Winona Ryder and Keanu Reeves are the unwanted guests of a California wine-country wedding in Victor Levin’s amiable-aimless rom-com, a premise the writer-director commits to with near–perversity. In Destination Wedding, nary a human being outside the forever-bantering co-stars utters a single word in the hour-and-a-half running time. Ryder and Reeves spend the entire movie preoccupied only with one another, despite their characters’ intimate associations with the betrothed couple: Ryder’s Lindsay, an idealistic prosecutor, is six years bitterly removed from an engagement to the groom; said groom is the estranged half brother of Reeves’s Frank, a cynical marketing something-or-other at J.D. Power and Associates. An emblematic scene about fifteen minutes in, set during the Friday-night rehearsal dinner, finds Lindsay and Frank, strangers until an earlier acrimonious meet-cute at the airport, seated at their own table, alienated from the chummy guests in their midst. In such moments, as the pair aloofly analyzes but refuses to engage with the people cavorting around them, Destination Wedding almost suggests a special-features commentary track come to life, with Ryder and Reeves as onlookers voicing their beat-by-beat breakdowns of a rom-com in which they are not participating. (What’s more Gen X than that?)
Levin comes to Destination Wedding having directed one other feature, 5 to 7 (2014), about an aspiring Manhattan-living fiction writer (played by the late Anton Yelchin) who strikes up a passionate affair with a French diplomat’s wife (Bérénice Marlohe). Some of that movie’s literary pretensions — including a slew of quizzical celebrity cameos, like one by the New Yorker’s David Remnick, who tells Yelchin’s mid-twenties scribe that his work carries “the tease of greatness” — are lightly replicated in Destination Wedding. Levin occasionally breaks the two-person repartee to present sarcastic onscreen text; at the outset, he follows up the title card with a surprising “or” and then a needlessly convoluted addendum: “A Narcissist Can’t Die Because Then the Entire World Would End.” But this is by and large a breezy affair. Levin’s most constant worry seems to be collaborating with his cinematographer, Giorgio Scali, to drum up fresh ways with which to compose his leads during their multiple-minute takes of alternatively combative and flirtatious conversation. In one setup, Ryder’s and Reeves’s faces are pressed into the center of the frame by the barrels of a winery; in another, their bodies, now pajama-attired, are allowed to roam more freely on a hotel bed. Levin at times seems rather too taken with the verbosity of his own dialogue, but here and there, his quips and situations match perfectly with his actors’ sensibilities. Reeves’s unstinting dryness makes deadpan magic out of the pre-clumsy-coitus line, “I haven’t felt pleasure since about 2006,” while Ryder’s sardonic eye-rolls and raised eyebrows lend a goofy liveliness to a tableau of Lindsay and Frank receiving foot massages. Even so, this mild diversion is probably a movie best watched with a couple of glasses of red or not at all.
Written and directed by Victor Levin
Opens August 31, Village East Cinema and AMC Empire 25
Available on demand September 7
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This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 30, 2018