Keanu. Winona. We tend to refer to them by a singular name, like Madonna, Cher or Prince. It should have been common sense that these icons of Generation-X would play off each other in a romantic comedy or starred alongside one another in a multitude of projects, but Destination Wedding is only the second time these two have shared a screen. Their first collaboration was in Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation of Dracula (1992), which wasn’t exactly the “of-the-moment” event these two stars needed at the absolute zenith of their careers in terms of popularity and creativity. The two have seen dips and valley’s in their career following Dracula, and luckily Destination Wedding comes at a time when both are on the crest of a new wave in popularity. Both Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder are as hip today as they’ve been in a very long time, with both experiencing something of a career renaissance. After a long period of sexism induced blacklisting by Hollywood at large Ryder has begun to make the first stabs at a comeback with her role on the very popular Netflix series Stranger Things. Winona Ryder has deserved a large scale comeback for years, and she should have never been pulled out of the public sphere, especially considering there are men who have done much much worse things than shoplifting who continue to make film after film. It’s a shame that it has taken this long for doors to open for her again, but I’m nonetheless happy she’s back. Keanu Reeves by extension has the massively popular action movie series, John Wick, which has not only turned him into an icon for an entirely new generation, but propelled him into the conversation surrounding the greatest action movie stars ever. His stoicism and ragged physicality, built upon a jangled trauma of an unwanted skill and the recurring domino effects of violence of his job as a hit-man in the Wick movies has reinvigorated him. It’s a role only he could play. Enter Destination Wedding, which sees the two stars on a collision course for one another, and the only bullets here are the barbed wire insults they sling at each other until they realize “this is the only person as fucked up as me” and they begrudgingly admit that it’s better to hate together than apart.
The basic premise of Destination Wedding is a tale as old as time: boy meets girl, boy immediately hates girl, they end up at a wedding together, they cross paths with a mountain lion, and tolerate each other long enough to have sex. This has happened to literally all of us. The boy in this case is Frank (Keanu Reeves) and the girl he hates is Lisa (Winona Ryder). Lisa is going to this wedding because she wants to get closure with her ex-fiance, and Frank? Frank is the estranged brother of the groom. They both hate the groom so they find an initial bonding over the double act of hating each other and hating this other person they know intimately. Nothing says a meet-cute like an expletive leaden brush with jealousy. The framing device that director Victor Levin uses throughout the movie hollows the world out around from Frank and Lisa through predominate medium-wide shots where Lisa and Frank often appear to be standing in a room full of mannequins. This is probably how they view the other guests. The formal decision to keep them separate from everyone and focused entirely on their banter throughout the miserable wedding is a smart one, if not entirely effective. Levin sometimes pushes the camera too far away rendering Keanu and Winona ant-like in the frame, and it makes their chemistry and witty back and forth harder the discern because we can’t see their faces. When Levin’s drops the pretenses of the wide-mannequin rendering shot, the script blossoms in the hands of these two iconic actors.
The rapid-fire delivery of the dialogue recalls screwball at times. If the camera were more interested in catching the actor’s physicality in motion instead of standing back and letting their verbal skills do all the work it would be appropriate to discuss the film in these terms. Levin doesn’t have the chops or the understanding when to let his formal ideas expand and it holds the film back pretty significantly at times. In the hands of a more seasoned director Destination Wedding would likely be considered among the finer comedies of the decade, instead of merely, being a great exercise in verbal dexterity from two the finest actors of the 1990s. I do not want to short change just how good Reeves and Ryder are however; their pitch perfect, charred, hate-fuelled rants at anything and everything are a constant joy and the sheer annihilative pitch and speed in which the film spews bile almost renders things abstract. It’s akin to being stuck in a punchline whirlpool, and if you enter into this movie with the full intention to get down on the level of Lisa and Frank’s debased sewer spewage bile the film will reward you with a deranged symphony of laughter.