Our interesting new world of smaller film releases starring recognizable stars has most obviously benefited the action genre. Sure, there are tons of huge explosions out there on the big screen, but truly great action films lately have also been thriving on the DTV-streaming market. It never occurred to me this might also be the case with romantic comedies.
I’m not sure there was ever a time when Destination Wedding would have been a good fit for wide theatrical release. Were it to come out in the ‘90s or something, so much would have to be added to it, easily enough to take away its unique charm and turn it into just another typical rom com. But since this doesn’t have to be some huge movie, Destination Wedding gets away being something rather special.
Winona Ryder plays Lindsey, and Keanu Reeves (along with his John Wick hair and beard) plays Frank. The two meet in an airport and hate each other immediately. Yet they keep getting stuck together. Between lobbing poisonous barbs at each other, they realize they are both going to the same wedding and will be stuck together for some time. They fall in love, duh.
That all sounds pretty cliche, but in Destination Wedding’s case, it’s not the song, it’s the singer. Writer-director Victor Levin isolates the moves of a romantic comedy and strips out absolutely everything else - up to and including cinematic language. The entire film is a series of two-shot conversations between Ryder and Reeves. There are other characters at this wedding, but not a single one of them gets a line. They are merely there as fodder for our leads to discuss. If the locations changes for each of these conversations weren’t so extreme, this easily could have been a play.
And Levin commits to capturing it as a play. The dialog is quick and witty - if a little try-hard sometimes - and Levin makes sure it remains front and center throughout the film. Because there are so few cuts, we witness complete performances from Ryder and Reeves, which denies them the manufactured naturalism often granted by editing. It’s a bit awkward but also fascinating as it lays bare acting ticks that might otherwise go unnoticed. If you choose to watch this movie, do NOT make a drinking game out of how often you see Winona Ryder do her patented eye-roll with one eye half closed. You will die.
Letting that go, we’re left with chemistry working at its purest form. Courtship-by-fighting is a hard thing to get right. Destination Wedding succeeds thanks to its two leads and a neat trick in which their hatred for each other slowly transfers to unification as they wield that negativity toward everyone around them. Stuck together in a shitty situation with people they hate, the two become allies. Then they survive an encounter with a bobcat and have sex in the grass - talking the entire time, of course.
Destination Wedding forces us to hang with pretty miserable misanthropes as they drink, swear and have very awkward sex, but at its heart, it’s a somewhat chaste film, more adorable than biting. Rather than seem affected and reaching, this all adds to its charm. It’s like a weird fable but for grownups looking for something easy to watch that doesn’t make them feel too old or condescended to. It takes a minute to get on the film’s wavelength, but once you do it’s hard to dislike. In fact, the only thing I’m really bummed about is likely missing out on further movies exploiting Lindsey and Frank’s miserable romance as it moves through marriage and childbirth and all that. I would totally take a Before series about these two lovable assholes.