Warning: This post contains spoilers for the movie After the Wedding. But that's why you're here, isn't it?
Wedding toasts are an odd sort of speech. They're prolonged inside jokes, written especially for people in an inner circle — aka, the people invited to the wedding. As a result, toasts are rarely objectively funny, even if they kill it at the wedding.
None of the speeches land in After the Wedding, out August 9. That's because audiences aren't exactly guests at the movie's wedding. We'e something better: A fly on the wall to all the enormous melodrama that unfolds, twist by twist, after Grace (Abby Quinn) marries Jonathan (Alex Esola) in her parents' backyard. We'd take drama over cheesy toasts any day.
After the Wedding is a near-exact adaptation of a 2006 Danish drama directed by Susanne Biers, also called After the Wedding, but has one big twist: Instead of focusing on two strong-willed men, it focuses on two strong-willed women. Through this gender-swapped twist, the American After the Wedding, directed by Bart Freundlich (Julianne Moore's husband), becomes a showcase for the tremendous talent of Michelle Williams (ascetic and restrained) and Julianne Moore (riding a pendulum of emotions). This version also weaves in a discussion of a mother's "duties" that the original didn't have.
Spoilers, full steam ahead.
Much like an Agatha Christie novel, After the Wedding begins with a tantalizing offer from a rich person. For over two decades, Isabelle (Michelle Williams) has run an orphanage in Kolkata, India. But the orphanage is struggling financially.
Then, an American benefactor swoops in with an enormous donation. There's only one caveat: Isabelle must travel to the New York in person to meet with her. Reluctantly, Isabelle leaves the orphanage, even though it might mean she'll miss her her favorite kid's — practically her surrogate son's — birthday celebration.
So, Isabelle heads to New York and is quickly wrapped up in the kind of lavishness she's scorned for decades. She's visibly uncomfortable during her first meeting with Theresa (Moore), the founder and CEO of a "media buying conglomerate." Isabelle has questions. Why, of all charities in the world, is Theresa interested in hers? And why has Theresa, once so confident in her intent to donate, suddenly decided to wait before making a decision?
Since she's prolonging Isabelle's trip by a few days, Theresa insists that Isabelle come to her daughter's wedding that weekend. It’s an unexpectedly intimate pit stop, but Isabelle goes with it — after all, she needs the donation so she can get back to her life.
But Isabelle can't predict how the wedding will affect her. This wedding, man. A Dear Prudie column would have a field day with the twisted knots this family has woven, which unfurl at the wedding. That explains why foreboding "storm-is-coming" music plays despite the wedding's idyllic Midsommar-meets-WASP vibes.
Almost immediately, Isabelle discovers she's no outsider at this wedding. She knows the father of the bride, a sculpture artist named Carl (Billy Crudup) — and she's deeply connected to other people, too.
Reveal Number One: Abby is Isabelle's daughter.
During her wedding speech, Abby retells the story of how she "chose" her mother, Theresa. The well-worn story sounds like the premise of a '90s sitcom of happy, found families. Carl was walking along the streets of New York with a one-year-old Abby. Then Theresa walked by, and Abby pointed her finger. Theresa paused to ogle the baby, which then introduced her to her future husband, Carl. Carl and Theresa raised Abby together, and now have 8-year-old twin boys (Tre Ryder, Azhy Robertson).
After hearing the toast, Isabelle puts it all together: She's Abby's biological mother. Isabelle and Carl met and fell in love as teenagers. She got pregnant when she was 18. They agreed to give the baby up for adoption. After giving birth, Isabelle immediately fled the hospital. For 30 days — the length of the adoption revocation period — Carl wavered. On the last day, he reclaimed Abby and raised her as a single father before conveniently meeting Theresa.
Reveal Number Two: Abby's marriage doesn't last.
Obviously, Abby is bewildered by the new facts of her life. The day after her wedding, Abby learns that her mother isn't her biological mother, and her parents were keeping one helluva secret from both her and Isabelle. This is not how she expected to start the rest of her life.
But it's what happened, and she'll have to sort through it. Unfortunately, her husband, Jonathan, doesn't have patience for psychological turmoil. We were correct to be suspicious of Jonathan from the get-go, when he spent more time talking about Theresa, his boss, than he talked about Abby, his new wife. Jonathan's a big ol' phony.
A few days after the wedding, Jonathan insinuates that Abby can't just "change" personalities overnight — he married one version of Abby, not the person she's become, who dreams of going to India to visit her mother on their honeymoon. They break up off camera.
Reveal Number Three: Theresa is terminally ill — and a mastermind.
After the wedding, Theresa's behavior become erratic. For one, she's working to sell the company she worked so hard to build — and drinking a lot while doing it. Then, Carl finds pills stashed away in a secret box in her drawer.
But the tell-tale sign of Theresa's changed state comes in her revised offer to Isabelle. Theresa will give her a significantly more significant sum — $20 million — on the condition that she move permanently to New York and stay a part of Abby's life.
Why? Because she's dying of cancer, and she wants to leave Abby with a maternal figure. Theresa planned the whole thing. The mysterious offer. The trip to New York. The wedding invitation. She forced a confrontation between Carl, Isabelle, and Abby, because she knew that soon, she'd soon be removed from their lives.
Reveal Number Four: Isabelle leaves her surrogate son behind.
Obviously, Isabelle can't turn down Theresa's offer of $20 million. A sum that enormous will improve and expand the orphanage beyond Isabelle's wildest dreams. Plus, Isabelle won't have to fundraise (or deal with mysterious benefactors) for the foreseeable future.
That brings us to the Jai (Vir Pachisia) problem. Isabelle has especially cared for 8-year-old Jai ever since he was a baby found on the side of the road. This is the motherhood role she chose. So, Isabelle asks if he'd like to come to New York with her. Jai points to his friends playing soccer. This is his family, his home. He decides to stay.
Reveal Number Five: Theresa passes away.
In the movie's final moments, Carl, Abby, Isabelle, and the twins scatter Theresa's ashes in the woods behind their New York home. Carl is once again a single father. But we get the sense that this family will adjust, thanks to Theresa's intervention.
Much like Big Little Lies and Nancy Meyers' oeuvre, After the Wedding is a movie designed to make us empathize with the 1%. Yes, they have ridiculously enviable bathtubs — but they have problems, too! Now, queue up a few of the stories in the Vows column and imagine all the drama that's not written down.