With homage to Four Weddings and a Funeral, director Claire Scanlon has assembled an A-list cast and taken us on a hilarious ride in her raunchy new comedy, The People We Hate at the Wedding. When it comes to dysfunctional families, this group literally takes the cake when they gather in London for their sister’s wedding. Ever-optimistic mom Donna (Allison Janney) insists that the siblings reunite despite previous family angst.
Dysfunctional American siblings, Alice (Kristen Bell) and her brother Paul (Ben Platt), head to the UK for the perfect wedding of their wealthy estranged British half-sister, Eloise (Cynthia Addai-Robinson), and in between the typical family festivities, a lot of bad behavior ensues.
The funny, witty, and sardonic film celebrates the betrayals, breakdowns, and bitchiness, that only our loved ones can deliver when this flawed family takes its first transatlantic steps toward facing their truths and sorting out their messy lives. There is quite a bit of envy, misunderstanding, and resentment, which drives great conflict and comedy.
The wedding gives them a chance to reconnect as adults and learn to love each other as they once did. The stakes are rather high, and adding past unresolved resentments and lots of alcoholic beverages can lead to a lot of emotion.
“It’s a complicated family with a first marriage and a second marriage, and kids from both, one of whom grew up in England and the other two in America,” Janney explains. “It’s messy and funny, and that’s what I loved about the script. The characters are deeply flawed but endearing in their awful behavior.”
The film is based on the 2016 book by Grant Ginder and is clearly a personal passion project for the movie’s director, Claire Scanlon. “What I appreciated about this story is that it was highly relatable, and the catharsis, and the clearing of the air and showing that just talk it out,” Scanlon exclusively tells Monsters and Critics. “It’s about just getting together and hashing it out, and you can all resolve it. Maybe, not everything, but a lot can be dealt with in a way that the family can move forward and really bond and be close.”
Read on for how Scanlon chose her cast, why she loved the story, what were the most challenging scenes, and why she loves the city of London.
Monsters and Critics: So, why did you want to make a movie that overall is about connection?
Claire Scanlon: I feel like I connected to this script pre-pandemic, but then during the pandemic, I really started to relate to these family members. I can’t think of one family that doesn’t have some conflict, dysfunction, something they don’t talk about, they kind of avoid, and they can do that through distance. I think the pandemic just exacerbated that.
This film is about a family coming together after their mom’s “by hook or by crook I’m going to get this family together to my daughter’s wedding” attitude. And it brings all of those resentments, things that weren’t said, all that lack of communication to a big, big head. All to a big, nasty confrontation that leads to some of the characters and the family members ending up in jail.
M&C: As opposed to refusing to get together for Thanksgiving or Christmas or holidays because there’s so much that’s left unsaid.
Exactly; just avoidance. My mom is from England, and just the distance and going back to my family in England was always a big schlep. Especially in the ’70s, that was a big thing. We didn’t have a ton of money, and so to do, it was a real thing. The will might have gotten less and less over the years to do so.
So, I can really appreciate it, she came to visit me, and my mom and dad both came to see us in London when we were at prep because I brought my children. And it was the first time they saw their grandparents in two years because of the pandemic. It was wonderful for my mom in particular; she took my daughter to Harrods for a high tea.
It was just a really great bonding experience just for me making the film, so just that alone. And the air is very clear between myself and my parents, so there wasn’t avoidance; it was just simply the pandemic. So even this movie brought me and my family together in a wonderful way.
M&C: Is there something universal about weddings that kind of brings out both the best and the worst in us?
I feel that there’s a lot of emotion for many people going into a wedding. Whether it’s sentiment or a relief for the parents that someone’s going to be there for their child as they grow old together. It kind of takes the burden off the parents of worrying. I think for them it’s just a wonderful thing if their children are taking another step towards adulthood, and that means that they don’t have to be as worried, and the anxiety can be slightly diminished.
I don’t think it ever completely goes away; I think parents always worry about their kids. But I also think for the peers of those getting married, there’s a lot of pressure. Whether it’s siblings or peers, friends that aren’t perhaps in a happy place with a partner, the feeling of “I don’t have that, I’m lonely, I’m not enough, I’ll never have that.” There are a lot of negative things, a lot of negative thoughts that can go into going to that. Then you add music, alcohol, and staying up late, I think a lot of bad decisions are made during weddings.
Also, I think it could be really wonderful for those who feel like they’re in a good place, whether they’re with a partner or not, just completely at peace and content in their lives. There’s something wonderful about seeing another couple find that as well. So, I think there’s joy, it’s a huge cacophony of emotions.
M&C: Did you think of movies like Four Weddings and a Funeral or some of our British favorites when you were making this movie?
I would say that Four Weddings and a Funeral is the gold standard. I think I’d be an idiot not to think of that movie constantly because it’s not just about this one isolated story of this one family, they’re in a major urban, beautiful cosmopolitan city. And I’m thinking of the character of Tom, played by Rufus Jones, who’s quite a lovely British person running through it.
It’s impossible not to think of Hugh Grant when you see the character of Tom because he’s just that classic British, “I’m going to pretend like everything’s okay even though this is clearly a hot mess. But I’m going to keep that British exterior, that positive exterior, as if it’s totally normal everything that’s unfolding before my eyes.” I think that kind of unflappable British spirit persevering through adversity is a wonderful story to tell tangentially as well.
And that applies to Eloise and how she initially chooses to handle things. Like, “Okay, this is weird, but I’m going to put up a good front and take it on the chin,” and just keep persevering until she can no longer pretend. I think once her family finds themselves in jail after the rehearsal dinner, it becomes impossible to ignore there’s a real problem here.
M&C: How much food was prepared in that hotel? How much did Kristen Bell eat during the making of this movie?
Oh my gosh, she ate so much bacon because she is always eating bacon in the scene. If you watch the scenes, and again, and more bacon. She’s great at that. She didn’t even use a spit bucket. Sometimes after you eat a whole bunch you can’t eat it. I think she came hungry, so she was able to eat a ton of it. I can’t remember if it was turkey bacon. I know it was some kind of funky bacon, but she liked it, so she ate it.
M&C: Is it difficult to get that much food made?
Our prop department did a wonderful job. What’s more difficult than getting the food made is keeping the continuity of how much. Like if I say, “Hold, let’s go ahead and let’s just do a quick pick-up on that line,” where was she in the process of eating her bacon at that exact moment when she says that exact line? That’s really hard to do.
Just like at the dinner when they first get together for the very first time, keeping the levels of wine. Because the character of Alice is just chugging it back, and knowing exactly where was she in her level of, what we probably used was fizzy apple juice, but where was she in that level of wine and drinking that?
M&C: So, why were Allison, Kristen, Ben, and Cynthia so perfect for these roles?
Allison Janney is a national treasure and should be in every movie always everywhere, and every TV show while I’m at it. She’s just phenomenal. She elevates everything. Any scene she’s in is better because she’s there. Her authenticity, her empathy, who can’t relate to a parent who wants to see their children altogether?
I think you’re only as happy as your most unhappy child, and so in this particular case, she’s very concerned; a lot of her children are unhappy. So, she’s trying to coral her kids who haven’t been together to see them all in one place, which will warm her heart. And Allison was the perfect person to do so. Ben Platt was the very first actor to sign on, and I was thrilled. He was happy that this was a story with a gay character, a gay lead character that wasn’t about coming out.
Then for the character of Alice, who’s really not in a good place in her life, dead-end job, maybe not choosing the best boyfriend in the world most available to her. What was wonderful about Kristen Bell, I’d worked with her on [her hit TV show] The Good Place, she’s so darn likable. She brings such a likability as a human being, as an actor, to a role. That even though she’s playing this character of Alice, who’s doing pretty despicable things, you cannot help but root for her. And I think that’s just that je ne sais quoi, that unquantifiable thing that Kristen Bell has.
Cynthia, of course, was just such a get. I actually met with her when she was still in New Zealand doing Lord of the Rings; they had just wrapped. So, organizing that time difference was quite a challenge, but we did, and she was so delightful. She was so good. You could just see that she’d be the perfect Eloise. It’s ironic she’s playing a queen in Lord of the Rings, and she’s the perfect sister in this movie.
M&C: Awe, absolutely. That bridal dress is just dazzling.
I feel like every time she was wearing something, I was like, “I want that.” Her bridal gown was phenomenal.
M&C: What do you think was the most challenging aspect of making this movie?
The River Thames scene, and the threesome scene. Those were easily the two scenes that I rehearsed. Very rarely do I get rehearsals, and those are the two scenes where I requested rehearsals. At least for the riverboat, I mean, the hot tub, tugboat scene in the River Thames because there’s no CGI involved. We talked about doing a water take. Shooting practically was what was called for, that was the story.
Those hot tubs are real. If you went to London right now, you could go get in one of those. It is the strangest activity, and I watched a bunch of people doing it. Drinking champagne, wearing little captain’s hats, sitting in a hot tub, tugging along the River Thames at four to five miles an hour because that’s as fast as they go. So already you’re in a bizarre thing. To shoot that was so hard.
The actors got in the actual River Thames, making sure that it wasn’t too polluted. Doing chemical research like the actual quality of the water, turns out that the River Thames is cleaner than you think. This is good to know because we put everyone in it. And that was day one of shooting, so that was how I met the crew, everyone in the crew. That was the cast’s first time meeting the crew. So it was a challenge, challenge, challenge on all fronts.
Also, then the threesome scene, I just wanted to do justice to that scene. I’m not gay, so I just wanted to make sure that everyone would be represented well. And that we were really honoring the characters and their motivations and what was happening, and I love that scene. I’m so proud of the way it turned out. I think it’s funny, and I think it’s endearing.
M&C: Was there some fun thing that you go to do on an off day or before you came back to the US that was kind of a highlight for you or your family?
My family was there the entire time for prep, and my son had his fourth birthday on our first day out of quarantine. This was back when there was still a quarantine. So, I remember taking him to a local pizza place where he was thrilled. And randomly, I remember he had spaghetti with mussels, and it was the first time he had seafood in his pasta, and he loved it. I was like, “Oh great, he’s finally eating some decent food.”
But in general, I think the playgrounds, the parks, and the lushness of the greens in England in my starved desert Los Angeles eyes was such a dream. Just to walk around, the flowers are exploding. Every neighborhood takes such good care. Every lamppost has a pot of flowers just hanging from it, and that’s just each council doing that.
All neighborhoods, not just the posh ones. Everyone cares about their neighborhood, and each neighborhood has its own vibe. It was like an explosion of flowers. It was like I landed in the Land of Oz. I arrived in the Land of Oz, and it was wonderful. Especially also, again, I keep talking about the pandemic, but I was just starved for something different, it was wonderful that way.
M&C: Do you know what your next project is?
I’m doing a bunch of TV shows. I’m doing this show called Mrs. American Pie for Apple+. It’s a delight. Allison Janney helped me get the gig. So, that’s another reason you should hire Allison to star in your movies. She’ll help you get more work.
I’m doing an Abbott Elementary episode in December. I’m very excited to get to work with Quinta Brunson again. I did Miracle Workers with her, and that was great. That’s how I met her. Then there are some other movie projects brewing. I kind of think I’ve set it up as a love letter to Manhattan, and we got to shoot all over the place.
I look at People We Hate at the Wedding as a love letter to London, and perhaps I’ll get to go to Paris next. That would be not so terrible. I can think of worse places to have to spend six months of a year.
M&C: Overall, why do you want my readers to see your movie?
I think the pandemic, in general, was hard for everybody, and I think that people might have lost communication with those they love and call family, whether it’s friends or whatever. And I think that if there’s one, not to say this is a movie with a message, but I do think that brushing things under the rug and hoping things get better through inaction doesn’t work. It leads to chaos.
It might not be so dramatic as falling into the River Thames and landing in jail, but I do think it leads to a disconnect that is sad. If people were to watch us this and go, “I’m going to call my sister, it’s been too long. And maybe if we just start talking, I can mention, “Hey, this bugged me when you did that.” Or, “I’m going to call my mom. I know she really always wants to talk to me, and I know I’m always kind of like, eh.”
At the end of the day, everyone’s trying, and everyone’s doing their best. I think connection really can lead to joy. And if not, overt happiness, some kind of contentedness. I just think after these last couple of years, it would be really nice for people to connect more.
The People We Hate at the Wedding is available on Prime Video.
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