Don's philosophy on marriage is a simple one: It's like a phone call in the middle of the night. First comes the ring … and then you wake up.
Hey, a guy has to go with what he knows, right? He and his wife, Ellie, realized the hopelessness of their covenant companionship, oh, some 10 years ago. They haven't seen each other since. Don subsequently shacked up with Ellie's former best friend, Bebe. Ellie flew off to some foreign country in pursuit of multiple-hour orgasms.
But all mutually satisfactory separations must come to an end.
Out of the blue, Don and Ellie's adopted son, Alejandro, decides he wants to get married. And so the whole clan has to get together to, uh, celebrate the union. The boy's betrothed, Missy, is a sweet girl, they all agree. But if she turns out anything like her nearly racist parents, well …
Yes, well, it turns out that Alejandro's biological mother is flying in all the way from Colombia. And the woman is a devout Catholic. That's an important detail for this reason: Alejandro never told her that his adoptive parents got a divorce. And she thinks divorce is a sin (if you can believe that!). Which means Don and Ellie now have to pretend they're still married so the woman can enjoy her son's wedding without undue emotional turmoil.
Of course, that means Bebe will have to pretend she's just another friend of the family. And then there's Lyla, Don and Ellie's daughter, who's going through her own separation and currently hates Don with a pink and purple passion. Oh, and their son Jared desperately wants to bed Alejandro's sister. And Missy's dad, Barry, once had a torrid sexual fling with Ellie. And …
… where did you say the booze was stashed?
On a number of occasions, it's made clear that this family full of dysfunction is also full of love. It's strained and tense and often timid, but it's not gone altogether. And that's … something.
Don and Ellie's early love story is held up as a family legacy—even though it later imploded. The tale centers around the planting of an acorn that has now grown into a huge oak tree in their backyard. Each family member's name is nailed up on that tree. And when Alejandro gets married, Don and Ellie gift him with an acorn of his own.
Don and Ellie may not always be the most honorable or even the most likable people, but they at least take some time to have sincere talks with each of their kids. And at one tender point Don makes it very clear how much he has always loved his estranged daughter. The best part—by way of a bit of a spoiler? They reconcile.
Bebe is a part of the mix too. Even though she's simply been Don's live-in girlfriend for the last 10 years, she has had a hand in helping raise Alejandro. And so she agrees to move out without a fuss when his biological mother shows up. "I love you," she tells the young man. "Just think of this as my wedding present to you."
When Alejandro's Spanish-speaking mom arrives, Missy makes a special effort to speak to the woman in her native tongue, voicing her dedication to and love for Alejandro.
Alejandro and Missy meet with Father Moinighan, the priest who will be marrying them. He asks them a number of questions about their relationship. Then, upon hearing that they don't plan to raise their children in the church, he retorts with, "Hell it is, then." Alejandro later tells Missy that he assured Father Moinighan that their children, "little Matthew, Mark, Luke and John," would all be raised "ravenous for the baby Jesus."
Other barbs are aimed at the church, some of them rather crude, with one invoking oral sex by way of "clever" wordplay. Ellie opines that Alejandro and Missy should just cross their fingers behind their backs and say, "Hallelujah, Jesus," when it comes to the church's desires, then go on and do whatever they want. It's pointed out that Ellie is "Jewddhist"—holding to some odd blend of Jewish and Buddhist beliefs (though in truth she never appears to follow either).
Don, on the other hand, claims no faith at all. Alejandro's Catholic mother opines that she believes him to be a "serpent"—struggling between good and evil in his life and with the sexualized art he creates.
Many of the punch lines and quite a bit of the ongoing story line focuses on the sexual proclivities and actions of the various family members. Don, for example, begins to give someone oral sex before being interrupted. (The camera's view is partially blocked.) His sexual arousal is physically noticed by someone else during a hug. We hear two different couples having loud, vocal climaxes during sex.
Alejandro's sister, Nuria, pulls down Jared's zipper at the dinner table and stimulates him with her hand (covered by a napkin). Still, Lyla talks about Jared's "virginity"—a state several of his female co-workers are trying to change. She also indicates the size of his manhood. Jared comments about how Lyla had sex with nearly half the town. She retorts that that was in high school and "hand jobs don't count."
Indeed, several characters reveal their past sexual infidelities, including at least one lesbian encounter. It's said that a central character was born from an illegitimate relationship between a single woman and a married man. Father Moinighan talks to Alejandro and Missy about their sexual relationship.
Several women flaunt cleavage, either in low-cut tops or swimsuits. A painting and a sculpture of Don's depict Bebe in an unclothed state. Nuria strips naked on an outdoor pier. (We see her from the rear and side.)
Don ends up being on the regular receiving end of slaps or punches as part of a running gag. In a couple of cases the blows appear to be pretty forceful: A punch to the face gives him a bloody nose, and a knee to the head sends him crumpling to the floor.
Crude or Profane Language
Ten or so f-words. A dozen s-words. "H‑‑‑" is said repeatedly, and we hear "a‑‑" once or twice, along with seeing Jared wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with "a‑‑holes." God's name is misused 10-plus times; Jesus' is abused twice. There's crude slang for male and female genitalia. Lyla uses a reference to "spics and Jews" as a purposeful racial barb.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Lyla pulls a cigarette out of her purse but never lights it. Don, however, makes up for that by lighting and smoking two cigarettes at the same time, after having sex. Wine, champagne and hard liquor is imbibed by all at various family dinners and at the wedding reception.
Don and Father Moinighan talk of going to AA together. "Third time's a charm," the priest reports.
Other Negative Elements
Lyla vomits on her dad's shoulder.
Here we have yet another family-gathering-for-a-wedding movie filled with an ensemble of recognizable Hollywood names: Robert De Niro, Diane Keaton, Susan Sarandon, Robin Williams, Katherine Heigl, Amanda Seyfried, Topher Grace.
So what separates this pre-ceremony comedic collaboration from any of a dozen other such flicks?
Not a whole lot.
In various interviews, writer/director Justin Zachman has tried to entice viewers with the thought that his shot at the idea is all about a "modern" family wedding. By that he means a multicultural group of, for the most part, wealthy, divorced, dysfunctional, liposuctioned, prejudiced, religiously relativistic, angst-filled brothers, sisters, moms and dads who are pretty much loathe to be together and, oxymoronically, comparatively laissez-faire about all the past and present bed-hopping infidelities that, well, everybody in the family is guilty of.
And that's their good qualities.
Prod and push them all into what passes for a 90-minute comedy, and you're stuck with the metaphorical equivalent of a hideous bridesmaid's dress. Still, in developing that word picture, I'll try to first be charitable. Hey, even the ugliest of dresses usually has at least one or two little parts that are appealing—a classy belt here, perhaps, or a fashionable twist of lace there. And in The Big Wedding's case that would equate to a few identifiably cute family quips that manage to keep their heads above the general lowball tone … and a couple of somewhat believable tender moments between parents and their children.
But a cute accessory or bow doesn't make an ugly dress worth wearing. And, likewise, a few good scenes can't make a flat, often crude story about changing (read: crumbling) family values worth watching. Sometimes you just have to say no to the dress.