Directed by Brian De Palma, Wilford Leach
The Wedding Party is one of Brian De Palma’s first films, and it feels at once redundant and deeply original. The originality, though, is almost enough to take you out of the movie while the redundancy is enough to pull you back in.
A young man, Charlie, is about to be married, and his two bachelor friends, one played by a very young Robert De Niro, aim to convince him not to go through with it. As the weekend goes on, Charlie finds more and more reason not to get married while his friends similarly flip on the issue and tell him he needs to get married, citing how behind every great man is a great woman.
The bulk of the film plays out as as a slapstick comedy, with the final sequence (in which the friends chase down Charlie to get him to the wedding) is almost completely silent, like an old Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin film.
The story, then, is incredibly simple, broken up into chapters by title cards that explain wedding customs and how the bridegroom is meant to act. What Brian De Palma (and his co-director, Wilford Leach, bring to the story is an unconventional, purposefully jarring shooting and editing style. The film often moves either too quickly or too slowly, emphasizing awkward movements amongst the characters (as they walk too fast because the film is sped up twice as fast) or speak in a distorted, low voice brought on by sudden slow-motion that makes everything a little disturbing. This reflects Charlie’s growing doubt about whether or not to get married as his fiancee’s family goes from normal family to something like the Addams family.
There are a lot of jump cuts and moments in which the audio and video doesn’t line up. De Palma and Leach never seem to care about the reality of what’s onscreen, and that’s where the originality comes in. It’s like they took a very mundane, amusing but simple story and went to town on it. In the first ten minutes of the film I thought I might not be able to stick with this. It was so challenging to watch, and it felt too unrestrained, like the directors realized they could do anything so they might try a little of everything. But at the end it all felt cohesive in spite of itself. Somewhere along the way, the challenging edits and efforts to disrupt the viewing experience became part of the experience. The film is genuinely funny in parts, and though the end is rushed and more than underwhelming, the story never seemed to care about Charlie or where he ends up.
De Palma and Leach seem to have had the most fun with the moments in between. The two groomsmen have a wild night out for Charlie’s bachelor party except he isn’t there to be a part of it. Instead he struggles to sleep, wondering if he’s missing out on the party and bachelorhood in general. In another sequence, Charlie and Josephine (his soon to be wife) take a bike tour with a clueless priest. It might be the funniest, most absurd sequence of the film. Charlie and Josephine endearingly exchange glances and whispers about the priest’s unusual behavior, showing a shared understanding of the absurdity of marriage traditions. Charlie’s reservations about marrying her are less about Josephine, who seems quite nice, and more about the institution of marriage.
In that sequence involving the priest, Charlie gets away and helps a car of young women get out of a rut by removing a log that was blocking them. They shower him with kisses in an exaggerated example of what he thinks he might be missing when he gets married.
When Charlie’s groomsmen switch their stance on the issue, suddenly deciding that marriage is a good thing, it starts to feel like these young characters will recognize their own misconceptions of just about everything. They feel more than they think, and they decry marriage probably because it’s easy to do. When his two friends decide that marriage is great, their speech to Charlie is both funny and charming. They’re well-meaning friends from the beginning, but they just don’t know what they want and thus what Charlie should want. They are friends, I suppose, in their shared naivete, and I guess that’s what being friends really is.
You grow with your friends. You’re not always right, and neither are they, but you discover everything along the way. Charlie eventually overcomes his doubts and marries Josephine, and because we’ve seen them get along so well, we can imagine that they will continue to grow together as well.
The Wedding Party, in its attempts to ridicule marriage, feels like a young person’s movie. De Palma was young when he made it (apparently starting production in 1963 even though the film wasn’t released until 1969 due to the studio going out of business), and you can feel him pouring everything into this movie. None of the editing or shooting styles feel lazy, even if it at times feel rushed. Instead it feels like this is a director who wanted to try absolutely everything. Just like how Charlie and his friends flip flop on the idea of marriage, you can feel De Palma deciding that a scene should be shot one way and then suddenly deciding that it should be shot another way, so he does both.
This collection of shooting techniques could (and occasionally does) feel like it’s all over the place, but I ultimately felt like this was a singular piece, in which the style and substance influence each other like a delicate, awkward dance between newlyweds a little too young to be married.