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The People We Hate At The Wedding Review: Here Comes The Dysfunction

EDITORS' RATING: 6/10
Pros
  • It's got a great cast
  • It's well-written
  • The comedy usually works
Cons
  • The drama and comedy balance is never quite there
  • It never rises beyond its interesting premise

There's a lot going for "The People We Hate at the Wedding" even before the film kicks off its action. The new Amazon Studios release is based on a celebrated comic novel, directed by Claire Scanlon of "Set It Up" and "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" fame, and scripted by Lizzie Molyneux-Logelin and Wendy Molyneux, two of the writers that built "Bob's Burgers" into a family comedy powerhouse. Throw in a cast led by Allison Janney and Kristen Bell, and all the ingredients seem to be in place for a pleasing, relatably wild destination comedy.

In actual practice, while the film certainly is pleasing, "People We Hate" never really manages to rise beyond the meaty opening salvo that is its premise. It's not necessarily a film filled with mistakes, or bad performances, or even bad craft on any level. Everything's solid and direct and put together by talented people. But like a bland wedding cake, it's something that's pretty on the surface, yet loses its appeal the deeper you cut into its center.

Family Reunion

Donna (Janney) is the matriarch of a scattered family that includes her eldest daughter Eloise (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) and Eloise's half-siblings from Donna's second marriage, Alice (Bell) and Paul (Ben Platt). The three siblings were close as kids, when Eloise visited America from her London home every year, but in adulthood they've drifted apart through a combination of missteps and different circumstances. So when Donna realizes they've all been invited to Eloise's English countryside wedding, she sees an opportunity to rekindle the old family magic.

But Paul and Alice aren't convinced. They're too busy trying to sort out their own personal lives, which include Alice's affair with her married boss (Jorma Taccone) and Paul's confusion over his partner (Karan Soni). Finally, when one sibling gives in, the other follows suit, and the trio heads off to London, where Eloise is set to demand that they all set aside their differences and come together to give her a magical day of love.

This is, of course, easier said than done. Things get instantly complicated when Donna has to spend time with her ex-husband (Isaach de Bankolé), Paul realizes he might be angled into a new relationship status quo, and Alice connects with a friendly, handsome guy (Dustin Milligan) she met on her TransAtlantic flight. To make things worse, both Paul and Alice are still holding grudges against Elois e– grudges centered on secrets that just might come bubbling up to the surface over the course of the wedding weekend.

All the pieces are in place for a proper family drama powder keg through which Scanlon and the Molyneux sisters will hope to wring maximum comedic effect, and to their credit, the story team never loses sight of any of those pieces. No stranger to sitcoms with several plot elements juggling at once, the sisters' script strikes a solid balance between drama and comedy while also weaving together the threads of each character's individual story into a cohesive whole. We see where everyone starts, where everyone converges, and where everyone ends up with a certain brisk clarity, revealing a very solidly built story.

The People We Tolerate at the Wedding

Within that very clear set of interwoven story threads, of course, there's the relatable kernel of truth that any big family gathering is bound to generate some kind of big family drama, and that's made all the more real through the work of the cast. Allison Janney, still one of the best actors working in any field today, is great as the woman trying to hold it all together, while Bell, Platt, and Milligan do a great job with the snark-filled dialogue, and Addai-Robinson balances their cynicism out with believable grace. Everyone's turning in solid work, filling their roles, and earning a few laughs along the way.

And yet, nothing about "The People We Hate at the Wedding" ever seems to rise above the appeal of its premise. It never quite goes anywhere, particularly anywhere that you wouldn't expect it to go. In some spaces, the clarity of the angles in the story, and the solidity of the scripting, actually almost feel like it works against the film in terms of delivering anything interesting beyond the predictable payoffs to each beat. That's true of the comedy, but it's also sometimes frustratingly true of the honest drama, as the family comes to terms with each other's setbacks and secrets and learns to move forward again, or tries to. All of these blows are, somehow, glancing at the audience, never hitting us with any real emotional impact beyond a simple understanding of what's happening to the characters. Despite the prowess of the cast and the capability of everyone involved, nothing about "The People We Hate at the Wedding" grows beyond an idea and into an actual story.

It might be because there are simply too many plot threads to serve for the film to ever really flesh out one or two, or it might be because the balance between comedy and drama tips slightly too far in one direction or another, but "The People We Hate at the Wedding" emerges as an underbaked, surface-level experience. It's never unpleasant. It's never even bad. But this is a film that ends up feeling like less than the sum of its parts, a dream wedding where every element just never quite came together. It's all pleasant enough, but the wow factor isn't there. 

"The People We Hate at the Wedding" premieres on Friday, November 18 on Amazon Prime Video.