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Cheerful Weather for the Wedding | Review

Cloudy With a Chance of Strain: Rice’s Debut a Sweet Coated Flimsy

Donald Rice Cheerful Weather for the Wedding PosterFor his directorial debut, Donald Rice adapts a 1932 novella written by Julia Strachney, Cheerful Weather for the Wedding, a drolly executed period endeavor concerning the mercurial affections of one very wishy washy debutante in pre-WWII England. Featuring a curiously amassed cast that may inspire high expectations, Rice can’t quite fatten up the thin source material enough to warrant a feature length treatise on a love triangle that’s hardly worth our attention. In its defense, it never regresses to cheap laughs or false humor to pander exclusively to a mainstream pedigree, but neither does it ever become a high class affair.

It’s a very subdued and drowned out day in the countryside of 1932 England, where Dolly Thatcham (Felicity Jones) is about to publicly share her nuptial bliss with hubby to be, Owen (James Norton), and her family members are quickly arriving at the manor house, having received the invitations that were mechanically and rather forbiddingly stamped out for us in the opening credits. Her mother, Mrs. Thatcham (Elizabeth McGovern) bustles happily around the house, while younger sister Kitty (Ellie Kendrick) impetuously vocalizes her unhappiness about her own lack of a suitor. Dramatic tension immediately ensues on the heels of Joseph (Luke Treadaway), who seems to have had a hot and heavy previous summer with Dolly. It seems the bride invited him at the last minute and Mrs. Thatcham is none too pleased to see him. Also arriving are Evelyn Graham (Zoe Tapper), bridesmaid and best friend to Dolly, and the cousins Tom and Robert Dakin (Olly Alexander and Luke Ward-Wilkinson), late adolescent boys keen on getting drunk. Add to the mix Uncle Bob (Julian Wadham), a canon uninterested in church matters, and a bitterly unhappy couple, Nancy and David Dakin (Fenella Woolgar, Mackenzie Crook), with a young son that has a predilection for explosives. And don’t forget overly rude and bitchily fabulous Aunt Bella (Barbara Flynn).

It seems Dolly hasn’t been feeling well and refuses to come down for the familial brunch which has been prepared before the wedding ceremony. Instead, she guzzles rum out of a bottle, leaving groom, love struck suitor, best friend and mumsy to chatter at each other until the inevitable hour arrives. Meanwhile, we’re treated to spontaneous and vibrantly colorful flashbacks of the summer before when Dolly was voraciously reading Leo Tolstoy’s Family Happiness and canoodling with Joseph, who went off to Greece to pursue his profession.

All the right elements are in place for a very droll, very acerbic British comedy of refined manners, but while the scenario isn’t lacking, the poorly conceived characters are considerably. In fact, the biggest scene stealer is the American of the lot, as Elizabeth McGovern gives the film its greatest breath of fresh air as the oblivious Mrs. Thatcham, introduced to us with a gust of wind and a bushel of roses shoved through a doorway, like some prophetically significant Virginia Woolf heroine. Though our Mrs. Thatcham falls decidedly short of that kind of distinction, she’s at least not as wasted as what could have been a marvelous role for television and stage veteran Barbara Flynn, instead reduced to one more of those comic relief harridans that’s too bitchy too soon too little.

The most crippling element of Cheerful Weather for the Wedding is the wanly drawn love triangle between Dolly, Joseph, and the dubiously characterized Owen, who could have been as easily portrayed by a cardboard cutout, he’s so poorly utilized. While Rice does a bit of overkill with establishing flashback sequences, which we cut to whenever the present scenario seems to lag, there’s a curious lack of chemistry between Joseph and Dolly, themselves rather crudely jettisoned off as mere schemes of the plot. Felicity Jones, somewhat of a hot commodity after a lot of hullaballoo over her performance in 2011’s Like Crazy, is surprisingly lifeless here, the first half of the film showing her nervously pacing her bedroom parameter like a hungry, agitated kitten. There are hints that certain “circumstances” have led to the union at hand, but no one’s situation is ever portrayed as dire, intense, or irrevocable. Turtles, minor explosives, a deaf uncle, interchangeable twins, and a lonely old governess all add to this one-setting sham that could have done a whole lot more with a whole lot less. Instead, it’s as politely dull as the generically benign phrase of its title.

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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