One of the more curious of the recent crop of gender-flipped remakes is “After the Wedding,” an emotional drama based on the 2007 Danish-language film directed by Susanne Bier. In that film, a man devoted to his work at an orphanage in India returns home to Denmark to meet with a wealthy businessman who’s interested in making a large donation. During the visit, the orphanage worker gets a casual invitation to the businessman’s daughter’s society wedding that weekend — and discovers, in the sort of plot twist that soap operas specialize in, that he is intimately connected to this family. Twelve years later, American filmmaker Bart Freundlich has moved the primary setting from Denmark to New York, changed the two leading male characters to female, and cast Michelle Williams and Julianne Moore (his real-life wife) in the roles.
And … well, the story’s still as soapy as laundry day, but let’s face it: A lot of us would happily watch Williams and Moore doing laundry. (Just imagine the nuanced frowns over mystifying stains, the meticulous attention to detail while folding, the burst-of-sunshine smiles over a job well done.) These two, who’ve been lighting up screens for years (most recently “Gloria Bell” for Moore and TV’s “Fosse/Verdon” for Williams), are always a joy to watch. Their acting choices are perpetually interesting, even if the project they’re in isn’t, and “After the Wedding” is basically a chance to watch them spark off each other.
Williams, as orphanage worker Isabel, seems to get physically smaller when she arrives in New York; her ease is gone, replaced with a quiet wariness. Moore’s Theresa, a wealthy media mogul, has learned to blend her own intensity with an elaborate casualness; she’s whip-quick to berate a long-suffering assistant, but barely gives her a glance. There’s a lot of yelling, a perfect drunk scene (by Moore), a full complement of scenes in which the two just warily eye each other, and plenty of opportunity to revel in the detail each actor brings to her work: Moore’s way of making us love a character we don’t particularly like; a long, gorgeous close-up in which Williams lets little bursts of joy pierce through Isabel’s armor.
Is “After the Wedding” a great movie? No, not especially. Are these two women treasures of cinema? Absolutely.
★★★ “After the Wedding,” with Julianne Moore, Michelle Williams, Billy Crudup, Abby Quinn, Alex Esola. Written and directed by Bart Freundlich, based on the Danish-language film “After the Wedding,” directed by Susanne Bier and written by Anders Thomas Jensen. 112 minutes. Rated PG-13 for thematic material and some strong language. Opens Aug. 23 at the Meridian.