“Two misanthropic narcissists are forced together at a wine country wedding.”
Easy enough description, wouldn’t you say? A film like that almost writes itself. But written (and directed) by Victor Levin, it takes on an entirely different, smashing bent as Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder waltz nimbly around everything outside of their own selves, including each other. One leads while the other follows, interchanging roles with a quick turn of dialogue or some form of physical action. Never mind that they may not be hearing the same tune or even doing the same steps. The joy of Destination Wedding is to see them share their barbed, cynical commentary while they hate-watch two people becoming legally bound.
The second scene features Frank (Reeves) and Lindsay (Ryder) sitting on an airplane bench seat. After a character-defining, brutally antagonistic encounter seconds before, he’s already asked to switch seats with the other passengers on the puddle-jumper plane to no avail. Both decide to dig into their nut snack packets, the wrappers rustling loudly as they attempt to open them. He opens his with ease; she’s having a little more trouble with the supposedly non-working notch cut into the side. He violently opens hers, offering it to her after resorting to using his teeth to rip her packet open. She gives him a horrified look, whereupon he sheepishly and petulantly offers her his own packet.
Frank and Lindsay’s non-verbal physical comedy sums up their characters tidily. He’s a direct person, wanting to get whatever task he’s doing completed with all due speed to minimize contact; she skirts around issues and avoids solving them herself while placing the blame solely on others. No sooner is the first bite of their snacks eaten – and quickly discarded in disgust – before they both find they’re headed to the same place. We’ve already had one biting confrontation at the airplane gate, and now they’re stuck together for the weekend – she’s there as a guest of her ex-fiancé Keith (Ted Dubost), who happens to be Frank’s half-brother. And boy, the backstory behind both their relationships with Keith is exposed with just as much disgust as they spared their inflight snacks.
Not even the film’s intertitles want to be at this wedding; one such card reads, “Saturday Morning:
A Bunch of Stupid Shit You Would Never Do Otherwise Activities.” The movie is, in its very bones – even with its jaunty nylon-string guitar-driven soundtrack and stunningly-shot landscapes – pissed off. Its ultimate move is taking it out on you with every thrust and riposte coming out of Reeves and Ryder’s mouths. Their little microcosm doesn’t seem to affect anyone else, as they mutter barely under their breath well within earshot of wedding attendees; they even hold an obscenity-laden conversation during the wedding, with no one reacting to any of it.
This conceit gives us free room to watch Reeves and Ryder spit more words than an Eminem record, and probably just as acidic any song found therein. It doesn’t stop – even during one of the most hilariously propped-up and misbegotten sex scenes I’ve ever witnessed. Lindsay and Frank spend the movie trying to verbally one-up the other, even when their lives are in mortal danger. Their back-and-forth exchanges are the makeup of the entire film, so it’s very easy for the film to sound forced, especially when we’re so used to hearing Keanu Reeves speak in short sentences in other films. However, he carries with him an air of panache and disgruntled hypermetropia; it’s a sort of “I told you so” patois which fills his side of each conversation with overburdened intellect. His dry grumpiness is charming and disarming, and it’s so much fun to listen to him gab on, for example, about the trivialities of being a “hoarder of free shit, especially the gray-area free shit.”
Matching him pound-for-pound is Winona Ryder, popping off the screen in a gear with the snark-meter pushed past the redline and hammering at the stop-pin. She gives her Lindsay a long-suffering soul, with the world wearing her down to the point where she can’t ever be happy about anything. What reason does she have to be happy about anything in this film? Her ex-fiancé has invited her to a faraway wedding; the person she ripped into at the airport is her seatmate and eventual next-door-neighbor at her hotel; and she’s constantly finding fault with anything and everything. (It’s her job to do the latter as someone who prosecutes “companies and institutions for culturally-insensitive actions or speech.”)
So what do you do with two people who look at the world as annoyances and obstacles? The only thing to do is sit back and watch the gentle-voiced verbal stabbings both Frank and Lindsay give to the world and each other. Victor Levin’s script has plenty of ear candy, and he’s directed both Ryder and Reeves to note-perfect delivery. This is a chatty ride where the rhythms are driven by punchy, rapid-fire diatribes reminiscent of Randal Graves from Kevin Smith’s Clerks, but with no punching bag to absorb each jab. With Destination Wedding, you can revel in the special glee which comes from watching Reeves and Ryder firing at anything that moves and not giving one damn about who their bullets hit, even if it’s their own selves.