Ok, so here’s the thing. You can only make a decision based on the information you have at hand. And rarely is that information complete, and rarely is that information entirely objective. But you do the best you can to make a good decision.
I was very intrigued by After the Wedding, when I realized after its first major plot twist was revealed that it was all about decisions. How nuanced and how novel. I was hooked.
But here comes the but. And a huge spoiler warning. To discuss this film in any but the vaguest terms means having to talk about its very twisty plot. And in order to explain all the buts I had about this film I have to spoil the plot.
First though to note that Michelle Williams’s performance is wonderful, and Julianne Moore’s is as well. It was a joy to see such fine acting; it was also a joy to see three-dimensional, high-powered successful women, whose fates—although united by a man—were not dictated by that man or even particularly influenced by him. Watching how stiffly, how uncomfortably, Williams holds herself in silent judgment and agony, totally at odds with her surroundings, with just the barest twinges of emotion showing through—good stuff. And Julianne Moore exudes competence, confidence, and warmth: her business executive is unabashedly and unaffectedly a woman, putting me in mind of a rather marvelous young woman leader I worked with a quarter-century ago, way back in the era when women donned pussycat bows and shoulder pads to approximate the male executive dress code. And here was this lovely young woman scientist, leading a room of high-level policy makers in the Old Executive Office Building, wearing a simple, pretty dress and long loose hair. And I thought we’ve made it now; a woman can be both credible and feminine. And then that shining era of authenticity ended, crushed under a pair of Jimmy Choos. But now reassuringly resurrected in Julianne Moore’s offices.
The story in a nutshell: About twenty years ago, Isabel—now a fiercely dedicated advocate in India, working with orphans—left a child of her own for adoption after agreeing with her artist lover that they could not take proper care of her at this point in their lives. Only except he didn’t really abide by the agreement, claiming and raising the child after Isabel left the country, and then subsequently meeting and marrying successful media entrepreneur Theresa. Who has now—unwittingly? coincidentally>—reached out to Isabel with an offer to fund her program on the condition Isabel come to New York. And while she’s here, she’ll attend the wedding of Theresa’s daughter Grace—who turns out to be her own biological daughter. And the secrets all come out, and then still more are revealed, because Theresa has engineered the whole reunion not out of jealousy or spite or fear or malice, but because she’s dying and wants the clan reunited so they can be there for each other in her absence. And to ensure this, Theresa donates $20 million to Isabel’s charity on condition that she move to New York.
At this point, I thought, oh good, now the writer/director is going to show Theresa how decisions work. How you make your plans based on imperfect knowledge and how stuff happens and life flows and new decisions are made based on new knowledge, new realizations. Isabel made hard choices based on what she knew about herself and gave up a child. Oscar, Isabel’s lover, Theresa’s husband, made a choice to take in that child; he explains to Isabel that he chooses the stones he uses to work with in his art if they call to him—that’s his decision-making process, to choose based on what resonates with him. But hard-driving Theresa, frightened for perhaps the only time in her life, doesn’t choose or decide: she plans and manages. This is of course, as she knows herself, a reaction to this disease which she did not choose and cannot manage. But then, astoundingly, maddeningly, everything she plans comes to pass. Isabel moves to New York and Theresa dies and they all scatter her ashes. And I guess we learn that capitalism trumps logic, trumps art. Which seems very, very wrong to me.
Yes, I know Mrs. Wilcox essentially chooses her husband’s next wife in Howards End. And yes I know that Melanie dies passing custody of her husband on to Scarlett. But both of those situations are the beginnings of stories, not the ends. This is a neat tidying up, and I think the audience really liked it. The existentialist in me did not.