The Wedding Guest **

The strong opening doesn’t hold up throughout, but it’s fun to see Dev Patel as a tough guy. 

Is it worth $10? No  

As “The Wedding Guest” opens, a man in a darkened room packs for a trip. He could easily turn the light on, but that would ruin the effect writer/director Michael Winterbottom is striving for, which is a sense of mystery and intrigue. As ominous music plays, we see him place multiple passports (among other things) in his luggage. We can’t help but wonder who this guy is, what he is doing, and why. It’s intense. Mystery and intrigue accomplished.

The answers to these questions are initially interesting: The man is Jay (Dev Patel), and he’s on his way to Pakistan. He’s ostensibly travelling for an old friend’s wedding, but in truth he’s planning to kidnap the bride, Samira (Radhika Apte). She’s to be part of an arranged marriage, and her lover (Jim Sarbh) has paid Jay to extract her from a lifetime of servitude. Jay does, but there are complications, and as the story progresses it becomes less compelling, culminating in a weak and anti-climactic ending. In fairness, it couldn’t have believably ended any other way, but that doesn’t change how unsatisfactory it feels.

The film is a mix of good and bad, likely and unlikely, predictable and unpredictable. Given that we have two young and attractive leads, it’s more a question of when, not if, romantic complications will ensue. When it happens, it’s not dramatically interesting. Instead, it merely checks off the list of expectations you have in your head, a list you were hoping the script would be clever enough to avoid.

Nonetheless, the film does reasonably well in holding our interest for four reasons: 1) Exotic locales (shot on location in Pakistan and India); 2) A smart use of modern technology affecting the journey, highlighting the impact of the 24/7 news cycle; 3) Convincing performances from Patel and Apte; and 4) The question of trust, avarice and emotion – the romance is inevitable, but what happens afterward is not. Money and greed are classic quandaries to dabble in, and are handled well here.

What’s odd is how misleading the title is. The story has nothing to do with a wedding, no wedding is depicted, and nothing is wedding themed. Heck, Samira’s arranged wedding is barely even mentioned. Given that the title suggests it’s a romantic comedy, one wonders why and how this came to be the title.

Patel is best known for playing innocents in “Slumdog Millionaire,” “Lion” and “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” so it’s fun to see him play a bad guy who’s rough around the edges. In contrast, Apte is a Bollywood star heretofore unknown in the U.S.; the limited effectiveness of “The Wedding Guest” will probably keep her relatively unknown, but she does have an appealing presence that could work in the right role in the right film. This, clearly, isn’t it.
Did you know?
Winterbottom has made a number of films you’ve heard of but probably don’t love, including The “Trip” trilogy with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, and “A Mighty Heart” with Angelina Jolie.

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