As Frank and Lindsay, Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder have the only speaking roles in the movie.

Anyone not aware of the concept behind writer-director Victor Levin ’83’s Destination Wedding might need a little while to realize that the characters played by Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder are the only ones with any onscreen dialogue. There are nonspeaking characters in the background, and occasional sound from off-screen TVs, but Reeves and Ryder are the only actors who talk. Their barbed banter is engaging enough to make the audience forget about any secondary characters, and Reeves and Ryder are charismatic enough that there’s really no reason to pay attention to anyone else.

Reeves’ Frank and Ryder’s Lindsay are introduced standing at the gate for their flight from L.A. to San Luis Obispo, and while they begin with polite compliments, within a minute they’re arguing about whether Frank is trying to cut in front of Lindsay in line. They continue that pattern of friendly belligerence over the course of the movie, as they discover that they’re both headed to the California tourist town of Paso Robles for a wedding that neither wants to attend.

Frank is the groom’s half-brother, Lindsay the groom’s ex-fiancée, and they both have low opinions of the groom, the bride and pretty much every other person at the wedding. Thus they spend the weekend wallowing in their shared misery—at the rehearsal dinner, while getting complimentary foot massages, while touring a winery, while stuck in oversized inflatable balls during a mandated “fun” wedding activity.

They’re also, unsurprisingly, falling for each other, even though they both seem horrified at that prospect (Frank more so than Lindsay). Early in the movie, they’re discussing thwarted life ambitions, and Lindsay admits,
“I can’t remember dreaming.” That shared bleak outlook on life bonds them and extends to all their interactions. At the midway point of the movie, Lindsay manages to convince Frank to have sex by arguing, “How much worse can things get?”

Although the humor is dark, Levin keeps the tone relatively light, with gorgeous shots of Paso Robles, some absurd slapstick (Frank and Lindsay’s outdoor sex scene is a marvel of physical comedy) and a whimsical, jazzy score. The cerebral, talky romance unfolding over a short period of time in an unfamiliar location recalls Richard Linklater’s Before movies, but Wedding is more cynical and less emotionally rich than those films.

 

A scene from Destination Wedding Written and directed by Victor Levin ’83

Levin’s mannered dialogue owes a lot to Woody Allen, but it also sometimes sounds like David Mamet trying to write an affecting love story, and the minimalist approach can make the movie feel like a play that’s been unevenly transferred to the screen.

Mostly, that play-like quality works to the movie’s advantage, allowing Levin to keep his focus on Frank and Lindsay, developing them fully as characters and as “tolerance interests,” as Lindsay puts it. Reeves’ typical stoicism effectively fits the bitter, pessimistic Frank, while Ryder is fantastic as the more expressive Lindsay, who is just as pessimistic but works harder to convince herself (and Frank) otherwise. As grumpy as the characters can be, they’re almost never unlikable (although some dialogue from Frank comes close; he’d probably characterize it as “politically incorrect,” but others would call it transphobic).

Levin previously balanced cynicism and hope in his 2014 romantic dramedy 5 to 7, and while Wedding has a more caustic tone, it also has an underlying sweetness that keeps it from turning sour. “What if we’re falling in love?” Lindsay asks incredulously. Levin understands that any answer to that question is equally exciting and terrifying.


Bell is a freelance writer and film/TV critic based in Las Vegas.

Photo Courtesy of Regatta/Aviron Pictures