Good banter is a rom-com’s secret sauce. Whether it’s the dueling politics of Kathleen and Frank in You’ve Got Mail, the bickering of Harry and Sally, or the mind-games of movies like 10 Things I Hate About You and How to Lose a Guy In 10 Days, rom-coms thrive when they play with a lightly masochistic fantasy best not uttered aloud: that your true love might be someone you actually despise.
Destination Wedding, a new “comedy” starring a Gen X dream team of Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder as a duo of insufferable wedding guests who find company in each other’s misery, takes good banter and runs it into the ground for an hour-and-a-half. Because while Destination Wedding might be marketed as a rom-com emerging in a surprising renaissance for the genre with recent hits like Crazy Rich Asians and Set It Up, the movie is anything but. In reality, it’s a depressing meditation on misanthropy that just happens to conclude with two people (sort of?) falling in love.
The stony Frank (Reeves) first encounters Lindsay (Ryder), the ex-fiancé of the groom, at the airport before they’re both off to San Luis Obispo for the titular wedding. The two get off on the wrong foot immediately due to Frank’s rudeness and Lindsay’s awkward rambling, but find each other growing closer as they commiserate and sneer at every literally aspect of the wedding. And though they push away the idea of love, it ultimately creeps up on them both, though given the wooden disdain they have for each other it might come as an unearned surprise to the audience.
Now, there are unlikable characters, who disgust and enrage and in doing so prove to be fascinating, but Frank and Lindsay are less unlikable than they are boring, and they’re so undistinguished that at times it feels like watching someone talk to themselves. Most of their dialogue reads like a bumper sticker you might find at Spencer’s Gifts, loudly proclaiming that hell is other people. “Don’t you believe there’s someone for everyone?” Lindsay whispers to Frank, as the two huddle behind wine barrels away from the wedding group during a tasting. “Close,” Frank replies gruffly. “I believe there’s nobody for anyone.” When Lindsay first tells Frank that she prosecutes institutions for offensive speech and actions, he argues that she’s the “politically correct police.” “Is that what you dreamed of, a career in reverse fascism?” he asks smugly. Lindsay replies that she “can’t remember” dreaming, staring out the car window, as if we’re supposed to find this poetic.
Reeves and Ryder do their best with the dialogue, and it’s admittedly a relief after Stranger Things to see Ryder in a role that plays into that snarky, dry sensibility you’d see from her in moves like Reality Bites or Beetlejuice. But it’s telling that the best moments between them come from their physical comedy, in which dialogue is sparse, such as when Frank spends what feels like an eternity trying to open a noisy bag of peanuts at the beginning of the movie, or a cringe-worthy sex scene on a hill. The two actors’ chemistry is undeniably wasted on this material.
Curiously, writer and director Victor Levin makes Reeves and Ryder the only characters with speaking parts in this movie. With no interruption from the movie’s other minor characters and wedding guests, for the whole movie you’re watching them have conversation after conversation after conversation, which is suffocating given the subject matter Lindsay and Frank dwell on. After Lindsay explains to Frank in one scene that the minister is pansexual, she quips that maybe he got the gig for “fucking both the bride and groom.” “Because he would fuck, for example, a man who thinks he’s a woman?” Frank replies. “Or a straight woman who thinks she’s actually a gay man?” If you don’t laugh, congratulations, perhaps you’ve just become a “reverse fascist.”
Ultimately, the movie’s minimalism—which gives the eerie impression that Destination Wedding was better intended as a short story or a play rather than a feature film—might have succeeded if it weren’t for the script itself. But you’re left begging for someone, any character, to come along and stand with the audience as a fellow witness to these assholes.
Destination Wedding is in theaters today, August 31.