Destination Wedding (or A Narcissist Can’t Die or the World Will End) | 2018 | rated R | starring Winona Ryder and Keanu Reeves | written & directed by Victor Levin | 1 hr 27 mins |
The poster art for Destination Wedding suggests your average rom-com with Winona Ryder and Keanu Reeves smiling and looking at each other. It’s deceptive in the best way. I’d be hard pressed to think of a scene in the whole movie where the two smile at each other. It’s an angrier spin on the rom-com pushed through the prism of a French new wave battle of the sexes comedy. Reeves and Ryder play Frank and Lindsey who meet on the way to a mutual friend’s destination wedding in Paso Robles, wine country, California, complaining about the selfishness of destination weddings, how much they hate the bride and groom – and very quickly each other.
Keanu Reeves is widely known for two things – being the world’s nicest man and not being a particularly emotive actor, having gotten by on personal appeal and brilliantly choosing projects that don’t require a lot of range in his performance. I say that to say that Reeves’ dry deadpan delivery works great for Destination Wedding. Ryder spends the film twitching, overacting and making bug-eyed faces at seemingly something off camera, and the way Reeves’ dry, exasperated responses play off her are frequently hilarious. Ryder plays this like if Audrey Hepburn in Charade was on whatever-the-hell Winona Ryder always seems to be on. The film is fueled entirely on their banter which is consistently some of the wittiest, quickest stuff you’ll hear outside of a prime Aaron Sorkin script. They debate about rich people problems and each other’s jobs among a series of other things.
The wordsmith here is Victor Levin, who is working both levers as director too. The visual style of the film is minimalist in a way that matches the script perfectly. Ryder and Reeves are the only two characters we ever hear speaking and for long stretches Destination Wedding plays out as a series of 2 shots with the two leads sitting side-by-side in front of a still camera bantering about whatever pre-wedding ritual they are currently sitting out of. Cutting from one mandatory fun situation to the next, to the next, like panels in a comic strip.
Ultimately, the film reluctantly gives into rom-com convention. The two shots grind to a halt for a lengthy, wildly talkative, mid-film sex scene (it originally earned an NC-17 rating, that’s how defiantly rom-com this tries to be). The ending is predictable but painless, Levin addressing the inevitable like pulling a band aid off quickly. While I wish it ended about 60 seconds earlier, even in it’s most romantic aspects, the film seems allergic to convention and it keeps up it’s banter the entire time without getting winded. A witty, clever and delightful love letter to cynics and anti-romantics. At one point Ryder wonders aloud if they are falling in love, to which Reeves responds “Jesus Christ”. It’s one of the funniest little movies I’ve seen in a while.