'After The Wedding' Review: Michelle Williams And Julianne Moore Disappoint In Messy Melodrama [Sundance]

After the Wedding is a remake of Bird Box director Susanne Bier's 2006 movie of the same name, and while I haven't seen that version, this one is a muddled melodrama that never comes together in satisfying fashion.

Michelle Williams plays Isabel, an American ex-pat living in India and working at an orphanage. One day, she receives a surprise phone call to come to New York City, because high-powered businesswoman Theresa (Julianne Moore) wants to provide funding for her orphanage. Soon after Isabel arrives, Theresa invites her to her daughter Grace (Abby Quinn)'s wedding, which becomes the setting for a revelation about the relationship between the key players.

Unfortunately, director Bart Fruendlich can't seem to find the right balance between quiet reflection and heightened outbursts. The film builds up backlogs of its characters' emotions as they process new information about their lives, but when the fiery, supposedly cathartic confrontations finally arrive, all of the deliveries feel artificial and inauthentic. That's a big problem – the film is full of big speeches and proclamations, and the clunky script and strained performances made it difficult to fully buy any of them.

Several times, Moore and Williams deliver intense explosions of feelings and pent-up revelations, but they rarely land with the emotional wallop Freundlich is hoping for. Every movie features a barrier between the film and the audience, but great films often break down that barrier – or, better yet, make you feel as if it was never there in the first place, pulling you in for an immersive, transportive experience. After the Wedding, on the other hand, always feels as if we're looking into a diorama, watching a bunch of rich people try to handle their problems.

I have nothing inherently against movies about rich white people (see: Citizen Kane, The Philadelphia Story, The Wolf of Wall Street, The Dark Knight, and about a billion others), but After the Wedding never gave me the opportunity to fully connect with its leads. Williams' Isabel is passionate about funding the orphanage where she works, but her cute interaction with a sensitive kid there can't offset the major "white savior" vibes that crop up every time we see her in India or on the phone with any of those characters. Moore's Theresa is admittedly more complex, but the artificiality of her performance kept me at arm's length throughout.

Some of the camerawork is impressive – particularly the sweeping opening shot of Williams' character at her orphanage in India, which feels more controlled and deliberate than a run-of-the-mill drone shot. There's also one beautiful shot of Williams staring into the middle distance on a balcony with a dazzling, colorful New York City sunset behind her. But that balcony is attached to a ludicrously expensive hotel room, and the film's occasional cuts between that glitzy NYC locale (or Grace's Instagram-friendly wedding outside of the city) and India, which is tinted so orange it feels as if it was shot through an actual orange peel, are jarring every time they happen. We're supposed to get the sense that Isabel is overwhelmed and uncomfortable in her fancy new environment, but the movie isn't quite sure what it wants to say about the comparison between her two worlds.

One positive, though, is Billy Crudup's supporting performance as Oscar, Grace's father. He's introduced in an arresting shot in an art gallery, his face framed by a swirling metallic piece that struck me as a nice representation of his character: no straight lines and full of curves, like the path his life took when he made one fateful decision all those years ago. Crudup has been consistently great and sadly underused in Hollywood for the past decade, and his take on Oscar – a goofy but charismatic dad who can quickly flip from a smirk into an unending well of sadness – is one of the film's few highlights.

You'd think putting Williams and Moore in a movie together would result in something electric and unforgettable, but the only fireworks in After the Wedding are the ones the light the night sky following the ceremony.

/Film Rating: 4 out of 10