There’s nothing more frustrating than wasting talent. Seeing a promising young filmmaker turn in a movie that just doesn’t work is as disappointing as seeing a good cast squandered by lesser material. Unfortunately, both are common but unavoidable side effects of attending film festivals and the latter is true of “Cheerful Weather for the Wedding,” a lightweight British romance that had its World Premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival last night. The film squanders not one but two young actors who turned in breakout performances in two of last year’s most acclaimed indies. “Like Crazy” lead Felicity Jones stars as Dolly, an anxious bride on the day of her wedding while “Attack the Block” thesp Luke Treadaway is Joseph, an old friend and possibly unrequited romance. We meet the bride-to-be getting sick with nerves and swigging rum in her room while Joseph shows up early to wish the bride well and possibly just try to run away with her before the nuptials. Oh yes, this is that movie.
From “Romeo + Juliet” to “The Graduate” we’ve seen this before and ‘Cheerful Weather’ isn’t looking to rewrite the old story, simply just to tell it again. Though it may not be the fault of the material that audiences have seen this before, it’s based on a 1932 novella by Julia Strachey. Keeping the period setting, the story unfolds in a beautiful mansion in the English countryside, and the film is at least interesting to look at. The clothes are gorgeously rendered but the characters are not. Fiancé Owen (James Norton) is for all intents and purposes, The Baxter here. He’s seems perfectly nice but for whatever reason, he’s not the man for Dolly. The story flashes back and forth between the wedding day and a nameless summer’s past when love seemed to be in the air for Dolly and Luke. The color palette for present day scenes is muted and dull while flashbacks are warm and vibrant. The film is basically structured like a mystery where you wait for the flashbacks to reveal why it didn’t work out between these two and how she came to marry someone she doesn’t seem to like that much.
While the main thrust of the movie is the will-they-or-won’t-they run away together between Dolly and Joseph, the film spends an incredible amount of time skirting the issue entirely with an ensemble of supporting players each doing their best one dimensional “type.” There is the overbearing mother (“Downton Abbey” star Elizabeth McGovern), chatty younger sister (“Upstairs Downstairs” actress Ellie Kendrick), the married couple who can’t stand each other (Mackenzie Crook and Fenella Woolgar), the grandfather who can barely stay awake, the precocious youngster who keeps lighting off fireworks and on and on. Their scenes are mainly to provide comic relief but serve no bearing on the actual story other than to draw out the incredibly thin narrative. The characters who deserve to be fleshed out (the trio involved in the love triangle) are left hollow and with questionable motivations.
Dolly claims at one point that marrying Owen is her choice, which rules out the possibility that she is a victim of societal pressures. So, if she isn’t sure if she wants to marry Owen and it’s entirely her decision, why do we care? There is a reveal late in the film (which some may see coming earlier on) that helps to shed a little more light on this but without some motivation up front, there’s not much reason to be invested. As for her other suitor, Joseph doesn’t seem to be a much better choice. The dude spends almost the entirety of the film sulking in the background (to an almost comical degree) to the point you just want to shout at him, “Man up!” If you love her, do something about it but for God sakes, quit moping.
A turning point comes near the climax of the movie when the star-crossed lovers finally confront each other in the study and are interrupted by fiancé Owen. Instead of playing it cool, each turns their back to the other so that Owen is having a conversation with Dolly while she faces the other direction while Joseph faces the camera seemingly pretending he is invisible. This scene alone is staged so poorly that all the sequences that follow are increasingly painful to get through.
And that’s the unfortunate thing about the film, there’s really just not much to grab on to. Jones, who was a real knockout in “Like Crazy,” is forced into the background of her own picture here and Treadaway, who stole every scene in “Attack the Block” (“It’s a weed room and it’s Ron’s”), is rendered useless simply by his character’s refusal to do something about his situation. For most of its running time, “Cheerful Weather for the Wedding” is a pleasant but forgettable tale of star-crossed lovers, but at about the hour mark it becomes apparent that it’s more than overstayed its welcome. The premise — already slender — stretches the viewers’ patience past the breaking point by just refusing to get on with it. The film may help “Downton Abbey” fanatics looking to kill a little time in that era but holds little cinematic appeal for the rest of us. [C-]