Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Thin on plot, thick on travel

Michael Winterbottom’s The Wedding Guest (opening Friday at the Main Art Theatre, The Maple Theater and Michigan Theatre in Ann Arbor) continues the British director’s eclectic offerings of film themes. If you’ve caught any of his fun culinary road movies with comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Bryden such as The Trip to Italy (2014), or even his 2002’s 24 Hour Party People – about the punk rock scene of Manchester England including the great bands Joy Division and New Order – you might be surprised that Winterbottom can change focus on a dime and create a movie centred on an international mystery that spans the South Asian subcontinent. But Winterbottom is no stranger to that type of intrigue, having made, among others, A Mighty Heart (2007) about the terrorist killing of journalist Daniel Pearl, and In This World, about a couple of young Afghan refugees escaping to the West. Still, The Wedding Guest is as much a mystery for the viewer as the subject itself. The movie opens with Jay (Dev Patel of Danny Boyle’s 2008 Slumdog Millionaire fame), of South Asian heritage, packing for a flight from London to Pakistan. After landing, he rents a car, drives well into the country’s hinterland, and buys a couple of pistols. Late one evening, wearing a mask, he creeps up on a remote house where a wedding is soon to take place. The next we see is his kidnapping of Samira (Radhika Apte). Is Jay a terrorist? Not in the political sense. He eventually unbinds her and wins her trust when he tells her he was trying to steal her away from what would have been a very unhappy arranged marriage. From here the movie evolves into a road trip. And what a trip! Anyone fascinated by travel to Pakistan and India might be interested in checking out this flic for that purpose alone. The scenes of the twosome in various Indian cities such as Amritsar and Delhi, literally on highways and byways by rental car, train, bus (including one that seems to be a sleeper coach) and motorcycle, blends traditional Third World backdrops with the modernism of cell phones and the Internet. A viewer might think, ‘Hey, if I can stay connected in India maybe it’s worth a trip after all.’ Now, about that plot. There’s the kidnapping and release, and a relationship of sorts emerges. There’s also intrigue in the way of found loot, of sorts. And that’s about it. The story turns into (rather predictably) a romance and a travel yarn for today’s backpackers and Airbnb set. I’d recommend seeing the film for those reasons alone. But don’t be surprised if you’re confused by the thin plot.

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