White Night Wedding
IFC Films // Unrated // $24.98 // September 15, 2009
Review by David Cornelius | posted November 8, 2009
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Graphical Version
As soon as "White Night Wedding" decides what kind of movie it wants to be, I'll let you know.

An attempt to rework the Chekov play "Ivanov" in modern Iceland, "Wedding" ("Brúđguminn") is one part melodrama, one part postmodern winkiness, one part "small towns and the quirky people that live there" comedy, one part sitcom, one part romantic weepie, one part Sigur Rós video. Writers Baltasar Kormákur (who also directed) and Ólafur Egilsson never make any of the parts connect together, leaving us with a bitter mush of random emotions. The Icelandic scenery sure is pretty, though.

The film is bookended with scenes of college professor Jón (Hilmir Snćr Guđnason) lecturing on "Ivanov" - two scenes that exist entirely to say "look how clever we are for discussing our own source material and, therefore, our own story, how meta!" A skilled pen could make this gimmick work, but here it's as smarmy as it is unnecessary. (Should a screenplay ever stop dead in its tracks to ask the audience to think about its themes?)

Between these moments, we have our "present day," in which Jón is nervously preparing to wed Thóra (Laufey Elíasdóttir), a former student some twenty years his junior. It comes with all the wedding bell trappings: cold feet, oddball relatives coming to town, and oh, how droll, his ringing cell phone interrupts the ceremony, but, how witty, it's just the rehearsal, oh, you trickster, you.

The details of Jón's life rapidly pile up around us. He's deep in debt - to Thóra's hateful mother, of all people. His best friend is a drunkard and a buffoon. Around him are attempts to turn their isolated island into a tourist trap for clueless Germans.

And then there's Anna (Margrét Vilhjálmsdóttir), his previous wife. In a flashback structure so poorly handled it's impossible to completely straighten out the facts until after we decide we don't care about them either way (much of the past is offered up as present, sort of; I suppose a familiarity with Chekov will help keep things clear, but perhaps not that much), we learn about Anna's mental illness and how it drive away Jón, who happily went right into the arms of Thóra and turned the whole thing into a love triangle involving three people we really don't want to know: a self-pitying shrew, a self-obsessed jerk, and the dim girl who drives them apart.

Oh, how easy it is to not like Jón, and oh, how much the movie fails to make his unlikeability interesting. There's nothing fascinating about the way this guy stumbles through his life, screwing up at every turn. Nor is there anything interesting about Guđnason's performance; he makes his character such a dreary, mopey schmuck that his fiascos (which stem from a cheap desire to showcase nifty set pieces - like the shot of a stack of cash blowing away in the breeze - instead of anything resembling organic drama) neither delight us with dark comedy or sadden us with honest emotion.

Kormákur is no stranger to bleary-eyed, navel-gazing drama (can you gaze at navels with bleary eyes?). He previously updated "King Lear" as the crass soap opera "The Sea," while his "101 Reykjavík" was (like "Wedding") a clumsy attempt to graft his bleak tone atop oddball humor (or vice versa). I haven't seen his well-received crime thriller "Jar City;" perhaps that genre fit's the filmmaker better, and he needs a jolt away from self-aware family dramedy. His attentions spent here, blending kooky locals, gloomy romance, and an unearned happy ending, the mood is all wrong, and the pieces never fit.

The DVD

It's worth noting that IFC's DVD cover art for "White Night Wedding" is a dreadful Photoshop hack job that ignores the bleakness and pitches the film as a zany romp in the style of your favorite "quirky British village" comedies.

Video & Audio

It's a shame the 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen is only so-so; the movie offers some impressive landscapes in between all the dreariness, but the picture is usually soft and a bit grainy, with muddy dark levels throughout.

The Icelandic soundtrack is offered in Dolby 5.1, although there's no complexity to the surround mix. Dialogue is decent enough, and music comes through nicely. Optional English, English SDH, and Spanish subtitles are included.

Extras

The film's corny, comedy-centric U.S. trailer (1:14; 2.35:1 flat letterbox) is the lone extra. A batch of previews for other IFC releases plays as the disc loads.

Final Thoughts

"White Night Wedding" will appeal to neither fans of somber melodrama or whimsical comedy - or any of the other tones at which Kormákur smugly takes aim. Skip It.


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