Regret about the paths not taken in life is a fairly fundamental part of the human condition, which explains why there’s so much art exploring what the world might look like if time wasn’t so damned fixed and linear. From recurring-day fantasies like Groundhog Day or Russian Doll to divergent-timestream stories like Sliding Doors to an endless run of time-travel tales, film and TV writers have spent a lot of time playing around with the idea of the do-over, the “What if we made different choices?” rhetorical question that flips the bird at inevitability.
Netflix’s awkward new rom-com movie Love Wedding Repeat, a remake of the French flop Plan de Table, toys with this idea yet again. But writer-director Dean Craig (who also wrote both versions of Death At A Funeral, and cribs from himself here) adds a bizarre theme that ensures none of it resonates. Its version of the paths-not-taken story becomes a random shrug about the vagaries of fate — and the film is even framed around emphasizing that element of randomness. It’s the rare romantic comedy that doesn’t underline viewers’ needy true-love fantasies by saying “This couple was destined to get together,” so much as it says “Eh, this could happen, I guess. Whatever.”
Sam Claflin stars as Jack, a charmingly ineffectual man with a crush on war journalist Dina (Olivia Munn). Three years ago, they met in Italy through Jack’s sister Hayley (Eleanor Tomlinson), spent a few days socializing together, and built a tenuous mutual connection. Jack almost got up the courage to kiss Dina (who offered him no feedback or encouragement, apart from a passive, expectant look), but coincidence forestalled them, and they parted ways without ever acknowledging their mutual interest.
Then they meet again at Hayley’s wedding, both fresh out of disastrous relationships, and ready to try again. But their attempts to talk keep getting interrupted by farcical disasters: Hayley’s coked-up, strung-out friend Marc (Jack Farthing, doing his best early Hugh Grant impression) crashes the reception, planning to win her back. Hayley’s best friend Bryan (Joel Fry), a struggling actor, is gunning to impress a big-time filmmaker at the reception, in spite of the clingy attentions of annoying chatterbox Rebecca (Aisling Bea). Jack’s toxic ex Amanda (Freida Pinto) is also at the wedding with her own hanger-on, her insecure, dick-size-obsessed boyfriend Chaz (Allan Mustafa). And all of them have their own agendas to chase at the party.
Love Wedding Repeat’s biggest issue is that Craig never gives the audience much rooting interest in any of this action. There’s no evidence that Jack and Dina would make an interesting couple. They don’t have any chemistry together: they barely even have personalities, apart from being blandly warm and having matching winning smiles. They’re unfailingly nice, to the point of being doormats — as the louder, pushier, more oblivious people around them keep interrupting their vague gestures toward flirting, they keep failing to push back or even trying to advocate for their supposed romance. Most rom-coms put hilariously outsized obstacles or misunderstandings between a would-be couple. This film cockblocks them both by initially not seating them right next to each other at the reception, and making them too inhibited to switch seats.
Love Wedding Repeat’s big twist (spoiler ahead, though it’s really not about plot so much as the film’s basic structure) is that after one disastrous version of the reception plays out, the movie rewinds to show that it could have gone differently. The inciting incident involves a bunch of kids running into the reception hall to swap everyone’s table-setting cards around, with the idea that Jack’s future plays out very differently based on whether he’s sitting next to Dina, Amanda, or someone else entirely during the wedding reception. A honey-voiced, comically vulgar narrator (Penny Ryder, doing a shameless Judi Dench imitation) reminds the audience that this story could have played out in a variety of ways, based on where those cards ended up. And then, after a quick, entertaining montage of other possible results that look more daring and wild than anything else actually explored in the film, a second ending plays out.
The idea that the film’s first ending was arbitrary, and that the second one is just as arbitrary, leaves Love Wedding Repeat feeling monstrously unsatisfying and empty — a weird feeling for a rom-com. Normally, films like this are candy-coated fantasy confections that are meant to provide a brief sugar rush just by getting the two leads together on schedule, as expected. This one instead suggests that their hookup isn’t motivated, fated, or even earned, it’s just how the dice happened to tumble. It’s a strange way to undercut the what-if speculation genre, by making none of the what-ifs matter.
And even if the endings did land as satisfying or cathartic, the journey to get to them isn’t much fun. Love Wedding Repeat is a visually sunny, sumptuous movie, full of attractive people dressed to the nines, having tense, frustrated interactions in a gorgeous Italian wedding venue full of elaborate frescoes and wide-open windows. It’s excellent eye-candy, even if it isn’t romance-candy. For a currently shut-in society, there’s some satisfaction just in watching the characters wander the beautiful lawns and grounds, and explore various rooms of the nightmare hellscape where they’re trapped with each other. (It’s worth mentioning that this seems to be a six-hour reception with endless alcohol, no food, and no structure, except a single speech. The cake never even gets cut. No wonder the center cannot hold.)
But nothing about the rest of the film lives up to the visuals. The farce is a warmed-over, too-familiar copy of both Craig’s Death at a Funeral scripts (complete with an inadvertently drugged character staggering around making an imbecile of himself, and a former lover turning up with salacious news and getting shoved in a box) and Richard Curtis-scripted ensemble comedies like Four Weddings and a Funeral and Love Actually. The script, intended to be light and lively, repeats the same dreary gags over and over, without enough variation to make them come around to hilarity again. (Chaz’s obsession with his genitals, and his fears that Jack’s are superior in some way, is a particularly tiresome metronome of a joke, just ticking back into the story at predictable intervals.)
It gets to the point where the funniest thing in Love Wedding Repeat is the cast’s ongoing interaction with an utter bore. Sidney (Tim Key), one of the many distractions coming between Jack and Dina, is a self-centered, socially incompetent nincompoop who interrupts Dina’s story about being kidnapped by the Taliban in Afghanistan to comment on her boobs, and then brags about his car-insurance job. He’s the epitome of discomfort humor, but at least Key has a sense of comic timing that makes him feel like a character ported in from a Christopher Guest comedy, and an escalating series of jokes that hit a few different notes. Similarly, Hayley’s wild-eyed ex Marc is a lurching force of chaos, and Farthing plays him with the go-for-broke verve the rest of the film is missing. It’s maddening that the film’s most intolerable characters are also its only source of energy or interest.
But it’s equally maddening that Marc is allowed to stay at the wedding and annoy everyone, when in the real world he would be quietly and firmly evicted from the reception, if he could get into such a fancy, exclusive venue without an invitation in the first place. Similarly, it beggars belief that no one ever simply says, “Let’s just go talk in private,” or gently excuses themselves out of the endlessly uncomfortable conversations they’re pressed into. Jack’s squirmy, shy politesse in the face of grotesque rudeness might make sense, but Dina is supposed to be a war correspondent, inured to front-line action and danger. Surely even before a series of big comedy crises pile up, she has it somewhere within herself to tell Sidney she isn’t his “wedding buddy,” or extricate herself from his endlessly dull stories.
And the fact that she doesn’t — the fact that both the leads are such vanilla-pudding characters, passive and polite and personality-lite — robs the film of any of its stakes or momentum. The new ending offers an option that’s different from the first ending, but both of them amount to, “Everything could happen differently from the way it does happen, and people don’t have much choice in the way it plays out.” That lackadaisical, half-hearted approach manages to ruin the central conceits of romantic comedies and what-if movies at the exact same time.
Love Wedding Repeat is streaming on Netflix now.
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