FILM REVIEW – DESTINATION WEDDING. With Winona Ryder, Keanu Reeves. Written and directed by Victor Levin. Rated R for language throughout and sexual content. 86 minutes.
Winona Ryder and Keanu Reeves may never be considered the finest actors of their era but damned if they aren’t two of the most likable. Put together they’re a Venn Diagram encompassing almost the entirety of Generation X’s most ardent movie star crushes. (I used to sing “My Winona” to the tune of The Knack’s “My Sharona,” much to the annoyance of everyone else in the car.) Now well into middle age and embarking on their fourth film together, the two appear sparklingly, almost distractingly well-preserved and cast confoundingly against type in writer-director Victor Levin’s gimmicky, ultimately endearing DESTINATION WEDDING.
Keanu plays Frank, a surly, misanthropic cheapskate who deeply resents being dragged out to wine country for the weekend to attend the annoyingly lavish wedding of a brother who hates his guts. Winona is Lindsay, the groom’s basketcase of an ex-fiance who was only invited as a magnanimous token gesture she lacked the social graces to read as such and stay home. They get off on the wrong foot almost instantly at the airport and begin lobbing increasingly verbose insults at one another, soon realizing to their mutual horror that as the two single people nobody wants to be around they’re going to be stuck together all weekend.
“Destination Wedding” doesn’t bother giving anyone else any lines, positioning Lindsay and Frank off to the side or seated at the back of the weekend’s various expensive events, which are glimpsed in faraway long shots as we listen to acerbic commentary from our dyspeptic duo. There’s a sense in which I suppose their formal isolation is meant to mimic the characters’ self-centeredness, as the picture is (somewhat puzzlingly) subtitled: “A Narcissist Can’t Die Because the Whole World Would End.” But on the other hand, it also feels like the filmmaker realized that with stars of Ryder’s and Reeves’s wattage, there might as well just not be anybody else onscreen. So there isn’t.
Levin’s heavy-duty, occasionally labored dialogue flings around hundreds of fifty-cent-words with intent to maim, the miserable Frank and Lindsay constantly cutting each other down before pivoting back to how much they hate themselves. Initially, it feels like a bizarre choice, casting such affable actors as crabby neurotics. When Keanu and Winona smile, they practically provide their own light sources, so who wants to see them snipe like this? (Not to mention, as much as I adore them, neither performer has ever particularly excelled when handed large chunks of text.)
But then the whole history of screwball comedy is lovers who doth protest too much, and the whole reason we watch movies like “Destination Wedding” is to watch people fall for each other despite their better judgment. The counterintuitive casting works here because the chemistry between Ryder and Reeves is so instantaneous – their ease on screen with each other so delightfully palpable – all the yammering put-downs become a form of flirtation. Ugly-spirited zingers that would draw blood from other actors end up tossed aside here with wry, rumpled smiles. A version of this movie cast according to type with performers better equipped to sell the material would probably be unbearably unpleasant.
Instead, the nasty quips and sour asides are suffused with a sunny glow. Frank and Lindsay spend a lot of time telling you (and each other) about how they deserve to be alone, trying to talk themselves out of happiness as Levin’s initially distant camera creeps closer from scene to scene. It’s a silly, predictable and yet nonetheless enormous pleasure when these two grouchy chatterboxes finally drop their put-on scowly faces and do what we’ve been waiting for — shut up and beam at each other the way only movie stars like Keanu and Winona can.•••
Over the past nineteen years, Sean Burns’ reviews, interviews, and essays have appeared in Philadelphia Weekly, The Improper Bostonian, Metro, The Village Voice, Nashville Scene, Time Out New York and RogerEbert.com. He stashes them all at Spliced Personality.