Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder are far from strangers. The former ’90s superstars — both of whom have found late-period career revivals with the John Wick franchise and Netflix’s Stranger Things, respectively — have starred in three films together, including Bram Stoker’s Dracula, A Scanner Darkly and The Private Lives of Pippa Lee. They have known each other and worked alongside each other longer than a few of the writers at The Young Folks have been alive. In fact, there are even reports that the two stars actually got married during the wedding scene found in the aforementioned Francis Ford Coppola film. Keanu and Winona know each other very well. Thankfully, they work well together too. Their blistering chemistry shines in Destination Wedding, the new rom-com/anti-rom-com from experienced television writer/director Victor Levin.
The talkative comedy centers around Frank (Reeves) and Lindsay (Ryder), two bitter, self-involved strangers waiting for a private flight to attend a destination wedding, as the title doth suggest. Inside the airport, Frank and Lindsay exchange pleasantries that quickly become unpleasant as they instantly, almost instinctively, find specific ways to get under the other person’s thin skin. As each leg of the trip finds these passengers next to one another on their extended journey, an irritated Frank and a cuttingly sarcastic Lindsay continue to verbally extend their well-spoken frustrations to each other, their vitriol becoming a rising volcano avalanche of articulated annoyance and arrogance as they approach their destination over the course of an agonizing series of travel locales. As they get closer and closer to the place they destined to go, Frank and Lindsay learn who their fellow travel companion is. Frank is the dysfunctional lone wolf of the family on his way to his brother’s wedding. They are estranged, but he doesn’t want to make himself look like an “objective” asshole if he isn’t in attendance for his brother’s big day. Lindsay, meanwhile, is the former fiancée of the groom, who still harbors resentment for the failure of their broken relationship. She hopes the wedding will provide closure.
Neither is expected to find much happiness at the espousal, but they feel inclined to go — if for reasons more selfish than not. And since they both know that they’re not going to be satisfied by the weekend anyway, Frank and Lindsay continue to find themselves connected. Their rooms are right next to each other, and they are seated next to one another during the preliminary dinner proceedings the day before the wedding itself. But even beyond these conjoined ceremonies and lodging locations, Frank and Lindsay find themselves drawn to one another — often in spite of their better instincts. Because it’s better to be with the devil you know than the devil you don’t. While these two only knew each other through the horror stories they’ve heard from the groom before this fateful weekend, these jaded guests share more in common than they don’t. They don’t see eye-to-eye on next-to-anything, but the could-be couple has an almost primal bond.
The best way I could describe Destination Wedding is that it’s basically like Before Sunrise (maybe even Before Sunset) with assholes. And I mean that as a compliment. Victor Levin is largely focused on our bickering main characters in the midst of this gorgeous scenery. The backdrops are quite splendid and almost everyone around these two people has a great time, but we hardly ever interact with a single soul that isn’t our main leads. In fact, there might not be another character who gets an audible line of dialogue besides them, even though Frank is surrounded by his estranged family and Lindsay is near her former fiance’s relatives. In a way, the extended sparring dialogue, the prolonged single shots and the hyper-intense focus on the escalating would-be relationship between our main characters make the movie feel like a play adaptation, although I don’t believe the film is based on any pre-existing material (at least, to the best of my knowledge). Destination Wedding is very much a “written” movie, with characters throwing jabs in a very scripted manner, all with the cleverness and rapid-fire succession and acceleration that comes from a self-satisfied writer at the helm. But the movie works, mainly because the script is sharp, the direction is gracefully subdued and the focus is entirely on the lead actors, who share a spark that’s spellbinding and splendid in a way that makes even these detestable characters worth your attention.
If the movie was carried by two performers with any less chemistry, there’s a better-than-decent chance that Destination Wedding would’ve been insufferable. Instead, Reeves and Ryder carry the film with aplomb, relishing the narcissist characters they embody as they find themselves drawn closer to someone away from their insecurities. Anyone who has followed the movie’s charming marketing push, which composes of Keanu and Winona being playful and flirty with one another and therefore shining a rare ray of light in these oppressively dark times, can see how likable they are together. They know how to joke and poke and quip and push each other buttons, in a good way. They know how to bring out the best of each other and make us allured by their ways. Destination Wedding captures that live-wire radiation of warm and chemistry to very enjoyable results, even when the characters they play are very prickly and very acidic. In short, Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder are a joy to watch together, and these well-connected actors make even a pair of fairly unappealing characters quite spectacular.
Subtitled The Narcissist Can’t Die Because Then The World Would End, your mileage might vary with Destination Wedding. It’s more of a send-up on the meet-cute rom-com than the lighthearted screwball comedy-esque movie advertised by the ads and poster. Even though the characters aren’t the type of people you would want to be seated with at a wedding, Frank and Lindsay are a joy to watch through Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder’s gracious, riveting, evergreen companionship. The ending doesn’t have the same magnetism of the first two-thirds, admittedly, and some jokes land better than others. But if you want to watch Reeves and Ryder together, in their element, be sure to RSVP.