Jenny’s Wedding is very close to the perfect explanation of why films that just don’t seem to sound good on paper still show up all the time. Basically, Jenny (Katherine Heigl) has been lying to her parents about her sexuality for years, having been in a relationship with Kitty (Alexis Bledel) for the last five. She finally decides that she has to tell them, largely because she wants to marry Kitty, and her parents don’t take it very well.
That’s the sort of thing that’s in that magical realm of being trite nonsense, despite not having really had time to become, technically, trite. Moreover, that’s really the whole story. It isn’t even like the film can pretend to sell you on a “new spin.”
Such movies keep getting made for exactly the same reason that the same ideas crop up enough to become genres, and that is that every once in a while, something nails it. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it turn into a great film, but it delivers what it’s after, without falling into ridiculousness.
The reason this one works as well as it does, is that it isn’t really a “coming out” movie (which no movie should ever be), but a movie more simply about the relationship between adult children and their parents. Jenny’s sister, Anne (Grace Gummer), has a relationship with their parents that is just as messed up as Jenny’s, and that spills out into the rest of life as well.
The main effort of the film surrounds Jenny’s inability to come clean, and the repercussions that follow when she finally does, but it isn’t delivered in a way that falls prey to the obvious traps of the situation. Dad (Tom Wilkinson) is rather “everydad,” or at least, “everymoviedad,” in the beginning, and though Mom (Linda Emond) is a bit high-strung, she’s fairly “average” as well. You begin to wonder why Jenny’s so scared to tell them. But, it turns out that she knows them better than we do. Once the cat is out of the bag, the range of responses not only includes unforeseen negative consequences to the relationship between our sisters, but between the parents as well.
It may sound curious to suggest that what’s actually good about the film is the sense in which it distances itself from the gay issue, but it isn’t only true, I hope it’s purposeful. Jenny could easily have been lying about still being in college, while secretly traveling to micro-gigs with her band, or dating someone simply “beneath her,” as opposed to of the same sex, or any number of ideas that are liable to throw distance between parent and child. The fact that the film gives us sexuality specifically as not being a new and utterly unique cause of friction is its best move.
That said, it’s been a long hiatus for Mary Agnes Donoghue as writer and director, and Beaches, White Oleander, and Veronica Guerin (all of varying worth) were a long time ago. What’s missing from those efforts is an attention to pace, and perhaps a truly keen eye to the dialog. Though much of it is refreshingly honest, some of it feels a bit removed from the characters delivering the lines.
Katherine Heigl has never been this good before. In fact, to be completely honest, she’s never actually been good before, and that she mostly gives the requisite, and complicated, emotions here is a testament to the direction. Wilkinson is solid as always, although the character has a certain span of time spent going a little too goofy, perhaps to balance out some of the over-the-top moments Mom spends freaking out.
Sadly, Jenny’s Wedding falls just shy of the mark that would make it an indie breakout, but it’s not for lack of trying. It might have tried too hard, and ultimately had to many ideas it was trying to move with, as opposed to letting things open up more naturally. It’s mostly a great effort, and it will probably get to you, but it’s often a bit of a road between the moments you really enjoy.
DirectionMary Agnes Donoghue
WritingMary Agnes Donoghue
CastKatherine Heigl, Tom Wilkinson, Linda Emond, Alexis Bledel
SynopsisJenny Farrell has led an openly gay life - except with her conventional family. When she finally decides to start a family and marry the woman they thought was just her roommate, the small, safe world the Farrell's inhabited changes forever. They are left with a simple and difficult choice - either change with it or drown.