Updated: Jul 19, 2019
By Derek May:
YIN: Destination Wedding
Destination Wedding may not be for everyone. What makes it unique may be exactly what turns some people away. But that’s ok, because however you ultimately view it, the film dares step outside the box and try something different, and at least for me mostly succeeds in the attempt.
The film stars Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder. And only Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder. With but a few brief exceptions, no other actor in the film speaks any dialogue onscreen. This unique approach presents the film as a big-budget play set amongst far more locations than you’d ever fit on stage. Reeves and Ryder, having previously done 3 films together over the last 25 years, have palpable ease with each other that echoes the joyous fun they must have been having on set. The pair trade endless barbs like an old married couple, yet still have that twinkle in their eye for each other.
But the relationship between the characters is far harder won. The film sees Lindsay (Ryder) and Frank (Reeves) thrust together while attending the wedding of Frank’s brother, who also happens to be Lindsay’s ex-boyfriend. The pair are mutually ostracized by the family due to their miserable and unpleasant natures, which of course sets the stage for an eventual communal bond and attraction.
In that regard, the film follows some of the usual rom-com tropes: the meet cute, the initial hatred of each other, the eventual breakdown of those walls, and the culmination and expression of their feelings. Sure, nothing new there. But as with most things, it’s all about the journey, and tracking these two misanthropes as they slowly start to realize they may be the only two people in the world capable of tolerating each other is wherein lies the fun.
That is of course, if you LIKE terrible people. This is the rom-com for the It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia crowd. Viewers who prefer their characters less abrasive will likely be immediately put out (as my girlfriend was), and have little interest in seeing assholes find happiness. And that’s fair. If, however, you’re able to stick around, it’s a tantalizing perspective that pessimists like myself can too often relate to.
Winona Ryder has seen a sort of resurgence of late, due on no small part to her almost adorably manic turn as the lamentable mother on Netflix’s Stranger Things series. While she may be faulted for a bit of scenery chewing there, she offers a somewhat more standard performance here. The dialogue is delivered in breathless chunks, often more akin to soliloquy than conversation, but Ryder lets the philosophy-laden bon mots roll off her tongue with a fast-paced ease. Her character’s faults stem more from her unabashed desire for connection and need to fix and correct those around her, making her familiar and, while certainly annoying at times, certainly the lesser of the two evils.
Frank is not only a malcontented narcissist, he wears his misery like a badge of honor. He lectures more often than he converses, and Reeves plays that facet with a sneering deadpan. Keanu has never been a great thespian—he works well for what he does—and he may be a bit out of his league here, overlooking some of the nuance of the character. But he manages to balance the aggressive disparagement with enough light-hearted twinkle to be endearing and never mire Frank too deeply in his own bullshit that we can’t see a way out for him.
Ultimately Frank’s cynicism is a form of self-protection, but that armor is thick, and the film at its crux is driven by Lindsay’s continuous attempts to break through it. The amazing part is, he’s really not completely wrong in his sociological observations (depending on your point of view), and thus his well-defined arguments have enough truth and revelation as to wonder if he’s right that he’s better off alone—hell, maybe we all are!
How can these two reconcile their own issues enough to ever be in a healthy relationship with someone else? Both sides offer their unique arguments for or against, delivered with a technical precision that some may take as dry and overly intellectual. But that’s exactly where these characters dwell, in their heads, and no scene better demonstrates this than the most uncomfortable, awkward discoursed sex scene in recent movie memory. To see two of the sexiest stars of the past few decades stripped of every ounce of sensuality is a tour de force of cringing ridiculousness, and the absolute highlight of the film.
But in a movie that essentially sets opposing viewpoints against each other, a conclusion must inevitably be made—without daring to presume a straightforward answer to some of life’s most difficult questions. And here, the conclusion reached is trite, but supported: there is someone for everyone, no matter how horrendous an individual might be. Smartly, the film doesn’t lay claim to a happy ending for these two, but more of a fighting chance. And really, that’s as much a victory as these two characters could ever hope for.
Writer/director Victor Levin (Mad About You) doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but he does present us with something different. Bottling the audience up with two unlikable characters without reprieve is one helluva risk. How it ultimately pays off only time will tell, but I respect the attempt. If you’re looking for traditional rom-com fare, this is definitely not for you. But if you’re a bit of a pessimist who’s had your fill of syrupy love stories and is looking for something outside the box, give Destination Wedding a go. Who knows, there’s a fighting chance you just might like it!
YANG: Iron Fist (Season 2)
To say that the second season of Iron Fist is stark improvement over the first is a fairly backhanded compliment. The bar was so low after that dumpster fire of a debut that it would be a struggle to go anywhere but up. But backhanded as it may be, the praise is worthy, as the show seems to have taken the justifiable criticism to heart and made a number of noticeable and significant strides toward bringing Danny Rand (the titular Iron Fist) and company up closer to par with the rest of his Netflix super-family.
The first step was ditching previous showrunner Scott Buck, the man seemingly most responsible for delivering us a petulant, whiny, sickeningly naïve Danny and navigated him through boring board meetings, convoluted interactions, and overly complicated secret societies. I struggled hard to muddle through that season, but endured because I knew it would play a major role in the eventual team-up series The Defenders (which it did). But with the reins now passed to Raven Metzner, the series has cut its dead weight and slimmed way down, not only in episode count (down to 10 this season) but also in character number and interaction. The tighter season leaves less room for filler, and keeps the focus relatively simple.
Our villains this time need no wasteful introduction, as the groundwork’s already been laid. Danny’s Kung Fu “brother,” Davos (Sacha Dhawan), is out to claim his perceived position as the rightful bearer of the Fist and enlists the help of Danny’s estranged “sister” Joy (Jessica Stroup) to do it. The complicated family dynamics ebb and flow as additional cogs such as a multiple-personality assassin and a triad gang war are thrown into the mix. And yes, even with all that it’s still more streamlined than last time.
But setting that aside from the moment, the biggest and most significant improvement has been with Finn Jones’s portrayal of protagonist Danny Rand. After that first season, I was convinced the lion’s share of the blame should be laid solely at Jones’s feet for making Danny so astoundingly grating and thoroughly unlikable through his constant irrational tantrums, lack of any tangible chemistry with his co-stars (including his love-interest), and his asinine self-absorbed immaturity. And when a prominent dose of that was carried over into The Defenders, it seemed my suspicions were confirmed. But then came Jones’s cameo in the recent season of Luke Cage, and I was gob-smacked!
Jones was… well… likable!
With a softer touch, a sensible, more mature outlook, and a touch of humor, Danny Rand had grown from bratty adolescent to endearing young man in a virtual heartbeat! It was a strong enough turn that I lowered my guard and decided to give Iron Fist the second chance I’d written off months ago. Sure enough, Jones continues the adjustment toward the positive, making Danny at the very least a character worth following, and finding a more genuine, human quality to him. That’s not to say there aren’t remnants of the old skin speckled throughout as Danny continues to struggle with his anger and maturity, but it’s a realistic, earthly struggle. Finn proves that while he may not be the greatest actor in the world—and is far too often upstaged by those around him—he’s got the chops to do the job. And with Danny being sidelined both physically and emotionally throughout much of the series, it’s in fact a credit to Jones’s performance that we invest in him through to the end.
That being said, the acting crown in my mind goes to Jessica Henwick for her portrayal of Danny’s partner in all things, Collen Wing. I’d be curious to count the minutes, but I’m willing to bet Henwick gets as much or more screen time as Jones, and for good reason. Henwick brings far more to the table, able to slip effortlessly between believable ass-kicking martial master, bleeding-heart social worker, conflicted lover, and dogged investigator. She is the voice of reason and a clear sounding board, all while struggling with her own internal issues. It’s what made her one of the most compelling characters in the first season (and in her subsequent cameos), and Henwick continues to endear here. In fact, with the ending she’s given, I think we can expect an even greater prominence in the future.
Equally noteworthy is Dhawan’s Davos, who presents a formidable antagonist despite his diminutive stature. Balancing English charm and a writhing, seething fury, Dhawan exudes tightly controlled menace. You truly feel he could pop off at a moment’s notice into a murderous rage, or sit to a cup of tea to offer a philosophical discourse on the decline of human nature. It’s an impressive performance, and pleases me to no end as I’ve been a fan of Dhawan’s since his delightful comedic turn as Manmeet on the underrated sitcom Outsourced (check it out!). Davos is the best kind of villain, as he wholeheartedly believes what he’s doing is right. And while we may not agree, there’s still a touch of sympathy there, especially upon learning about his early life. I’m glad that his comeuppance included keeping the Davos door open.
Aside from Danny, probably my least favorite characters from the previous season were Joy and Ward Meachum. Both were almost equally insufferable, though they did eventually make some headway owing to the sympathy evoked by the trauma they suffered. Those scars remain for them both, and their arcs follow similar paths.
Joy’s anger at what she sees as a betrayal by both Danny and Ward leads her to unite with Davos in their punishment, but really, much of it feels as petulant as Danny’s previous self. It’s petty and a bit one-note. By the time she makes the obvious, inevitable turn back, it feels as unearned as it is unwarranted. Ward, for his part, spends much of his time being the self-destructive ass he’s always been, but Tom Pelphrey injects just enough humanity to keep him from being totally despicable. I found, despite myself, respecting him by the end, due mostly for his relatable attempts to find a way to put his life in order.
Alice Eve joins the ensemble as “Typhoid” Mary Walker, a deadly assassin suffering from multiple personality disorder. I’m mostly familiar with Mary through her appearances in Deadpool and Daredevil comics, and they’ve done a good job here of reinventing her origin and affliction. We’re mostly treated to two personas, the wide-eyed sweetie “Mary” and the hard-nosed, deadly efficient “Walker.” Eve does an admirable job distinguishing the two, and pulls off both elements sincerely and believably, no small feat.
The streamlined story, as I mentioned, is overall a major advantage here. The beats are easy to follow, and since having to only track a handful of storylines, it feels far more natural when they converge. Sure, there are still places where decisions and drama feel contrived, and time seems to be a relatively malleable factor. And while the relationships feel much more established, the conflicts dividing them do varyingly feel manufactured. The presence of Misty Knight feels more about keeping exposition moving and providing an outsider perspective than offering meaningful contribution, but Simone Missick does her usual rock-steady performance to keep you engaged and on track.
The action is far more consistent. Plenty of fight scenes are scattered throughout, with a more satisfying choreography and mix of stunt and actor performances. Jones and Henwick have obviously put more time in the dojo during the off season to where they can more believably execute some of the closeups (particularly Henwick).
In the end, season 2 pulls off the near-impossible, course-correcting a series lost at sea and elevating a deserving hero to more-respectable levels. It’s by no means a perfect season, and there plenty of holes till to plug, but the characters are far better developed and executed, with a compelling villain of equal threat to Danny, and enough internal drama to drive the relationships. Though the ending is confusing as all hell (which seems to be a go-to for the shows lately), I can say that I am definitely curious to see where they take this series next.
And though there are no plans for a second Defenders, I can’t help but feel that pooling together an army of established villains in Kingpin, Moriah, Davos, and Typhoid Mary could make for one helluva throwdown! But whatever the future holds, I trust that those at Marvel and Netflix seem to at least be capable of turning even the most disappointing of series around, and that gives me no small measure of hope for what we’ll see next.