TIFF 2018: The Wedding Guest, by David Bax
I can’t believe we’re still doing the blue and orange thing. It’s been nearly a decade since smart, observant film buffs began taking to the Internet to decry the suffocating trend in digital color grading that made every major studio movie into a dichromatic nightmare of orange faces and teal backgrounds. Now, for some reason, Michael Winterbottom has thrown his hat into this worn out ring with The Wedding Guest, a new thriller that’s about as imaginative as its color palette.
Dev Patel plays a British man who travels to Pakistan for a wedding. Except he doesn’t know the betrothed couple, he’s never been to Pakistan before and he has no plans to attend the nuptials. Actually, he’s been paid to kidnap the bride to be (Radhika Apte) and deliver her to the man who truly loves her (and not the man her family picked out for her to marry). Except that guy (Jim Sarbh) turns out to be a bit of a shit and, anyway, she doesn’t love him any more than she did the other dude. So the hired gun and the halfway-liberated woman go on the run together.
The Wedding Guest’s greatest strength lies in the fact that, while the story beats are mostly familiar ones, the setting is not—at least not to Western audiences. Some of the movie’s best sequences come early on, as Patel’s mercenary character goes methodically about his preparations before the kidnapping. We’ve seen movie men like this go through the motions of testing out and negotiating for the firearms they’ll need for the job but the simple fact that it’s happening on the outskirts of Lahore lends the film a new perspective. Later, when The Wedding Guest becomes the story of a man and woman furtively traveling together, including crossing a border, we are treated to a quick overview of Pakistani and Indian social customs.
Patel has always been a magnetic presence, even in a cookie cutter role like this one. Apte is the real discovery here though, again, only to Westerners; she’s already a star in India, and deservedly so. Her character is cagey about how intelligent she is and how much she knows, and charming enough to sell that Patel’s professional trigger man would abandon his protocols for her.
Still, even actors with the aptitude of these two can’t overcome the thinness and predictability of the screenplay. Each next turn is so thoroughly telegraphed that it wasn’t until the end that it dawned on me I was supposed to be wondering if one of the leads was playing the other and, if so, which one. The final reveal is as obvious as every one that came before it, which leads to the feeling that The Wedding Guest doesn’t reach a climax so much as it just gives up and stops.