Destination Wedding (2018)

Destination Wedding first published by Sight & Sound, June 2019

Review: Though all very different kinds of films, Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), Richard Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly (2006), Rebecca Miller’s The Private Lives of Pippa Lee (2009) are arbitrarily unified through the shared casting of Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder. The same is true of Destination Wedding, which brings the two together on screen once more, while acknowledging the intervening passage of time since their respective stars were at their peak. For this is a film about an accidental midlife coupling between strangers who show all the eccentricities of people long inured to singledom, with Reeves and Ryder playing very much their own age. 

While structured as a romantic comedy, Destination Wedding is, like writer/director Victor Levin’s feature debut 5 to 7 (2014), a sort of anti-romcom, subverting many of the genre’s tropes. The ‘meet-cute’ between Reeves’ misanthropic Frank and Ryder’s lovelorn Lindsay is an ill-tempered argument at an airport; the titular wedding is (at least at first) not theirs, but that of Keith (Ted Dubost), Frank’s estranged brother and Lindsay’s ex-boyfriend; the getting-to-know-you mid section is a series of cynical exchanges, as Frank and Lindsay grudgingly spend a weekend in Paso Robles, California attending Keith’s nuptials; the sex scene is a messy, talky al fresco affair (with these most perfunctory of lovers menaced by tarantulas and a mountain lion); and the end is uncertain, as any wish fulfilment that it might seem to offer is undermined by the couple’s earlier, relentlessly negative analyses of such relationships and their futures.

“She uses a lot of personal pronouns, you’re not always quite sure who she’s talking about,” Frank says of the bride Anne (Dj Dallenbach). This also characterises Levin’s screenplay, where Frank and Lindsay’s every cruel deconstruction of their fellow guests is really just an expression of their own deep anxieties about relationships, ageing, family and mortality. Destination Wedding plays out like a stage drama, with its limited locations, its formally (and funnily) headed act divisions, and its two-handed distribution of dialogue. Save for snatches of television audio and one off-screen request (in Spanish) from a hotel maid, all the film’s lines are shared between the two leads, who are totally disengaged from the celebrations happening around them and who have in common their sardonic disdain for others as much as their own desperate loneliness. 

These are not particularly likeable people, and at first it is only affection for the actors that keeps us on side. Frank in particular, with his pedantic, polysyllabic speech raised as a well-ordered buttress against the chaotic world beyond, is a contemptuous narcissist, trying to rid himself of human contact in much the same way that he constantly (and noisily) clears his chest of phlegm (who knew Reeves had it in him to play someone so unpleasant?). Lindsay is a tic-addled bundle of nerves and neediness, gradually drawn to rude, aloof Frank mostly just because he is there (on the plane, at the table, in the adjoining hotel room) and no one else has been in years. By the end, we root for these two lost souls precisely for their flaws and vulnerabilities, which are oddly compatible. Offering a splinter of hope to the avowedly hopeless, this is an arch tale of two fish out of water, momentarily sharing fluids. Perhaps that’s all romance ever really is. Meanwhile, there is comedy too, of an acidic, barbed variety. ‘The faults of Aphrodite’ are what Frank calls the creases in a beautiful woman’s smiling face. They are also, in another sense, this film’s principal preoccupation. 

Synopsis: California, the present. En route to San Luis Obispo, two jaded, middle-aged strangers, Frank and Lindsay, meet and argue at the airport. Seated next to one another on the small plane, they argue further – and realise they are both grudgingly headed to the same weekend-long ‘destination wedding’ in Paso Robles, where the groom, Keith, is Frank’s estranged brother and Lindsay’s ex-boyfriend. They have adjoining rooms at the hotel. Alienated from everyone else, they spend more time together, sharing their broken dreams, toxic cynicism and disdain for humanity. Ditching the reception, they evade a mountain lion and have sex on a hill. Later, in Frank’s room, Frank makes it clear he does not wish the relationship to continue, and they argue more. They travel back together, and part company, but Lindsay loudly gives her address to the cab driver. Later, Frank appears at her door.  

Anton Bitel