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‘After the Wedding’: The twists don’t turn out in morose, off-putting drama

Julianne Moore gives a surprisingly broad performance as a rich exec with ulterior motives as she offers a donation to an orphanage worker (Michelle Williams).

An orphanage worker (Michelle Williams, left) makes a plea for funds from a potential benefactor (Julianne Moore) in “After the Wedding.”
Sony Pictures Classics

What a lousy thing for a mother to do on her daughter’s wedding day.

What a terrible thing, for parents to perpetuate an enormous lie to their child for some two decades.

What a selfish thing, for someone to hide a life-changing secret from everyone in her life.

What a waste for such a talented cast to be stuck playing characters who bend and break the truth for questionable reasons in story containing some gigantic but not particularly plausible or emotionally impactful twists.

Writer-director Bart Freundlich’s “After the Wedding” is a remake of Susanne Bier’s 2006 family melodrama, with the genders of the two leads switched and a few other and less dramatic changes, but it’s a morose and slow-paced and off-putting drama, in which even the joyous moments seem brittle and draped in melancholy.

And after all the angst and soap-opera-level hard right turns of the plot, the ending is so underwhelming and delivered with such a shrug of the shoulders, they might as well have played Peggy Lee’s “Is That All There Is?” over the closing credits.

Michelle Williams portrays the saintly but tightly wound and super-intense Isabel, who works at an orphanage in Calcutta and is adored by the children — in particular a shy and sensitive boy who has become like a son to her.

The orphanage is understaffed, stretched beyond capacity and in dire need of funding — and that’s when Isabel gets word a wealthy benefactor in New York City is strongly considering making a $2 million-dollar donation.

One catch: The mysterious potential donor has stipulated Isabel, and only Isabel, must be the one to travel to New York to make the final pitch to secure those funds.

In typically unsubtle fashion, when Isabel arrives in Manhattan, the film hammers home the point we’re not in Calcutta anymore. Isabel is visibly uncomfortable in her relatively dressy clothes and is borderline horrified when she’s put up in a penthouse hotel suite with a nightly rate that could probably keep the orphanage going for a solid month.

Julianne Moore (who is married to director Freundlich) gives a mile-a-minute and surprisingly broad performance as Theresa, the phenomenally successful media/branding executive who is considering that mega-donation to Isabel’s orphanage.

They meet at Theresa’s office, which looks like an Architectural Digest photo spread come to life and is teeming with good-looking, high-energy, eyes-on-the-prize staffers who couldn’t have made a more different career choice than Isabel.

Theresa doesn’t really have time to listen to Isabel’s presentation, because in addition to considering selling off her company for something like $40 million, she’s also iPhone deep in last-minute planning for her daughter’s wedding, which is happening this weekend and is taking place on the grounds of the home Theresa shares with her successful sculptor husband, Oscar (Billy Crudup), and their daughter Grace (Abby Quinn).

Here’s an idea, Theresa says to Isabel. Why don’t you come to the wedding and have a great time, and then we can get together on Monday to discuss the donation?

Well that seems a little WEIRD. Why would Theresa insist Isabel come to New York immediately — only to push back their meeting and extend this wedding invite?

Nevertheless, Isabel agrees to attend, and she shows up at the fabulous upstate estate just as the wedding vows are being exchanged.

And that’s the moment when Isabel realizes there’s a whole other layer to this whole trip to New York, and she’s not the only one whose world is about to be rocked to the core.

Even after we learn the real reason behind Theresa’s actions, the manner and timing of her manipulations comes across as needlessly mean and even cruel in some instances. Crudup’s mousy and self-pitying Oscar is no bargain either, given he’s been a co-conspirator with Theresa in lying to Abby her entire life — for reasons more beneficial to Theresa and Oscar than to Abby.

(Sidebar: That’s two weeks in a row of Billy Crudup playing husbands with their hands full, first in “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” and again here.)

As events in “After the Wedding” become ever soapier, Theresa doubles down on a plan to essentially use those orphans in Calcutta (remember them?) as human bargaining chips to get Isabel to go along with Theresa’s grand plan for everyone.

For a supposed tearjerker, this film is so tone-deaf my guess is there won’t be a wet eye in the house.