Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 3, 2019)
Given its title, one might expect 2019’s The Wedding Guest to offer a gentle parlor drama. Instead, the film gives us a thriller with a dark side to it.
UK resident Jay (Dev Patel) travels to Pakistan. He makes this journey to attend the wedding of Apu and Samira (Radhika Apte).
However, Jay doesn’t take this trip to celebrate the nuptials. Instead, the mercenary plans to kidnap the bride to be, a choice that sends them on a perilous journey.
At one point, a character refers to Jay and Samira as Bonnie and Clyde, and I get those comparisons, as Guest mostly depicts the leads on the run. However, they’re not quite the wild bankrobbers of B&C, so links end with their shared journeys.
On the positive side, Guest creates a fairly intriguing tale for its first act or so. The movie maintains a substantial air of mystery, as it dollops out plot points gradually and leaves us curious to know more about Jay and his mission.
Patel does well as the lead, too. He handles the role’s rough edges nicely but softens in a believable manner when necessary as well.
However, once we get a grip on Jay’s purpose, the movie slowly becomes less and less interesting. Most of the drama comes from the audience’s lack of firm footing, so we stay with the story mainly because we feel eager to see where it’ll go.
When we understand Jay’s purpose, matters devolve into something less compelling. Not that Guest ever becomes boring, but after Jay’s mission becomes revealed, it focuses more on characters than on plot, and that turns into a weakness.
Much of this stems from the arm’s length at which Guest keeps us from Jay. On one hand, I respect the fact that we don’t get mawkish flashbacks to reveal what turned Jay into an emotionally distant mercenary, but on the other hand, the absence of real character information means we don’t embrace his development as we should.
The relationship between Jay and Samira loosens him up but it follows a fairly predictable path and doesn’t seem especially compelling. When Guest focuses on its lead characters, it does so in such a superficial manner that we never quite embrace them.
At its heart, Guest acts as Jay’s emotional journey, so our distance from him remains a considerable drawback. Frankly, there’s just no emotional “there” there.
Add to this the inevitable “twist” ending and Guest winds up as an erratic effort. While it does enough to keep us with it, the movie loses power as it progresses.