Combustible Celluloid
With: Dev Patel, Radhika Apte, Jim Sarbh
Written by: Michael Winterbottom
Directed by: Michael Winterbottom
MPAA Rating: R for language, some violence and brief nudity
Running Time: 94
Date: 03/01/2019

The Wedding Guest (2019)

2 Stars (out of 4)

A 'Guest' Without Zest

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

It could have been a slick romantic comedy, or perhaps an action-packed crime film with lots of playful flirting, but instead this drama, steeped in somber realism, is merely lifeless and forgettable.

In The Wedding Guest, a man (Dev Patel) prepares for a mysterious trip, packing, renting a car. He stops to buy guns. He reaches his destination, a wedding in Pakistan. He claims to be an old college roommate of the groom's. The family takes him in and gives him dinner. Later, he breaks in to the compound, kidnaps the bride-to-be (Radhika Apte), and shoots a guard.

It seems that the man has been hired by the woman's other lover, a gangster (Jim Sarbh), to give her one more chance to choose the man she wants to be with. After a trip to India and an argument over money, the gangster is left behind, and the kidnapper and the woman hit the road together. They are now on a mission to find a quick, realistic-looking passport for her, and find a place to hide forever.

The Wedding Guest comes from veteran director Michael Winterbottom, who tends to specialize in serious, realistic movies (with the occasional dry comedy or literary adaptation thrown in), and whose ambition sometimes transcends and eclipses his material. In this case, he has taken a pretty simple, and almost rather old-fashioned crime story, and pulled back from it, telling it as if it were happening in the real world, in modern times. It just feels mismatched.

Winterbottom follows the kidnapper character as he takes care of the various details of his assignment, buying duct tape, renting two cars to throw the law off the trail; a genre film would have shown how these errands snapped into place, added up to something. The Wedding Guest simply tumbles over them, as if they never mattered.

Even worse, the main relationship should have had some kind of spark, something emotional, but it feels more mechanical and plot-driven, especially given Patel's constantly grim-faced performance. In other words, the movie could have been fun, but isn't, could have been romantic or exciting, but isn't. Sometimes realism isn't all it's cracked up to be.

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