Directed by: Michael Winterbottom. Starring: Dev Patel, Radhika Apte, Jim Sarbh. Released: March 8, 2019. Runtime: 1h 36 min
The Wedding Guest, directed by Michael Winterbottom, is billed as a thriller. Sure, there are some thriller elements, but that is just felt in a few select scenes.
It starts out more like a mystery. Jay (Dev Patel) is a British Muslim man who rents two cars, purchases guns and duct tape and travels to a city in Pakistan. We do not know a thing about him, and at this point we don’t even know his name. We just know he does not speak Punjabi.
When he gets to his destination, he kidnaps a woman, Samira (Radhika Apte), who wants to escape an arranged marriage. This aspect is spoiled in the trailer (so I’ll spoil it here). A friend from college, Deepesh (Jim Sarbh), wants to save her and pays Jay to kidnap her.
Samira is fine but we never really get to know other than she’s searching for forbidden love and gets close to it. Her wanting out of the arranged marriage is what sparks the premise, and the using that culturally relevant topic is an intriguing concept for a film, but the thin story never rises above that. The film also does not delve deep enough into Samira’s character.
They just remain mysterious. Authorities look for Samira, but Jay and Samira never have to deal with them as they go from city to city using fake aliases, fake I.D.’s and fake passports. Jay and Samira only know that her disappearance is a point of interest in the English papers in India and Pakistan.
As Samira herself puts it, India is a perfect country to run away in because there are “one thousand million people living their own lives.” This idea lends itself to the anonymity of the characters themselves. We never really know the characters, despite spending about 90 minutes with them.
The characters are not compelling, either. They’re portrayed well by Patel and Apte, and I’d like to see more of her. However, they stay too mysterious throughout to have any strong development. We just know Jay is in it for the money and Samira is a wild card. The film’s predictable regarding how their characters grow together, but it’s unpredictable in story.
Unpredictability is a good thing, but in this case the story is hard to predict because it’s so thin. It’s a girl wanting to escape an arranged marriage and that’s it… There’s some intriguing developments thrown in to hold attention, but then it just falls back into a dull, but comfortable, pace. This just feels more consistently like a dull drama than thriller or mystery.
The strong acting will try to convince viewers there’s a soul, heart, emotion or any semblance of a story here. They’re really quite good so I bought into their chemistry of having to trust each other in this strange scenario, but the dialogue is so boring and the story so pointless they could never fully sell it.