The last wedding I attended, two people told me I was “so brave” for attending alone, and one firmly patted my shoulder and told me my time would come. I nodded and tried to be polite, because such doddering folk don’t deserve the kind of casual vitriol that marks my every day life. I made some nonsensical statement in response and wandered off to stand alone somewhere. When it came time for the dancing, I grabbed a bottle of champagne for the couples dance. The best sort of date — bubbly, not much with the small talk and can’t step on your feet.
Movies about weddings tend to be tedious for a variety of reasons. If you’ve already had one, then all you can do is chortle at the antics and judge the cinema brides for having terrible taste. If you haven’t had one, you are supposed to feel either jealousy or disgust, or some sort of vaguely neutral “Maybe it will happen for me!” stance in between, and judge the cinema brides for having terrible taste. They tend to follow a few basic formulas, and seemingly normal women acting insane over a big party is a heavy hitter in this game.
Well, what of the movie that neither celebrates nor promotes marriage necessarily, but uses a wedding to tell a different kind of story? Weddings bring together family members that might not normally be present in every day life, and naturally seem to add stress into already stressful situations, making weddings ripe for the kind of familial and relationship drama that fuels the best films. Can wedding movies teach us something more, something about ourselves we may have forgotten? The best kinds of films and television are about things other than they appear to be about, as if they’ve fooled almost everyone else but you can get at a secondary meaning that hovers beneath the surface.
In honor of Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel’s nuptials, and because why not, we present our favorite wedding movies that have a little more to say.
10. The Wedding Planner
The one wedding rom com that I’ll allow, Jennifer Lopez plays a wedding planner who falls in love with one of the grooms (Matthew McConaughey) that she’s planning a wedding for. There’s something ridiculous about this, but also the wedding of a woman who has planned weddings for hundreds of brides is something to think about. Amusing performances all around condemn the insane big-wedding mentality and yes, though it still over idealizes the idea of even having a wedding, there’s something gentle and sweet about this one.
9. The Graduate
If you’ve never seen it, you’ve seen a thousand parodies. If spoilers for a 40-year-old movie exist, then, spoilers ahead, beware. Dustin Hoffman bursting into the church at the end and running away with the bride, the two of them hysterical and giddy pushing onto the back of a bus, and then sitting, staring straight ahead, not even really looking at each other, this, this is the ultimate indictment of spontaneous bursts of love. Some might say they’ve made their escape, but escape from what? Escape to what? I half imagine that many people might feel the same way, driving away from their own wedding. Now what.
8. Little Women
Not really about weddings per se, although there is a wedding in it, perhaps the simplest of the bunch as the guests join hands and circle around the bride and groom singing a hymn. These four girls are brought up thinking of marriage and their lives as wives, and still pursuing the good, the true and the beautiful as they attempt to become the fullest expressions of themselves. (Basically I could watch this movie over and over and have committed most of it to memory, “Oh Jo, your one beauty!” “I’ve had ever so many limes.” “Cheap imitations of another man’s genius.”)
A very strange wedding takes up the majority of the film, as things continually go awry because of Kirsten Dunst’s depression that permeates and begins to unravel the entire proceedings. Beyond dream-like, the tedium and boredom that Dunst feels about her own excessively expensive wedding are the ultimate in modern malaise and perhaps even a commentary on the nature of modern marriage, all performative and half lacking in substance, given the high divorce rate. The ultimate in the “what next?” mentality that characterizes some relationships is a wedding that no one wants, not even the bride. In the second half of the film, the threat of total extinction looms even larger. (The world’s crappiest game of “Would You Rather.” Would you rather get married? Or have the world end? Same thing, ammiright? I’ll be here all week, try the pomme frites.)
This one is really about marriage as a reflection upon those who are not already married, as marriage can often cause women to think self-defeatist thoughts about themselves. If I’m not married, is that because there’s something wrong with me? (Ha, ha, no, it means I’m able to take off a moment’s notice, it means I can spend money on whatever I want, it means I don’t have to put up with anything I don’t want to, in short, it means I get to be as selfish as I want, a hundred times a day.) When a wedding seems to change the bride into someone we hardly recognize, it’s even easier to become upset about the event itself. Enough of the “It’s my day!” mentality. You’re throwing a party for some people, not saving the damn world.
5. Save the Date
This movie could have been better, but I find myself thinking about it now and then despite the fact I didn’t think it was very good at the time. A Sundance 2012 film that finds two sisters (Lizzy Caplan and Alison Brie) again preparing for the wedding of one, as Caplan attempts to navigate the ins and outs of her own break-up and the aftermath it wreaks on their small friend group. A wonderful representation about the importance a wedding can have to one person and how little it can matter to everyone else, as Brie is continually disappointed by Caplan’s inabilities and shortcomings. Amusing performances from Geoffrey Arend, Martin Starr and Mark Webber as well.
4. The Five-Year Engagement
Violet (Emily Blunt) and Tom (Jason Segel) are engaged for a really long time, and must overcome various obstacles in their attempts to get married. This one annoys me a bit as it is pretty focused in on the wedding as some kind of ultimate symbol of love for the pair, even though the truth is that the marriage between two people who have decided to wed seems to occur in the decision itself and in the small moments of making decisions together, building a life, not in some grandiose party. All that said, the final wedding itself is perhaps one of my favorite on-screen weddings of all time, so simple and clever it’s a shock no one has thought to commit it to screen before now.
Most people never saw this little film scripted by Noah Baumbach, about two sisters (Nicole Kidman and Jennifer Jason Leigh) attempting to reconcile as one of them is set to be married, and most of it is harsh and hard to love, but every time I want to dismiss Nicole Kidman as an actress, there’s a moment that continues to haunt my mind, she closes her eyes, takes a breath and says, “Just then, I felt so much love for you,” and there’s something so true and real in that line and her reading of it that I can’t dismiss the movie entirely.
2. Monsoon Wedding
Perhaps my favorite of all movies about weddings finds this sprawling Indian family preparing for the wedding of their daughter (Vasundhara Das) to a Westernized man. The perfect melding of old India and new, older generations contending with the demands of youth, desire and duty at odds with one another, and a wonderful exploration of the genuine and abiding love that families have for one another. Director Mira Nair skillfully weaves together image and music, and juggles various storylines with an absolute understanding of the needs of the story.
In the midst of wedding preparations for one of the best weddings ever (complete with interracial marriage, ripping off various religions and cultures in the pursuit of awesomeness, a performance by Robin Hitchcock and a host of other musicians), Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt) and her sister Kym (Anne Hathaway) must deal with Kym’s addictions and past mistakes that continue to haunt their family. This is without a doubt the strongest performance that Hathaway has ever done, if you’re even the least bit a fan of hers, you owe it to yourself to explore this Jonathan Demme directed film. Every perfomance in the film is strong and the mood will stay with you long after the specifics of the story do.