Review: ‘The People We Hate at the Wedding’

This may sound very old-man-shouting-at-the-clouds, but when did comedy diffuse itself into pretty horrible people enmeshed in uncomfortable situations abetted only by dialogue comprised of witty quips and abrasive reactions? That seems to be the shift of ‘funny’, and Claire Scanlon’s The People We Hate at the Wedding deals in this modern cache of comedy completely. If it’s not the most apt title for a film in years, by the time the film tries to give everyone involved a redemptive finale, one will be left wondering was all the sour humor worth it?

The wedding of Eloise (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) is what brings the patchwork family together. Step sister Alice (Kristen Bell) is in shambles over the push and pull relationship she’s involved with her married boss. Step brother Paul (Ben Platt) is likewise churning over his relationship with Dominic (Karan Soni) who seems to be pushing for a threesome with anyone willing. Mother Donna (Allison Janney) seems blind to the emotional suffering of her children, but doesn’t untangle her own life by falling back into a relationship with Eliose’s father (Isaach de Bankole). What ensues as the family lands in England for the wedding is a mass of drunkenness, jealousy, and failed attempts at romance. Luckily for them, their possessiveness and in-fighting is still days away from the wedding itself and instead makes life miserable for everyone over the course of the bachelorette party, the pre-wedding dinner and pretty much any enjoyable night out on the town.

And by the time we get to the geographically beautiful setting of the wedding, the fisticuffs erupt and the ugly Americans threaten to disrupt everything. The fact that the family pretty much pisses on everything and everyone they come into contact with is exemplified in the film’s best running gag as Eliose’s boss Tom (Rufus Jones) seems to stumble into Paul, Ben and Donna at the height of their awkwardness. This clash of cultures probably wasn’t the intended focus of The People We Hate at the Wedding, but it serves as a far more interesting diversion than anything else Scanlon’s film offers.

Shoehorned around the voice of a verbose narrator as if everything we’re watching should be ensconced in a stone tablet fairy tale ledger, The People We Hate at the Wedding sells itself as a romantic comedy, but instead it should be a very dark comedy…. or at least a comedy with very dark hearts at its center. It doesn’t make it a better film, but perhaps then, the script that’s built around abrasive quips as dialogue and uncomfortable characters who exude more prickliness than warmth would be tolerable. I suppose I should have understood the black center of this family when we first meet Platt’s character as some sort of therapist making his patient stand in a trash can in order to face her fears. That this is probably his most humane moment in the entire film speaks volumes about the ugly Americans about to invade other shores. Old man screaming indeed, but I yearn for other comedy.

The People We Hate at the Wedding begins streaming on Amazon Prime on Friday November 18th.