The Wedding Guest movie review: Radhika Apte, Dev Patel, Jim Sarbh's Michael Winterbottom film fails to soar
As the credits roll at the end of The Wedding Guest, Dev Patel is credited with having played a character named Jay. This is a bit of a surprise because he is known by multiple names through the film but never that one. There is even a tender post-coital moment when a character asks him for his real name, and he replies "Asif." After a pregnant pause, she smiles up at him because she knows he is lying.
From the first moments when we see him, it is clear that Patel’s character is a man of mystery. He packs in multiple passports for his trip from England to Pakistan. As he takes a circuitous route from Lahore to a small Pakistani village, he makes pit stops to buy duct tape, multiple guns, a suitcase, and to hire cars. He tells people he is there to attend a friend’s sister’s wedding but he is anything but a Wedding Guest. Instead, Jay is there to kidnap the bride, Samira (Radhika Apte), and deliver her to her secret boyfriend Deepesh (Jim Sarbh).
As the action kicks off, Jay and Samira cross over from Pakistan to India, where Deepesh is waiting for them. Things begin getting a little murky when Deepesh begins to have second thoughts about the whole affair. There are murders, sex, diamonds, and fraud as the unlikely couple keep moving from town to town in India, covering their tracks, as they are forced to keep changing their plans.
The Wedding Guest starts off being an action thriller, moves into the space of a road film, and then segues a romance while retaining its air of intrigue. Nothing is what it seems. And, that is what makes this Michael Winterbottom film different from all the other bridal abduction love one would have seen in Hindi films.
This is not the writer-director’s first brush with stories from Pakistan. In This World (2002) was a story about two Afghan refugees escaping from Pakistan, and their journey across the Middle-East to Britain. His 2007 film, A Mighty Heart, told the story of Mariane’s search for her missing husband, journalist Daniel Pearl. The Wedding Guest, too, soaks in the atmosphere of crowded bazaars, small town hotels, and typically South Asian landscapes, but what is definitely new is the attention paid to the gender dynamics of the region, because Samira has no agency throughout all of this. The decisions to move are always seemingly sudden, and on multiple occasions, she is woken up and told they are moving. The decision making on her life is literally in the hands of two men, one her lover and the other her kidnapper. It is around this premise Winterbottom weaves his entire narrative while he uses the trademark fluidity we have seen in his earlier work.
It is also in this fluidity the film finds its most interesting character arc, that of Samira’s. You see her starting out as an innocent abductee and somewhere along the way, she takes control. Each micro-transition is coupled with subtle revelations about her character, making you shift the way you see her. This is as much Apte’s film as it is Patel’s, and once this realisation hits home, the cracks begin to show. Establishing a character like Samira’s means taking multiple leaps for a viewer — you are expected, one feels, to understand why she makes the choices she does at each juncture of the story. You are also expected to put yourself in her shoes, and feel for her. And the only thing that works for stories like these are creating deep and engaging characters.
Unfortunately, that just does not happen in this case. There is a distinct lack of personality with both the lead characters, but this really is not a slur on their performances. Patel excels as the mysterious, smoldering antihero, who has his own honour code, and is perversely honest. (At one point, he wonders aloud if he should kill her because the job has gotten too messy). Apte’s transformation from the abductee to a femme fatale is just as good. Like Jay, Samira is also grey. Deepesh calls her 'snake' at one point. Unfortunately, it is the screenplay that lets them down. The film starts out with an interesting premise, and as the focus shifts on to the characters, it gets set up beautifully. The suspense and tension however, are just not there for a film whose entire narrative seems to be steeped in the classic tropes of film noir.
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Updated Date: Nov 27, 2019 10:41:59 IST