The Oscar-nominated Danish film, After the Wedding, directed by Susanne Bier, starred two men – Mads Mikkelsen and Rolf Lassgård. It’s perhaps a reflection of the current climate, with women pushing for equal pay and greater voice in the workplace, that the American version, directed by Bart Freundlich, instead cast Julianne Moore and Michelle Williams in the leads. The story, now focusing on two women rather than two men, packs an even greater emotional punch, with the themes of love, loss, betrayal, and abandonment. And the two actresses have seized on this opportunity, delivering performances that are compelling and heartbreaking.
Williams plays Isabel, who works at an orphanage in Calcutta. She’s bonded with one of the boys, Jai (Vir Pachisia), whom she essentially raised since finding him at the side of a road when he was one. Food and school supplies are running short, and an expected donation has run into a snag. Theresa Young (Moore), a wealthy media entrepreneur, wants to meet with Isabel in person. While reluctant to leave Jai, Isabel agrees to make the trip to New York.
Dealing with extreme poverty in India, Isabel at times can’t hide her distain for the ostentatious displays of wealth she seems to encounter at every turn. Her hotel room, large enough to house the entire orphanage, is fully equipped with food and technology, and has a balcony with a spectacular view of the Empire State Building. Theresa’s office befits the self-made woman who singlehandedly built her company. Yet sitting across from her benefactor, Isabel shows no lack of confidence. She’s fighting for the children and knows she’s up to the task.
While Theresa is welcoming, she’s distracted. Her daughter, Grace, is getting married that weekend, and there’s still a lot to do. When Theresa’s assistant interrupts the meeting to say there might not be enough lobster for the risotto, Isabel can’t hide her impatience. But her efforts to get Theresa back on track about the donation fail. Theresa announces that she’s still considering the donation and asks Isabel to stay for the weekend, inviting her to the wedding.
Isabel has no choice but to attend the celebration. She does reject a dress Theresa sends over for her, instead wearing something plain with a wool shawl that, at times, seems to serve more as a shield than as a source of warmth. The Young home is impressive, but Isabel, arriving late, barely notices. What she does notice, however, is Theresa’s husband and Grace’s father, Oscar (Billy Crudup). And when Grace (Abby Quinn) delivers a toast to her parents, Isabel begins to understand what she’s doing there.
Moore’s Theresa is the center of attention wherever she is, embracing everyone around her, particularly her daughter, with exuberance that while sincere seems, at times, frantic. In contrast, Williams’ performance is understated, her facial expressions speaking volumes. Quinn, who may be unfamiliar to many, is the revelation, playing a young woman who had her life mapped out and now sees her world shaken.
If you’ve seen the Danish version, you know the plot and will be prepared for the twists and turns. I hadn’t seen the previous film, so I experienced the full force of this one. It packs a wallop.
Photos courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics