A breezy wedding farce punctuated with casual profanity, geriatric sexuality, and just a dash of nudity, The Big Wedding plays like a Judd Apatow comedy for the AARP set. Adapted by writer/director Justin Zackham from the 2006 French-language comedy Mon frère se marie, it would be entirely forgettable if it weren't for the raunchy novelty of seeing Oscar winners like Robert De Niro and Diane Keaton get down and dirty. Fortunately, unlike Apatow, Zackham keeps his comedy to a reasonable-enough running time that this zany collection of characters don't wear out their welcome 45 minutes before the credits roll.
When their adopted son Alejandro (Ben Barnes) announces his upcoming wedding to Missy (Amanda Seyfried), happily divorced parents Don (De Niro) and Ellie (Keaton) are forced to pretend that they're still married in order to stay on the good side of Alejandro's ultraconservative biological mother (Patricia Rae), who's making a rare trip from Colombia to attend the wedding with her daughter Nuria (Ana Ayora). Yet that's easier said than done, considering that the wedding is taking place at the house where the couple raised their three children, and where Don now lives with Ellie's longtime best friend Bebe (Susan Sarandon). Ever since Don and Ellie divorced, Bebe has served as something of a third mother to dashing groom Alejandro. But upon realizing that her presence might upset the balance of the special day, she begrudgingly decides to remove herself from the situation. Meanwhile, Don and Ellie's virginal 29-year-old son Jared (Topher Grace) decides it's not worth saving himself for marriage after meeting the smoldering Nuria, and Jared's sterile sister Lyla (Katherine Heigl) wrestles with her decision to leave her husband after their marriage hits the skids. Try as everyone might to hold it together until the vows have been spoken, it all starts to unravel once the catering trucks roll in and the guests take their seats.
When the opening scene of a film involves Robert De Niro dashing off a list of cunnilingus euphemisms while preparing to go down on Susan Sarandon, it's fairly obvious that highbrow humor isn't an important priority for the director. Still, one can't assume that just because a moviegoer might be older that means that they're any more "mature" than the typical Hollywood target audience, and in some ways it's quite refreshing to see a mainstream comedy that takes such a playful and honest approach to senior sexuality. That isn't to say, however, that this tone doesn't pose a unique problem for an otherwise innocuous film like The Big Wedding, because while the well-deserved R rating will pose no problems for those seeking senior discounts at the box office, they won't exactly want to buy an extra ticket for their children or grandchildren (who would likely be mortified to watch it with them, anyway). Essentially, The Big Wedding feels as if it were produced from a script that was a bit too generic to go before the cameras without a quick run through the bawdyizer, and though the seasoned cast are certainly game, the heartfelt nature of Zackham's screenplay and the message that sometimes we must lie in order to protect our loved ones combine to make this one strange stew in which the various ingredients clash instead of complementing one another.
While it's tempting to simply dismiss The Big Wedding for its clunky blend of sensibilities and sloppy oversights like having De Niro's character stumbling drunk in one scene and delivering a sober, touching speech to his daughter in the next, in some ways the movie's theme of accepting our families despite their imperfections is a positive one that's worth considering. Sure, we've seen similar films made by better, more experienced directors, and sure, a good portion of the cast are above the sophomoric material; but then again, how can you not have fun watching De Niro cursing his way through a Catholic confession to an Oscar Wilde-quoting priest played by Robin Williams? If that sounds like your idea of a fun 90 minutes, then odds are you'll enjoy blushing your way through The Big Wedding.