Alicia Silverstone is back! Following her breakout performance in the 90s airhead comedy Clueless, the career breaking misstep of allowing her name to be associated with the big budget travesty Batman & Robin, and two solid decades of mostly obscure IMDB credits that sound like something your mother might say when trying to come up with the name of a real movie, Silverstone returns to the screen in Sister of the Groom. But, to quote Sir LL Cool J, don’t call it a comeback. Set in the world of weddings and family gatherings, this low-key comedy is so devoid of romance, heart, or laughs that sitting through the entire feature feels as tedious as an actual wedding. From it’s artificially overblown conflicts to the repetitive dance party transitions, the film is so uncompromisingly mediocre and painstakingly generic that it even after having just finished watching it, you will likely find yourself wondering, “whatever happened to Alicia Silverstone?”
The plot to Sister of the Groom is difficult to describe, not because it is overly complicated, but because almost everything that happens in the film is so thoroughly unmemorable. Silverstone plays Audrey, a woman with a resumé seemingly designed to check off as many tired comedy clichés in as little time as possible. Formerly a stay at home mom, Audrey is an aspiring architect and professional masseuse on the eve of her fortieth birthday. Unfortunately, she won’t be able to do much celebrating, as her birthday is being hijacked by her brother Liam (Jake Hoffman), who chose the exact same weekend to get married. If the poor timing of the ceremony wasn’t enough to put a damper on Audrey’s mood, Liam’s choice of bride certainly is. Clemence (Mathilde Ollivier) is a young, beautiful, French musician whose free spirit and perfect breasts – which make a brief yet entirely gratuitous appearance – serve as an unwelcome reminder of Audrey’s own age and failures. Nevertheless, family is family, so Audrey puts her feelings aside and drives out to the Hamptons with her husband Ethan (Tom Everett Scott).
Perhaps the biggest problem with the film is that, while Clemence is more than a touch annoying, she rarely does anything that comes close to warranting the depth of Audrey’s instantaneous and irrational hatred. From their very first meeting, Audrey views her soon-to-be sister-in-law as meanspirited, manipulative, and controlling, sometimes with good cause, but usually without. Most of Clemence’s offenses fall into the category of mild annoyances, like when she encourages Liam to do less binge-drinking, scolds him a bit too harshly for breaking his nose right before their wedding photos, or mistaking Audrey’s swollen post-childbirth belly for a fresh pregnancy. She can occasionally be guilty of larger and more insensitive transgressions, like telling Liam not to hire Audrey as the architect for a major renovation to their family homestead, or adding insult to injury by offering the very same job to Audrey’s handsome ex-boyfriend Isaac (Charlie Bewley) – who is of course also invited to the wedding – those kind of major slights are few and far between.
The mostly low-level discourtesy puts Audrey in the difficult position of playing both the victim and the completely unreasonable aggressor as she tries to ruin, injure, or kill Clemence at every turn. When she isn’t busy trying to spoil Clemence and Liam’s nuptials by sharing overheard gossip about secret abortions, Audrey passes her time by deliberately causing jet ski accidents, practicing unnecessarily aggressive chiropractic techniques, and spiking the bride’s food with MDMA. While this kind of behavior has the potential to be perfect fodder for a darkly comedic romp through cruelly relatable fantasy fulfillment, the filmmakers never push their ideas quite far enough to make them amount to anything more than unreasonable responses from an unsympathetic and downright unlikeable lead. Sadly, things are never pushed far enough in the opposite direction either. Thanks to a series of drab performance and a largely humorless script, there isn’t much heartwarming family fun, either. Liam and Clemence never show the kind of genuine affection that might make all this drama worth the trouble – not even during their actual wedding – and virtually every attempt at a heartfelt moment of emotional vulnerability falls flat under the weight of exposition-heavy monologues.
Every once in a while, you get a glimpse of the story’s potential. About two thirds of the way into the movie, there is an incredibly awkward and genuinely funny moment when Audrey decides to relieve some pent up sexual tension by sitting on the toilet and masturbating to 3D virtual reality porn, only to have Clemence’s father walk in and catch her in the act. It’s the kind of moment that deftly concludes an emotionally fraught sequence by adding insult to injury in a particularly humiliating way. However, the scene is also just about the first genuinely interesting thing to happen in the entire movie, and it really says a lot about a movie when the predictable masturbation joke is both the comedic and emotional highlight of the piece.
Verdict: 1 out of 5 stars.
If you’re a die-hard Alicia Silverstone fan and are looking for a way to make your quarantine Christmas just a little bit sadder, this movie may be worth a watch. Otherwise, you would probably be better served to go on Facebook and look at pictures from your least favorite destination wedding. It’ll give you the same jolt of romance and disappointment while taking up significantly less of your time.