Who doesn’t love a good wedding? It’s even more special if you’re part of the wedding party. You show up a day early, walk through the ceremony at the rehearsal, and then onto a fancy dinner. You go to sleep, wake up, and the festivities begin. Easy peezy, what could go wrong? What could go wrong indeed, when an unforeseen moment occurs, and you make a single decision that sends you down a rabbit hole that threatens to jeopardize the noon-day nuptials. This all happens in Joanna Bowzer’s feature film, We Are Gathered Here.
Based on a play by screenwriter George Usher, we open at the rehearsal dinner for Ben (Brandon McShane) and Lisa (Emma Fassler). Our couple is very much in love, and the wedding party couldn’t be happier. What could go wrong? After dinner, Ben chooses to walk home and enjoys the fresh air. At home is a bottle of scotch as a gift from his brother Bobby (Peter Berube) and really what harm could come from a single drink? No harm, really.
“What could go wrong?’ comes as a knock at the door and it is Ben’s ex-girlfriend Jules (Olivia Christina Delgado) and her friend and support Maria (Melissa Recalde). Years before, Jules dumped and ghosted Ben with no reason. Upon discovering that Ben is about to be wed, Jules makes a desperate attempt to get Ben back. The startled Ben hesitates and decided to listen to what Jules has to say.
“…discovering that Ben is about to be wed, Jules makes a desperate attempt to get Ben back.”
Just before Ben and Jules get into it, best man Rachel (Caity Ware) enters (she’s dropping off gifts) and puts a halt to the action. Rachel insists that Ben puts an end to this discussion because nothing good will come of it. Ben wavers and agrees that if Jules says what she needs to say, she’ll go away. Rachel calls for re-enforcements in Ben’s brother Bobby and Lisa, the bride. What could go wrong?
I’ll start by saying I loved We Are Gathered Here because it’s smartly written with interesting characters, and like a good comedy, it has funny moments. So…a recommendation from me. But…the premise is annoying as hell. In a nutshell, it’s a story about a group of millennials trying to get their shit together before a wedding.
First, the room is overflowing with narcissism. Jules wants to destroy a marriage and relationship because she realizes she still loves Ben. She is there to say what she has to say but on her terms. Her friend Maria is there as moral support, her actions are guided by what makes her feel good. Lisa, the bride, is frustrated to no end, that her fiancé will not shut this down. And Ben takes the safe path, avoiding personal conflict at all costs. It is only best man, Rachel, who steps in and appears to be the only voice of reason.
“…every single character was brilliantly defined and developed, creating six distinct characters with distinct voices…”
Now, that I step back, I understand that if everyone acted rationally and had no personality flaws, then you don’t have much of a drama and the comedy doesn’t hit as hard. Speaking of stepping back, there is this idea of high and low status. Back in the day of the patriarchy, men in films had high status and women had low status. In We Are Gathered Here, it’s the opposite with a gender swap of status. While a wonderful statement, gender should not dictate status either way. The problem with this comes when Rachel, Lisa, Jules, and Maria conflict with one another. They fight, they verbally go at one another, and no one backs down. Tension escalates but goes nowhere. We have a battle with no winners. The story then has to turn to the low-status Ben to find resolution, which being low status, he stalls in doing until the end.
These annoyances often kill a film, but here it worked. It worked because every single character was brilliantly defined and developed, creating six distinct characters with distinct voices. It also helped they were brilliantly performed by their respective actors. It also worked because as misguided or noble or confused as the characters were, the dialogue was authentic and grounded. I could say that there are people in my life, who are just like this. I would also say I was once in Ben’s shoes when I didn’t defend myself strong enough in a specific situation, and this “weakness” ended my relationship.
There are exceptions that break the rule. We Are Gathered Here thankfully powers through the annoying setup and shines throughout. If you can get past it, you’ll laugh and find an ending that is thoughtful and poignant.
We Are Gathered Here (2019) Directed by Joanna Bowzer. Written by George Usher. Starring Brandon McShane, Emma Fassler, Peter Berube, Caity Ware, Olivia Christina Delgado, Melissa Recalde. We Are Gathered Here screened at the 2019 Dances With Films.
8 out of 10 stars