Trading endless insults, or sitting in un-companionable silence, anyone watching Frank and Lindsay would think they had been married for years.
Actually they’ve only just met. It’s en route to the wedding of her ex-fiance Keith that Lindsay (Winona Ryder) encounters the ferociously bitter Frank (Keanu Reeves), Keith’s half-brother.
Thrown together for a weekend of activities, dinners and, eventually, an actual wedding, they dislike each other almost instantly. You can’t help but want these two gorgeous but broken misfits to fall in love, if only to keep them away from the rest of us.
This is a bitingly funny if often bleak comedy – with Frank and Lindsay’s growing acquaintanceship (friendship is too strong a word) so compelling, so excluding of everything and everyone else, that it took me a while to realise there wasn’t actually much else.
Apart from a growling mountain lion and an enthusiastic chambermaid, no one but Frank and Lindsay says anything throughout the film. (They watch TV though, usually terrible medical dramas. “When I look at you, I don’t see smallpox” one character lovingly declares.)
Frank does try to be nice, at their first meeting while waiting for their plane, when his first words to her are a compliment about her dress. It’s an opening line that had me worried, as it doesn’t make sense; it’s usually women who compliment the outfits of women they’ve never met before, or creepy men (Frank deserves many awful epithets but creepy isn’t one of them, as he doesn’t like anyone). But pretty soon they’re belitting each other and their beliefs with admirable relentlessness.
Even the cutesy on-screen card wordings are crossed out and replaced with something altogether more cynical, as tinkly music plays in the background; it positions the movie as an indie with a bite (though they’re not necessary – Frank does that every time he opens his mouth).
They’re an odd couple but not evenly matched. He’s brutally unpleasant; she’s self-righteous but not deliberately mean. Both are incredibly lonely – there are only so many stolen hotel “grey area” freebies (Frank) and unresponsive house plants (Lindsay) they can re-direct their love to.
He is something big in automobile marketing, she prosecutes companies for lack of cultural sensitivities (“reverse fascism” he calls it).
Lovelorn and a bit dippy, Lindsay over-thinks and over-googles. Frank is misanthropic, with an aversion to marriage and parenthood (unsurprising when we find out his dad once shot him). Neither adds anything positive to the wedding: Lindsay wants closure, Frank’s there because his mother made him.
A story featuring only two people who loathe each other needs more chemistry than Marie Curie’s laboratory, and Ryder and Reeves certainly have that. Their gladiatorial, gloomy conversations are almost always zingy, their comic timing fabulous.
Lindsay is sad but hopeful and desperately wants to move on. She’s stuck in an emotional time warp, her briefly-seen apartment sparkling but not nearly as cosy as her pyjamas; she just doesn’t know how to change. Ryder brilliantly brings out that sense of chronic broken-heartedness that has moved from mind to body – she seems to physically ache.
Reeves is hilariously deadpan as the awful, hyper-realistic Frank, taking what he can get before anyone else nabs it, but who doesn’t know how to put back to win something bigger and better. Reeves is clearly enjoying the gleeful misanthropy – it must be fun to take a role like this when your public persona is one of unasked-for deification.
Ryder gets the top credit, though if you counted their lines (and I’m sure someone, entirely missing the point of the characters, will) Frank says far more than Lindsay, simply because he never uses five words to deliver one insult when he can go off on a multi-paragraph rant involving several insults to make one point (the point being, you are a failure as a person).
Always concerned that life is scamming him, it’s as if he worries the world’s supply of words is going to run out and he must grab more than his fair share right now. Worse than a mansplainer, he is, in every sense, a Franksplainer.
Frank’s as buttoned up as Lindsay’s enticing flannel pyjamas (I know, I keep going on about the pjs – I’m obsessed with movie nightwear), but he’s also more interesting as a character: his background, his quick wit. He’s so entertaining there’s an imbalance between the two characters.
His loathing of his family is even greater than his loathing for the world around him. Of his mother, when Lindsay asks “was she born during the Great Depression?” Frank shoots back with a bitterly heartfelt “No, she caused it”. (It was only later I realised how shoehorned this gag was, I was laughing so much.)
We get very little back story for Lindsay though I’m convinced she was a teenage goth. I’m not sure Frank got to be a teenage anything. He was probably one of those babies that look like a grumpy middle-aged man from the moment they’re squeezed out.
Ryder certainly holds her own against Reeves, but though Frank’s self-applauding witheringness is sometimes wearing, I always wanted to hear what he’d come out with next.
Weddings are the commercialisation of hope over experience, and American nuptials particularly are a mystery to me. They seem to involve more expense on the part of the guest than the bride and groom, for a start. In the UK we’re still slightly more basic – there’s someone in a kilt, a fight will break out, the DJ will play Come On Eileen by Dexy’s Midnight Runners and a free bar will be drunk entirely dry in an hour.
We don’t have “rehearsal dinners” either, though if it means you eat two dinners, the rehearsal dinner and the actual dinner, count me in. Not that Lindsay gets even one dinner, as she leaves early to avoid Keith and his Danish bride-to-be. Frank’s glance after her as she goes – amused and entirely unconcerned about her feelings – makes it clear there’s a long way to go before we can wave them off, bickering into the divorce courts, I mean the sunset.
Their sexual encounter is one of the least alluring I’ve ever watched, so show it to your teens – without letting on that mountain lions and tarantulas aren’t usually part of the deal – if you want to put a stop to their fumbling shenanigans.
Frank does warm up, from frozen solid to dangerously part-thawed, and Reeves reveals hints of thoughtfulness as Frank gradually becomes more troubled by his own vindictive responses. Sometimes he just can’t help it though: ”Why didn’t we meet seven years ago?” Lindsay wonders, as they wait for taxis home. “Just lucky, I guess” he replies.
Writer-director Victor Levin has taken a risk here, and it almost always pays off. He doesn’t delve deep (his characters’ sadness is an undercurrent) but Destination Wedding is still sharply, relentlessly funny. (It would also make a great stage play, though they’d have to swap the mountain lion for a pantomime horse).
If you’re a stone-hearted cynic who feels physically sick when a fluffy kitten comes bounding into view, or you watch You’ve Been Framed reruns for the most painful-looking accidents, this is your movie. Most of it, anyway.
Watch the official UK trailer for Destination Wedding: