The Wedding Party was Brian De Palma’s first feature, though the subsequent Greetings made its way onto a handful of screens earlier when Wedding Party found itself without distribution. De Palma had to fund the film’s meager release with his co-producers: Wilford Leach, a renowned stage professor who had become one of a young De Palma’s mentors, and Cynthia Monroe, a wealthy film student who basically funded the entire project. (Don’t bother looking for her as the bride, as she wasn’t funding a star vehicle for herself—in fact, she only appears briefly as a bridesmaid.) Falling in line with De Palma’s early, predominately goofy projects leading up to the morose gravity of Obsession, the film begins with the groom being picked up from the ferry to be driven to his bride-to-be’s estate, sped up to look like a Keystone Cops outtake. The chauffer isn’t allowed to drive the vehicle and ends up hanging from the running board, the prospective groom takes the wheel from the back seat and relatives keep finding their way outside of the car, one wandering to the sea because, so the overlapping voiceovers tell us, he enjoys the melancholy effect the surf has on him.
Talk about exiting the gate with a running start. Wedding Party, once finally released, was subject of a review in Variety that has proven a handy epigram for De Palma’s critical standing since (“techniques themselves were deemed more fundamental than ideas of substance”). At the risk of siding with the critical enemy, Wedding Party is admittedly far more confident in form than it is in function. From a screenwriting perspective, De Palma, Leach, and Munroe don’t ever really convey the role that the young couple’s posh, island estate wedding has on the groom’s psyche. (And they seem to often forget that the bride has a psyche to attend to as well.) The film gives the “a film by” credit to all three, but it’s abundantly clear Leach turned his attentions on his gifts as a stage director to create a well-stocked ensemble of character actors doing actorly things, which is probably one reason why the film frequently calls to mind Robert Altman’s A Wedding.
This left De Palma free to begin exploring his role as a film director with all the enthusiasm one can expect from a director whose works never completely shed their film-student trappings (and that’s meant as a compliment). Much as the groom’s hectic arrival was played in triple time, the excruciating round of introductions the groom is subjected to thereafter plays out in slow motion with the isolated patter of whispering old bitches dominating the soundtrack. (“Look at that hair, I guess he thinks he’s fashionable.”) The punchline extends to the opening credits, where all the bride’s family fills a single title card that blocks out the entire screen. The groom’s relatives are listed next: one single, lonely name. Later on, when the family keeps intruding into the future newlyweds’ privacy, De Palma films the two from outside their window (in a seemingly purposefully fake matte shot) to resemble a jail cell. Wedding Party is a spunky freshman effort, but De Palma undoubtedly felt more comfortable—and continues to flourish)—in the realm of the wryly sophomoric.