THE PEOPLE WE HATE AT THE WEDDING. The comedies we hate on streaming
It will never cease to amaze me that such unfunny comedies as Claire Scanlon’s The People We Hate at the Wedding are still being made. At a time when it’s extremely difficult to negatively surprise viewers of romantic comedies – especially those accustomed to rom-com junk – the latest film from the Amazon Prime library does its best to make it difficult for viewers to get to the end. And that’s despite only a little over 90 minutes of runtime.
Allison Janney has already managed to get us used to the fact that she is a “working woman and not afraid of any job.” – The Academy Award winner for I, Tonya (2017) appears in several cinema and television productions year after year, and we recently saw her in a rather unusual role in the thriller Lou. However, I’m alarmed to see how completely random the next items on Janney’s acting resume seem to be. Since she was awarded by the Academy, and that was almost five years ago, she has basically played only one large and successful role (2019’s Bad Education), with her other appearances being either episodes or medium-quality productions, such as The People We Hate at the Wedding, a family romantic comedy embracing every genre cliché you can imagine.
Claire Scanlon is a director with a large body of work… in television series – she has directed single episodes of The American Bureau, Goldbergs, Modern Family and Brooklyn 9-9. On the film field, her experience is not so impressive – so far she has only shot, ahem, the romantic comedy Set it Up with Zoey Deutch and Glen Powell for Netflix. So while she does reasonably well with the short narrative form, she doesn’t yet have enough familiarity with the longer form – and it shows in her latest film. People We Hate at the Wedding tells the story of a patchwork family that comes together in London for the wedding of the eldest daughter, Eloise (seen most recently in Rings of Power, Cynthia Addai-Robinson). What the very well-to-do woman doesn’t realize, however, is that only her mother Donna (Allison Janney) truly enjoys her happiness – step-siblings Alice (Kristen Bell) and Paul (Ben Platt) are harboring resentments from the past, and come to London mainly for lack of other activities and/or because of their partners. In any case – a long story.
If there is an unworked sense of injustice in a family, especially one divided by infidelities, skin color and geography, sooner or later there will be an eruption of a volcano of negative energy – and, of course, this is also what happens in Scanlon’s film. True, the eruption of lava is spread over several scenes instead of one sequence of extreme climax, but the status quo is preserved – everyone is wronging everyone here, everyone is a victim, and only after confronting the rest of the family do they begin to understand that they love and need each other and in general “what’s all the fuss about?”. All this is wrapped up, of course, in a set of obligatory comedy clichés. The throwing up gag? Check. A funny scene with marijuana? Check. Casual sex with a newly met stranger? Sure. An unfunny gay joke? Well, sure! It’s as if Scanlon and the screenwriters had a checklist from which they crossed off the indispensable elements of a stiff comedy. Well, the elements are there, but did anyone make sure that the humor was not missing? Only Ben Platt, the singer and actor best known for Dear Evan Hansen (2021) and the Pitch Perfect series, seems to have thought of this, and he does his best to make Scanlon’s film at least a little funny – and only thanks to him is there indeed a little.
The People We Hate at Weddings is a comedy with a decent cast, a fairly experienced director and a powerful distribution platform to reach millions of viewers worldwide. So it’s a shame that, adapting Ginder Grant’s novel, the Molyneux sisters, who will soon co-write the script for… Deadpool 3, didn’t take care of the basic elements of a successful comedy – a good story and expressive characters.