Dysfunction and deviance in The Last Wedding

By Ruth Davenport

The Last Wedding is an interesting exercise in encapsulation. It is raw, subtle, dynamic, introspective, comic, heartbreaking and a zillion adjectives other than dull or predictable.

The movie is a tale of three couples and the downward spiral of all three relationships set in motion by the marriage of the darkly handsome Noah and Zipporah.

"I wanted to have the three couples, each facing up against something reasonably specific and I wanted the idea of relationship breakup to be front and centre," says director Bruce Sweeney with a justifiable air of satisfaction. "For the first third, it’s all about getting married and leading up to the marriage. Then, after the marriage, it gets into disintegration mode which really carries it to the end of the film."

After the hasty marriage of Noah and Zipporah, the two established but unmarried couples face their respective demons. Cynical Canadian literature prof Peter cheats on his dusty but perceptive librarian girlfriend, Leslie, with a 19-year-old student. Sarah, a brilliant architecture student, aces her Master’s thesis and is promptly hired by a high-powered architect firm. This sends her quiet and jaded boyfriend Shane, also an architect, into a dark and brooding insecurity.

"If you’re going to spend three years on a project like this, you should pick something that interests you," says Sweeney. "This interests me. I wanted to reach for some kind of depth. I think I learned that every couple has a 50-50 chance of making it."

Though grindingly based in reality, The Last Wedding zooms along at high speed. The plot unwinds without hesitation and throws each moment, ugly or gentle, into the audiences’ face with no apologies. There are no searching gazes, no whispered pillow talks and no pregnant pauses. Yet, through clever writing and brilliant acting, each character develops substance and is entirely credible.

Sweeney explains that extensive improvisation and workshops with the actors contributed to developing characters that the audience can love, hate and generally relate to on some level.

"I’m concerned about making it real," he says. "As a director I have to take a backseat. The actor has to take it off the page and there’s a ton of work they have to do in terms of how the character moves and how they think and build up a history and all that. There’s a lot they have to put into it and I trust them to come up with that stuff."

Aside from brilliant actors, The Last Wedding is engaging on a number of other fronts. Set in Vancouver, every scene is alive with texture and colour. One can sense the dirty, wet grit under the knees of Peter and Laurel as they get down, doggy-style, behind a dumpster to the sound of the ocean. Nearby, coppertop Sarah and fuzzy-faced Shane get drunk on sake in a ubiquitous harbourfront sushi restaurant.

In one strangely disturbing scene, Zipporah mashes a roasted chicken into Noah’s face and hair in raging but absolutely silent fury. The musical soundtrack is absolutely minimal and leaves the actors to fill and carry each scene on the strength of perfectly timed, subtle expressions and controlled gestures that speak louder than words.

"I have a rule and that is to keep it interesting," says Sweeney. "I’m not interested in characters that start spazzing on something and that give me a lecture on something, I don’t care for it. I’m interested in seeing a character onscreen that you kind of gradually get inside their head and you have some warmth towards them and the things they say. If they come out with a certain kind of truth, then I’ve succeeded."

Aside from rave reviews across Canada, Sweeney explains that he receives a different kind of feedback from regular everyday moviegoers about the movie.

"I wanted to make a film about relationship breakups, and you can’t leave without some sadness
in there," he says. "But I’ve heard that people had really great discussions after the movie and gradually the conversation turned to their own problems, so it was good because it facilitated some kind of dialogue."

The Last Wedding indeed provides a unique kind of introspection to the mechanics of male-female interaction rarely provided by involvement in relationships. It speaks to the quality of acting and writing that the characters are so easy to identify with–the heartbroken Leslie, the manipulative Zipporah and bemused, cornered Noah. It is easy to yell at Peter and glower at Shane in a desire to beat them silly for their insensitive actions. The Last Wedding is so much more than another movie about relationships–it is an uncomfortably honest examination of human interactions that audiences will simultaneously be drawn to and turn away from in shame.

The ending is no surprise–all three relationships fail–but the stops along the way are unexpected and guaranteed to leave the most jaded of relationship survivours with new food for thought.

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