‘The People We Hate at the Wedding’ Squanders Its Stellar Cast With a Severe Lack of Funny
Grant Ginder’s novels are breezy entertainments. Whether tackling the high-level insanities of politics or the messy misunderstandings within family resentments, he’s a precise, funny and unfussy writer. While watching The People We Hate at the Wedding, the first feature film based on his works, I kept asking myself if the movie was as bad as I thought it was.
The plot was basically intact. The characters recognizable from the source material. Yet this story of a dysfunctional American family wreaking havoc at the wedding of their British half-sister squanders the comedic talents of a crackerjack cast and strains, desperately, to make us laugh.
The redoubtable Allison Janney is Donna Stevenson, the much-divorced Mom to gay Paul (Ben Platt), single Alice (Kristen Bell) and half-sister Eloise (Cynthia Addai-Robinson). Neither Paul nor Alice has an interest in attending picture-perfect Eloise’s upcoming nuptials (mostly due to a withheld slight between Alice and Eloise, but also a long-festering feeling of inferiority). Donna wants them all to attend.
The plot does backflips to get them on planes from their various cities of departure. Alice, who’s sleeping with her married boss (Jorma Taccone), is promised that he will be her plus-one. Paul, goaded by his partner Dominic (Karan Soni), has time on his hands based on an unplanned, and unpaid, leave from his job. They all descend on long-suffering Eloise in London and waste no time dredging up petty annoyances and grievances from their past.
The wedding itself is an afterthought – we’re not introduced to the groom until nearly the end of the film – so the movie is a series of vignettes that are basically extended skits of physical comedy. Kristen Bell has most of the heavy lifting here, between a bachelorette party gone to hell and a wedding day confrontation that devolves into fisticuffs, and she throws herself into it like the pro she is. Yet her character is hamstrung by her misguided affair (her boss might as well have “douchebag” stamped on his forehead), which is complicated when she meets Dennis Bottoms (yes, that’s his name) on the plane to London and strikes up an easy rapport. Dustin Mulligan, of Schitt’s Creek fame, is all googly-eyed longing and kindness incarnate as Dennis; he’s also the most anchored character in the film.
Paul and Dominic, meanwhile, are staying in London with Dominic’s old rich professor friend Alcott (Julian Ovenden), and Dominic, trying to shake things up in his stale relationship, is hoping for a threesome with Paul and the older man for whom he’s been pining since his University days. Platt gets the best scene in the film during that aborted threesome, yet all I kept thinking while watching him as Paul and Soni as Dominic was what, if anything, drew them together in the first place? Their characters are at a crossroads, but there is no chemistry between the performers. When Alcott expresses his interest in Paul and not Dominic, you think, yes, of course, because Platt and Ovenden spark to each other.
The script strains to give dimension to the characters (though the book does this effortlessly). And the actors, trying valiantly, fail to wrest darker shades when needed. All is tied up with a neat little bow before the end, but it’s the kind of happy ending that makes you wish you’d never responded to the RSVP in the first place.