Helena From The Wedding

Helena From The Wedding


Reviewed by: Paul Griffiths

A friendly group of 30 to 40 year old Somethings heads off to a snowy US alpine retreat to see in the New Year. The isolated scenery is meaningful, everyone’s ‘nice’ and they all bring their foibles, as diverse as their follicles. Pretty soon the segregated setting, fueled by alcohol and a little light drug abuse, defrosts tensions to simmering point.

Having previously produced the likes of Run, Fatboy, Run, Joseph Infantolino has made this film his debut as writer-director, striking out in an altogether different direction. It’s an ensemble piece that piques as much frustration as it does charm.

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There’s much to enjoy in the web spooled out around the characters. Some wordless sequences efficiently but subtly portray the relationships’ nuances. Others delight with their squirm-inducing moments of politely caustic frustration or bitterness. Around such sequences Infantolino creates a familiarity, that universality that we need to recognise to help us care for whatever a character’s then going to whine properly about. Sadly, this binding adjoins several more stunting scenes that ring less true and, in some cases, hurl character arcs way higher than the set up would have us find credible.

The catalogue-costumed crew bring all manner of themes to the party, including financial worries, alcoholism, loyalty and stuttering creative ambition. Oh, and career stresses, affection, pregnancy and insecurity, too. Infantolino structures the film with newly weds Alice (Melanie Lynskey) and Alex (Lee Tergesen) arriving first and as their guests roll in wraps the others’ issues around them. He does well to bring everything first to the fore and then to a head, but each successive revelation feels a tad episodic, until every piece is fully on the board.

At the core is Alex and Alice’s delicate doubts about married life, dragged in front of the log fire when the eponymous Helena (Gillian Jacobs) arrives. She’s a sultry Brit once pursued by Alex and as Alice smarts at his seeming attraction, Alex skids manically on the icy slope of infatuation. He’s struggling with fears of commitment and getting old - bless him. If his almost immediate flip-flopping doesn’t make him a less likeable or believable protagonist, the lengths his slavering over Helena have to go to for Infantolino to portray such feelings become too phony for you to care.

Everyone plays with sincerity, but side-hander Paul Fitzgerald, a spit for a Steve Carell and Owen Wilson lovechild, excels. Jacobs struggles with a dodgy, unnecessary English accent as Helena, a role little more than a cipher with quasi-classical allusions. Lynskey (Up In The Air) emotes effectively and, mining her character for all she can, provides a good foil for Tergesen’s Alex. Unfortunately, Tergesen encapsulates the irritation of the film as a whole, with some spellbinding moments tempered by a maddening rictus gawp when Alex is lost for words.

Infantolino favours studied, unobtrusive camera work and divides his action well between a small clutch of warm and intemperate locations in and around the cabin. Visually it works and even though his screenplay injects everything with lots of juicy conflict, it’s still a cool experience. While the characters might amuse and irk, they certainly don’t touch us. Infantolino avoids a specific concluding message, but does seem to suggest that relationships are ultimately unfathomable, so really it’s just good to talk, bad to judge and there’s no such thing as a ‘normal’ relationship anyway. It’s not futile, but it ain’t that profound either and adds to our overall feeling of detachment.

If Helena ... wants to be a mirror to the mores of contemporary American marriage, it’s only ever an indifferent, thin and polished shard of white affluence.

Reviewed on: 04 Oct 2010
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Dissection of marriage in modern-day America.
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Director: Joseph Infantolino

Writer: Joseph Infantolino

Starring: Dagmara Dominczyk, Paul Fitzgerald, Dominic Fumusa, Jessica Hecht, Gillian Jacobs, Melanie Lynskey, Corey Stoll, Lee Tergesen

Year: 2010

Country: US


Raindance 2010

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