Director: Michael Winterbottom
Writer: Michael Winterbottom
Starring: Dev Patel, Radhika Apte, Jim Sarbh
Genre: Thriller / Drama
Jay (Patel) travels from Britain to Pakistan to attend a wedding, where armed with a shotgun and duct tape he intends to kidnap Samira (Apte), the bride-to-be. However, things spiral out of control, sending both of them on the run across Pakistan and India, while attractions simmer, loyalties shift, and secrets are revealed.
As much as we all appreciate the fact that opinions on films are subjective and opinions will always differ, I think it is fair to say that most of us will check reviews before watching films and indeed check websites with an aggregator rating. With such a wide selection of films to choose from, I for one am happy to admit that if I cannot make my mind up on a particular film to watch I often go for the one with the highest rating on IMDB – almost like flipping a coin (sort of). Often the ratings on these aggregator sights are reasonably reliable to at least give an indication of whether a film is worth a watch or not. Well, at time of writing The Wedding Guest has a rating of 5.5 on imdb and 42% on rotten tomatoes, and I would personally consider these scores to be a very inaccurate reflection of how good The Wedding Guest is, and would implore people to not be put off watching it by these admittedly potentially off-putting scores.
My theory is that it has such low ratings due to certain expectations that a lot of film viewers will have just by a film’s genre. The Wedding Guest is labelled as a thriller, and (as much as I hate to generalise, but I will anyway through necessity) when many think of a thriller (especially one with this plot) they expect a film with big expensive car chases, fight sequences and explosions. Well, The Wedding Guest is in my view a thriller, but certainly not that kind of thriller, but I would argue that it is genuinely thrilling and well worth a watch for those of us that appreciate a film to be more about subtlety and cinematic craft.
Michael Winterbottom is a very experienced filmmaker and has proved himself very able with films that have all kinds of budgets and scales. Well, The Wedding Guest is very much on a small scale, and so is certainly never going to gain huge financial or commercial success, but Winterbottom’s usual economical and uncompromising style is the main reason why it is a genuinely engrossing and gripping film.
Admittedly the quite simple script (also written by Winterbottom) could easily be on stage, on tv or even on radio (with a few tweaks obviously), but Winterbottom utilises all the cinematic tools he has at his disposal to make The Wedding Guest a truly cinematic experience. It may only be 96 minutes, but that is all the time Winterbottom needs, and every line of dialogue or shot is used for a reason. The dialogue itself is often kept to minimum, with a reliance placed on the visuals, the sound or the body language and expressions of characters to tell the audience what they need to know, but with enough information withheld that will keep us guessing and interested in what then unfolds within the narrative.
Throughout his career Winterbottom has always been superb at placing the audience firmly within the world of the narrative and its characters, and this allows us to feel that we are there with the characters and share their experiences. Through Winterbottom’s tight but subtle direction and camerawork, Giles Nuttgens’ sublime cinematography and Harry Escott’s exceptional score (which achieves the perfect balance of helping to firmly set the mood without ever feeling over powering or distracting) The Wedding Guest really helps the audience to experience the feelings of the film’s evocative settings in Pakistan and India – whether this be the chaotic urban conurbations or the remote and desolate countryside. Both of these settings provide their own unique feelings of isolation and threat for the film’s protagonists, and the audience is able to share that.
Ultimately, The Wedding Guest is a character driven narrative, and so its success does ultimately depend on the performances. Dev Patel really has developed as an actor and is exceptional as Jay (if that is even his real name – he has so many throughout the narrative). It should not be underestimated just how a performance such as his is easy to get wrong or over-do, but he commands the screen with a brooding, mesmeric performance. Likewise, Radhika Apte is equally excellent as Samira, and the two of them share great on-screen chemistry.
As the plot develops and there is the inevitable double-crossing, Winterbottom’s script and the two excellent performance make sure that all cards are kept very closely to respective chests, and so when so many of the aforementioned ‘thrillers’ may well contain expensive (but often unnecessary) action sequences, they do tend to contain predictable plots, but The Wedding Guest does keep the audience guessing as it is not in any way predictable. This is the main reason for me why it is actually a genuinely good ‘thriller’, because The Wedding Guest is actually genuinely thrilling.
From the start both of the main characters are genuinely interesting and unpredictable, and therefore engaging. Though as the narrative develops this air of unpredictability certainly remains, both protagonists are also developed enough that we do care about them, and so some may not like the film’s ending, but I would consider it completely appropriate and in perfect tone with the rest of the film.
The Wedding Guest may admittedly not live long in the memory, does not revolutionise anything or indeed contain any deeply profound or life-changing themes within its narrative, but those that appreciate genuinely good film-making and actually also appreciate films with a bit of substance and cinematic craft where all involved are at the top of their game, will be gripped and engaged by The Wedding Guest from start to finish.
A film that fits the more traditional definition of thriller; for those that appreciate a thriller with substance and style (but not mindless violence or explosions) The Wedding Guest is a truly cinematic experience that is both engaging and genuinely thrilling.