HomeBad Ass AsiansThe Wedding Guest is No More than Asia as a Scenic Background

The Wedding Guest is No More than Asia as a Scenic Background

By Jana Monji

I’ve never been to a Muslim wedding and by the end of The Wedding Guest, you won’t have been either. The Wedding Guest has been called a “film noir” but director/writer Michael Winterbottom’s film lacks the visual style associated with such films and Dev Patel’s brooding intensity is dimmed by an unconvincing plot and characters that could be anyone, anywhere.

The movie begins in the UK under the bluish hues of an old European world urban setting. Patel’s Jay is efficiently packing and suspiciously has a handful of red British passports. From the UK, he ends up in the sunny, chaotic streets of Lahore, Pakistan. By the title, we know where he’s heading, but instead of presents for a happy future, he’s buying firearms and duct tape. He rents more than one car using different names.

In the small town, the pre-wedding celebrations have already begun. You’ve probably already guessed that Jay is not really an invited guest and that he intends to kidnap the bride. As he’s taking the intended bride, Samira (Radhika Apte) to the car, one of the compound’s guards accosts him and Jay shoots him dead. This enterprise has reached a point of no return.

And here’s the spoiler: Jay was paid by Samira’s lover, Deepesh (Jim Sarbh). Samira knew about it and partially planned it but her lover fears the complication of murder and he didn’t expect an outcry and search for the missing bride. Samira did, but she doesn’t seem to have planned for it.

While Variety’s Peter Debrugewrites, “Winterbottom’s film serves as a critique of the limited options available to women in the Middle East,” does anything in this script demand that the movie be set in India or Pakistan?

In essences, we have an English-born male filmmaker writing about Pakistan and Muslims and focusing on the status of a woman in Pakistan without filling in the cultural norms and imperatives. Isn’t he playing into stereotypical notions of the helplessness of Muslim women? I suspect things are more complicated in Pakistan, a country where a woman, Benizir Bhutto, served as Prime Minister. Bhutto was assassinated in 2007, but since then women have entered the police force in Pakistan according to a report in Guernica.

Women in Pakistan aren’t totally helpless as this movie suggests. Winterbottom doesn’t give us enough details about any of the three characters to justify the setting. The woman Samira speaks British English and indicates that something went terribly wrong but not what. We know nothing about the man she’s betrothed to or her lover. We don’t see the anguish of either her father or mother when she’s reported missing.

Pakistan and India and their cultures are not really illustrated, but just a backdrop for a sketchy thriller that doesn’t thrill nor serve as a travel guide. This drama could have easily been transported to almost anywhere in Africa, Asia or Latin America (or even the backwoods of the US) with a change in casting and location titles.    

The moral of the story? Don’t invite everyone and his brother/sister to your wedding or you’ll end up with sketchy strangers in your home, but most of us learned that by college.

The Wedding Guest premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival (8 September 2018).

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