To be alive is to attend weddings. And to be a moviegoer is to watch wedding movies. Try as you might, you can’t escape the nuptials in real life or on the big screen, and they are great fodder for cinema because conflict is baked in. That’s the drama and comedy that The People We Hate At The Wedding promises to deliver, but as with the chicken/steak/vegetarian entree you selected, this film will leave you unsatisfied and wishing you’d spent your evening at Red Lobster.
The premise of The People We Hate At The Wedding, based on the novel by Grant Ginder, is simple enough: siblings Alice (Kristen Bell) and Paul (Ben Platt) desperately want to skip their half-sister Eloise’s (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) wedding because they hate other guests in attendance. Alice endures a miserable corporate existence while engaged in an affair with her boss (Jorma Taccone). Meanwhile, Paul, whose job involves dumping trash on people as some sort of OCD therapy, is not looking forward to seeing his mother Donna (Allison Janney). Donna, however, who had Eloise with a womanizing aristocratic Frenchman named Henrique (Isaach De Bankole), is giddy to have all three children under one roof/industrial wedding tent. Since Eloise is British, the remaining members of the family must commute to London for the festivities.
As expected, things go awry almost instantly. Alice decides to try and smuggle her married boss into the wedding, but he keeps getting delayed. In the meantime, she drinks heavily, makes passive-aggressive (and aggressive-aggressive) comments about Eloise’s inherited wealth, and singlehandedly ruins a hot tub boating trip down the Thames (something that seems both incredible fun and epically disgusting at the same time). Paul brings along his longtime boyfriend Dominic (Karan Soni, easily the best part of this film), but Dominic thinks the emotionally fraught trip is the perfect time to cajole Paul into having their first threesome. Donna, when not trying to prove she’s an LGBTQ+ ally, is shacking up with her ex-husband. And Eloise, who for some reason doesn’t really understand any of the dynamics at play, is quickly unraveling while her family members repeatedly make the worst possible life decisions. The film tumbles onward towards its inevitable disastrous climax and kumbaya ending, making pit stops at the bachelorette party, rehearsal dinner, wedding ceremony, and reception along the way.
Unfortunately the film serves up plenty of “people we hate at the wedding,” and few to invest in. The chemistry and comedy that director Claire Scanlon was able to conjure up in Set It Up is nowhere to be found here. To start, both Alice and Paul are grating and insufferable. They whine about everything, and their reasons for being miserable are revealed to be flimsy misunderstandings. Bell and Platt further make them so unlikeable that when Alice gets a new love interest (Dustin Milligan from Schitt’s Creek), you’re actively rooting for him to run for his life. (The feeling isn’t helped by the instant comparison between Alice and Alexis Rose). Platt’s Paul is similarly a wet blanket, and trying to prop them up against an overly chipper Allison Janney just makes the film feel ill-cast. Janney after all is best when she can be wry and witty. Addai-Robinson is mostly relegated to hand wringing in the corner. That a film with so many batshit moments (a menage a trois, a mid-wedding arrest, people pissing on one another) can be so uninteresting speaks to how unsympathetic the characters are.
As with a bad wedding toast, The People We Hate At The Wedding is nearly devoid of laughs, fails to convey sincere emotion to those watching, and goes on too long. If you’re in need of a wedding rom-com, there are dozens of better options (Plus One, Father Of The Bride, Bridesmaids, hell even Ticket To Paradise) to say yes to. This slog of a film will have you checking your watch, wishing for an open bar, and begging for the sparkler sendoff.