back as we give an overlong, champagne-fueled toast to twenty great wedding movies worth saying "I do" to, and please, try to catch the bouquet when we throw it. You're not getting any younger.
“A Wedding” (1978)
“A Wedding” is a bit of a cult classic, with a cast extensive enough to make any game of Six Degrees of Separation much more interesting. Starring Amy Stryker, Desi Arnaz, Jr., Carol Burnett, Geraldine Chaplin, Mia Farrow, Lillian Gish, Viveca Lindfors, and Lauren Hutton, and set during a single day, the film follows the society wedding of “Muffin” Brenner (Stryker) and Dino Sloan Corelli (Arnaz, Jr.). The couple, their families, and their guests unravel as mishaps occur (e.g. the Bishop forgets his lines) and skeletons tumble out of the two families’ closets (almost literally when the groom’s grandmother dies), with Farrow playing a key, albeit brief, role as “Bunny” Brenner, the bride’s secretly pregnant sister who is possibly carrying the groom’s child. As Roger Ebert wrote in his review, “This is the sort of material that easily lends itself to farce, and, when it does, [Robert] Altman cheerfully follows.” Not to say that this is strictly a comedy -- like other Altman films “A Wedding” oscillates between laughs and tears. Touching on topics ranging from drug addiction to sexual deviancy to radical politics, this satire of the Chicago upper-crust leaves all of us to ponder our own lives and family secrets. Although it may be the event of the season, the Brenner-Corelli wedding was just a big enough nightmare to make this list.
“Wedding Crashers” (2005)
Emblematic of the Frat Pack, “Wedding Crashers” is not your typical wedding movie – with a racist grandma, kinky sex, “Death, you are my bitch lover!” It is a rollicking good time that just happens to feature a bunch of weddings. Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn play serial wedding crashers John Beckwith and Jeremy Grey, putting on different personas at each wedding they go to, for a rather funny comic effect (for an Indian wedding – Sanjay Collins and Chuck Vindaloo, for an Irish wedding – Seamus O’Toole and Bobby O’Shea). It all changes when John falls for Claire Cleary (Rachel McAdams), a senator’s daughter. A stellar cast includes Christopher Walken as the senator and Jane Seymour as the enticing senator’s wife, along with breakout roles for Isla Fisher as Claire’s nymphomaniac sister and Bradley Cooper as Claire’s boyfriend/fiancée with anger issues. Also, Will Ferrell has a fall-out-of-your-chair-laughing small role as a veteran wedding crasher who has gone on to darker things. Mixing frat boy humor and romantic comedy schmaltz, it’s a home run for the whole over 17 family. Supposedly, Owen Wilson came up with the line: “I think we only use 10% of our hearts.” Aw, deep down that corniness is touching, but still hilarious, and will always have a spot on any wedding list.
“Very Bad Things” (1998)
Anything that can go wrong does go wrong in this darker-than-night comedy from director Peter Berg that deserves credit for rewriting middle-aged white male misbehavior in mainstream American films. The crew in “Very Bad Things” aren’t just good ole boys, but rather genuinely nasty individuals, venal, selfish and when push comes to shove, murderous. Like “The Hangover,” the film’s play-nice spiritual nephew, “Very Bad Things” finds a group of friends united at the Vegas wedding of best friend Kyle (an unassuming, nervous Jon Favreau), who urges his friends, inefficiently, to behave themselves during the bound-to-be-rowdy bachelor party. Best friend Boyd (Christian Slater), instead proposes a coke-fueled exercise in deviance that will cloud their innocence forever, though perhaps they should watch more movies -- the sight of Christian Slater holding small baggies filled with drugs is just the sort of thing that has probably ruined several clear consciences in real life. Eventually, unhinged, inappropriate Michael (Jeremy Piven at his jittery best) coaxes a private meeting with the group’s stripper in an incident that gets her killed, forcing the group to bury the secret in the desert. The crew attempts to move on, keeping their secret forever, but the overwhelming pressure to come clean results in each member of the group eliminating others in increasingly gruesome, elaborate ways. The nastiness of “Very Bad Things” is not only in the speed in which some of these men turn on each other (the cast also includes Daniel Stern and Leland Orser in especially awkward performances) but also the surprisingly nasty bit of misogyny behind bridezilla Cameron Diaz, who plays the hectoring, obnoxious stereotype to the hilt. “Very Bad Things” perfectly captures the nightmare implicit in pre-wedding celebrations, the idea that marriage represents the very best opportunity to redeem our bad behaviors, and that some men are simply allergic. The absolutely grotesque pitch-black ending is pretty much exactly how some expected “The Hangover” to end, ludicrously fatalistic and ugly, but ultimately fitting.
“Royal Wedding” (1951)
A brother and sister musical theater duo played by Jane Powell and Fred Astaire (much like that of Fred and his sister Adele) bring their show to London to capitalize on the impending royal wedding and stumble into love with two Brits (Peter Lawford and Sarah Churchill – just think of those political connections) along the way. Full of great tunes from Burton Lane and Alan Jay Lerner and incredible choreography (“Sunday Jumps”), “Royal Wedding” features one of the most iconic dancing scenes in history – where Fred Astaire dances on the ceiling. In a Shakespearean twist, not only does the off-screen fictional royal couple get hitched, but also the siblings get the itch and go down the aisle. Originally, June Allyson was set to star but was then replaced by Judy Garland, before Jane Powell finally landed the role. Though released in 1951, this film was set in 1947 to coincide with the royal wedding of Princess Elizabeth (now Elizabeth II) and Phillip Mountbatten, the Duke of Edinburgh. Although a remake could never quite capture that golden MGM magic, wouldn’t it have been great to see something like this done with the weddings of Charles and Diana or Will and Kate? Maybe third time’s the charm if Harry ever settles down?