Case Number 20812: Small Claims Court

HELENA FROM THE WEDDING

Film Movement // 2010 // 89 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // March 2nd, 2011

The Charge

No one said marriage was a piece of cake.

The Case

In its quest to examine the sorrows and fears of present-day yuppies, Joseph Infantolino's Helena from the Wedding is a good deal more sensitive and nuanced than you might expect. Unfortunately, good intentions largely go to waste due to a screenplay that rarely goes anywhere interesting.

The first couple we're introduced to is Alex (Lee Tergesen, Monster) and Alice (Melanie Lynskey, Up in the Air). They are very happily married and seem to be deeply in love with each other. The duo has decided to host a New Year's Eve party for some of their best friends at a cabin in the mountains. Soon we're introduced to their guests: the heavy-drinking Lynn (Jessica Hecht, Breaking Bad) and her henpecked husband Don (Dominic Fumusa, Nurse Jackie), the blustery Steven (Corey Stoll, Salt) and his mild-mannered wife Eve (Dagmara Dominczyk, The Count of Monte Cristo), plus the recently-single Nick (Paul Fitzgerald, Guiding Light).

The varying personalities and (more important) assorted levels of relationship commitment cause a bit of awkwardness and tension between the group, but the uncomfortable atmosphere is taken to another level with the arrival of a final guest: Helena (Gillian Jacobs, Community). She was invited to the party by someone for some reason, and her arrival proves the spark that sets the whole party ablaze. You see, Helena is single, British, and attractive...more attractive, it could be argued, than any of the other women present. This causes the men to devote a great deal of attention to Helena, and the women to grow increasingly irritable.

There are so many nicely-handled character moments in Helena from the Wedding, so it's a little frustrating to see the bigger plot details handled so clumsily. For a film built on subtle observations, its central conceit seems both obvious and unpersuasive. When the characters act in striking ways to Helena's presence, it often feels like they are being driven by the screenplay rather than personal motivation. The one exception to this is Nick, whose desperation to be in some sort of relationship plays out in an effectively cringe-inducing manner.

For a couple of different reasons, I far prefer the scenes that don't revolve around Helena. Firstly, because this permits moments of character observation which aren't tied to the film's less-than-convincing concept. The three relationships of the movie are particularly well-captured, from the buried frustration of Steven and Eve to the hot-and-cold intensity of Lynn and Don to the quiet security of Alex and Alice. The characters seem like real people rather than types, and are essayed by a collection of talented young actors (you may not recognize their names, but odds are you will recognize most of their faces).

Secondly, I prefer the scenes without Helena because Gillian Jacobs' performance is so startlingly ineffective. Why did the filmmakers feel a need to make Helena British? Or, alternately, why did they feel a need to cast Jacobs in the role of a British woman? Jacobs' accent is the worst of its sort I've heard since Dick Van Dyke's turn in Mary Poppins; a "hullo, guv'na!" disaster of the first order. There's actually nothing else wrong with her performance, but every time Helena speaks it generates an unintentional laugh.

The DVD transfer is very respectable, spotlighting this low-budget flick's modest visuals with clarity and depth. Flesh tones are warm and natural, while darker scenes benefit from impressive shading. Audio is also sturdy, but this is largely a dialogue-driven track without much that will challenge your speakers. Extras include a batch of cast interviews and an intriguing Swedish short film from Elisabet Gustafsson called "Awaiting Examination."

I can't say that I actually dislike Helena from the Wedding -- it has some nice moments that are worth seeing -- but the whole affair feels awfully slight once the credits roll. You might consider a rental if you're a fan of dialogue-driven ensemble pieces in general, but there are too many problems to recommend the movie to the average viewer.

The Verdict

Guilty.

Review content copyright © 2011 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Judgment: 78

Perp Profile
Studio: Film Movement
Video Formats:
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)

Subtitles:
* English (CC)

Running Time: 89 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* Interviews
* Short Film

Accomplices
* IMDb
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt1394211/combined