Review: ‘Cruella,’ starring Emma Stone

May 26, 2021

by Carla Hay

Emma Stone in “Cruella” (Photo by Laurie Sparham/Disney Enterprises Inc.)

“Cruella”

Directed by Craig Gillespie

Culture Representation: Taking place from 1952 to 1974 in England (primarily in London), the comedy/drama “Cruella” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some Asians and black people) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: In this “101 Dalmatians” origin story, an aspiring fashion designer has conflicts with her cruel boss and vows to get revenge. 

Culture Audience: “Cruella” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of stars Emma Stone and Emma Thompson, as well as anyone who doesn’t mind watching lengthy origin-story movies of classic Disney characters.

Emma Thompson in “Cruella” (Photo by Laurie Sparham/Disney Enterprises Inc.)

In this “battle of the villains” origin story, “Cruella” can be a little too overstuffed and filled with inconsistencies, but the dynamic duo of Emma Stone and Emma Thompson (as well as top-notch costume design) elevate this sometimes tedious movie. “Cruella” is a prequel to Disney’s 1996 live-action “101 Dalmations” movie, starring Glenn Close as villain Cruella de Vil. “Cruella” benefits from having a talented cast, including Stone as Cruella during her youth in England. At a total running time of 134 minutes, “Cruella” might test the patience of people with short attention spans, but the movie has enough dazzling moments and star charisma to hold people’s interests during the best parts of the film.

Directed by Craig Gillespie, “Cruella” at times seems a little too enamored with itself and could have benefited from a slyer sense of comedy. The jokes sometimes fall very flat, and the pacing drags during the middle section of the film. It’s a shame, really, because Stone and Thompson have immense comedic talent, but so much of it could have been put to better use if the “Cruella” screenplay (written by Dana Fox and Tony McNamara) had been wittier and more creative. The supporting characters are underwritten by not having enough depth to their personalities. (Dodie Smith’s 1956 children’s novel “The One Hundred and One Dalmations” is the basis of this movie franchise.)

“Cruella,” which occasionally features Stone’s voiceover narration as Cruella, begins by literally showing Cruella at birth (in 1952), and being raised by her mother Catherine (played by Emily Beecham), a mild-mannered and patient single parent. Cruella’s birth name is Estella, and the movie shows that she was born with her famous two-toned hair, which is black on one side and white on another. It’s later shown how she gave herself the nickname Cruella, to describe her evil and vindictive side.

Estella/Cruella says in a voiceover: “From an early age, I realized I saw the world differently from everyone else, including my mother. It wasn’t her I was challenging, it was the world. But, of course, my mother knew that. That’s what worried her.”

The first 15 minutes of “Cruella” show her childhood at 5 years old (played by Billie Gadsdon) and at 12 years old (played by Tipper Seifert-Cleveland), with Estella and Catherine (who has work experience as a maid) living in an unnamed suburban part of England. As a 12-year-old, Estella enrolled in a new school and was bullied by boys. Because she physically fought back, she often landed in the school headmaster’s office.

Because she was usually blamed for fights that she didn’t start, Estella learned early on not to trust authority figures. One bright spot to her miserable experiences at school was that she made a friendly acquaintance with a fellow classmate named Anita Darling (played by Florisa Kamara), but they didn’t hang out with each other enough to form a close friendship. Estella is an only child, and her closest companion is a stray, mixed-breed brown puppy she found in an outdoor garbage bin. She names the dog Buddy.

Estella gets in so much trouble at school that she’s eventually expelled by the headmaster or withdrawn from the school by her mother. The movie has what’s supposed to be a funny scene of Catherine debating with the headmaster (played by Leo Bill) over who made the decision first for Estella to leave the school. It’s another version of “You can’t fire me because I quit” schtick that doesn’t work very well in this scene.

At any rate, Catherine decides that she and Estella need a fresh start in the big city of London. But first, Catherine says they have to visit someone who can help them finance their relocation. Catherine seems reluctant to ask this person for help, but one evening, she drives herself and Estella to a grand estate called Hellman Hall, which is located on the top of a cliff.

A lavish costume ball is taking place at Hellman Hall. Before she gets out of the car, Catherine takes off a necklace with a red circular stone. This necklace, which Catherine describes as a “family heirloom,” is a big part of the story that’s linked to family secrets that are exposed later in the movie. Catherine tells Estella to stay and hide in the car.

But, of course, rebellious and curious Estella doesn’t stay in the car. Estella takes the necklace with her while she and Buddy crash the costume ball, Estella gets caught by a valet named John (played by Mark Strong), and the expected mayhem ensues. Three aggressive Dalmations give chase to Estella.

Estella gets cornered and hides near the cliff, where she sees Catherine talking to a woman (whose back is facing Estella) and asking the mystery woman to borrow some money. Suddenly, the Dalmations charge and jump on Catherine, who falls off of the cliff to her death. A horrified Estella runs away with Buddy and accidentally drops the necklace in the chaos.

An orphaned Estella is wracked with guilt because she blames herself for her mother’s death. With her dog Buddy in tow, Estella is now homeless and living on the streets of London. And it’s where she meets two other street urchins who are the same age as she is: somewhat dimwitted Horace (played by Joseph MacDonald) and intuitive Jasper (played by Ziggy Gardner), who both eventually take Estella under their wing. They make money as beggars, thieves and con artists.

The movie then fast-forwards 10 years later. It’s 1974, and Estella (played by Stone) is now living with Horace (played by Paul Walter Hauser) and Jasper (played by Joel Fry) in a large warehouse-styled loft. They are still being grifters for money, with some help from a white and brown terrier mix dog named Buddy and a Chihuahua named Wink. There’s a montage of this team of thieves working in tandem to do things like pickpocket wallets or steal jewelry from a jewelry store by posing as customers.

Estella (who wears a red wig to hide her distinctive black-and-white hair) designs a lot of the clothes that she, Horace and Jasper wear as disguises. Her ultimate goal is to become a famous and successful fashion designer. And her biggest idol is a designer named The Baroness (played by Thompson), who is considered to be one of the top haute couture designers in the fashion industry. The Baroness is also the boss from hell, who demeans and insults almost everyone she’s in contact with, and she takes credit for her employees’ work.

“Cruella” wastes some time setting up the convoluted circumstances that led to Estella working for The Baroness, whose first name is not mentioned in the movie. First, Jasper embellished Estella’s résumé/CV, and he found a way to get it into a stack on a hiring manager’s desk at a high-end clothing boutique called Liberty. Somehow, Estella was hired for an entry-level position at Liberty without even interviewing for the job. Jasper tells Estella this news one day. And she’s elated, because working at Liberty is a dream job for her. Naturally, Liberty carries fashion by The Baroness.

But the entry-level job at Liberty isn’t what Estella thought it would be. She’s the store housekeeper, which means that she mostly has cleaning duties. Meanwhile, her snooty boss Gerald (played by Jamie Demetriou) doesn’t care that Estella is an aspiring fashion designer and ignores her suggestions on how to style the store’s displays. Gerald just wants Estella to shut up and clean when she’s at work.

Horace thinks there could be some kind of thieving angle they can work in Estella’s Liberty job, but Estella and Jasper both insist that this job will be off-limits to their con games. Jasper seems to be in tune to Estella’s desire to break into the fashion industry honestly. Does that mean Estella, Jasper and Horace will straighten out their lives and leave their criminal ways behind? Of course not.

One day, Estella walks into a vintage clothing shop called Second Time Around and meets an androgynous sales clerk named Artie (played by John McCrea), who’s clearly influenced by David Bowie’s 1970s glam rock style. Predictably, Artie becomes Estella’s flamboyant sidekick, which seems expected when there’s a scripted movie that takes place in the fashion industry. Artie is very sassy, but unfortunately, viewers will find out almost nothing about Artie while watching “Cruella.” He seems like a fascinating character who deserves more of a storyline.

Estella grows increasingly frustrated by her dead-end job at Liberty. And so, one night, she gets drunk, goes to the store when it’s closed, and completely rearranges Liberty’s front-window display to make it look like an anarchist punk took over the space. She passes out and wakes up the next morning as the store is opening for the day.

And guess who happens to be visiting the store at that moment? The Baroness. Estella’s boss Gerald panics because there isn’t time to change the window display back to what it was. The Baroness wants to know who did the window display. Gerald points to Estella, but he says that she’s been fired.

However, viewers shouldn’t be surprised that The Baroness loves the display because it’s so edgy. She gives Estella her business card. And it isn’t long before Estella is working as a junior designer at The Baroness’ chic designer workshop.

Estella soon finds out that The Baroness is a tyrant boss. And this is where “Cruella” looks like Disney’s version of “The Devil Wears Prada,” except that Estella doesn’t battle with any co-worker peers and she doesn’t get involved in any romances. Through a series of circumstances, the rest of the movie is about Estella getting revenge on The Baroness, as they try to out-do each other as diva villains.

Most of Estella’s revenge plans are done under her alter ego Cruella. Viewers are supposed to believe that during much of the Cruella/Baroness feud, The Baroness doesn’t figure out that Cruella and Estella are the same person, just because Estella has red hair and wears glasses while on the job. It doesn’t make The Baroness look very smart, so it dilutes some of the comeuppance competition between The Baroness and Cruella/Estella.

And the tactics used by Cruella fall into catty stereotypes of women being cruel over who looks better, with Cruella doing some form of “The Baroness is an old has-been” type of humiliation. The Baroness has a formal Black and White Ball where the attendees are require to wear only black and/or white, but Cruella crashes the event by wearing a bright red dress. In another scene, Cruella upstages The Baroness at a high-profile gala, by literally wearing black makeup on her face that reads “The Future.”

And in another scene, with Jasper and Horace’s help, Cruella outshines The Baroness at another public event. The Baroness is prevented from getting out of her car when she arrives. Cruella stands on the car and unfurls a dress that has the words “The Past” pointing down at The Baroness.

Meanwhile, Anita Darling (played by Kirby Howell-Baptiste) is now working as a society columnist for a Daily Mail-type tabloid newspaper called Tattletale. She has been reporting on Cruella’s shenanigans in her column. And because Anita is someone with common sense, she immediately figures out that her former school acquaintance Estella is really Cruella.

In her coverage of the Cruella/Baroness rivalry, Anita seems to side with Cruella. And so, one day, The Baroness confronts Anita about it and demands that Anita help The Baroness find out Cruella’s true identity. “Don’t cry,” The Baroness tells Anita. When a calm Anita says that she’s not crying. The Baroness gives a slight pause and says ominously, “You will.” It’s an example of how comedically gifted Thompson is in this villain role.

It should come as no surprise that The Baroness owns Hellman Hall and the Dalmatians that Estella/Cruella saw that fateful night when Catherine died. Therefore, there’s a long part of the movie where Estella wants to get back the lost necklace from The Baroness. Various schemes are put in place. And at one point, the Dalmatians get kidnapped.

Because “Cruella” is supposed to be a family-friendly movie, nothing too disturbing happens in the story. However, much like director Gillespie’s 2017 dark comedy film “I, Tonya,” the title character is often upstaged by a bigger scene-stealing villain. Thompson’s The Baroness actually becomes more riveting to watch than Cruella in many scenes.

It’s not that Cruella isn’t potent in her own right, but she’s often conflicted about how evil she wants to become while getting revenge. There’s no ambiguity for The Baroness, and Thompson seems to be reveling in being an unabashed villain in a lot of the showdown scenes. As Cruella, Stone is perfectly cast and plays the role with the right combination of toughness and vulnerability, but there’s no denying that Thompson is a formidable presence too. Cruella gets a despair-driven monologue which is one of the film’s emotional standouts.

Aside from Stone and Thompson working so well together in “Cruella,” the movie’s other atrributes are its costume design by Jenny Beavan and production design by Fiona Crombie. (Tom Davies handled the eyewear design.) The makeup and hairstyling are also outstanding. There are set designs in the movie that look right out of a fairy tale, which is clearly the intention.

However, the “Cruella” screenplay needed a lot of improvements. There’s a big reveal in the movie about Catherine’s death that has a major inconsistency/plot hole that would require a certain person to almost be in two places at once to commit a certain act. The timeline just doesn’t add up.

And the movie’s visual effects are hit-and-miss. Some of the scenes with the Dalmations obviously used CGI dogs, not real dogs. And there’s a scene with a big fire that looks too fake, because more characters should’ve gotten fire burns in that scene, but they were able to unrealsitically walk away unscathed.

And most of the supporting characters are underdelevoped. Estella has been living with Jasper and Horace for several years, but viewers don’t learn anything interesting about these two Estella/Cruella confidants by the time the movie ends. And, if we’re being honest, the casting of this trio is age-inappropriate. Estella, Jasper and Horace are supposed to be in their early 20s, but the actors in these roles look at least 10 years older than that, because they are. That doesn’t take away their ability to act in the roles, but they just don’t look entirely convincing as people who are supposed to be in their early 20s.

There’s just so much untapped potential for the movie’s supporting characters, who are really just incomplete sketches with limited personalities. All the supporting characters—including Anita, John and The Baroness’ attorney Roger (played by Kayvan Novak)—just react to whatever Estella/Cruella or The Baroness does. The Baroness has a lackey assistant named Jeffrey (played by Andrew Leung), who is constantly by her side, but Jeffrey doesn’t say an entire word during the movie.

The way that the soundtrack songs are used in “Cruella” borders on jukebox placement instead of feeling organic. It’s a good selection of songs, but sometimes they blare in places that seem way too intrusive and distracting. At times, it just seems like shameless shilling to buy the “Cruella” soundtrack.

And there’s a bombastic outdoor concert scene where Cruella makes a big entrance to The Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” with Artie singing as an emcee, Jasper playing a guitar and Horace being a DJ. This is the part of the movie where viewers who love punk music might be rolling their eyes, because there are no DJs in real punk music. The movie would’ve worked better if Cruella and her mates had more 1970s London punk authenticity, not a watered-down Hollywood version of this subculture. The adult Estella/Cruella, Horace and Jasper have a polished actor sheen to them that isn’t entirely consistent with these characters who are supposedly to be scrappy con artists who grew up on the streets.

The scenes with the adult Cruella are supposed to take place in 1974. However, some of the soundtrack choices might annoy pop music aficionados who will notice that there a few songs in the movie that were released after 1974, such as Electric Light Orchestra’s “Livin’ Thing” (released in 1976) and Blondie’s “One Way or Another” (released in 1978). These are small details, and a movie director who really cares about musical accuracy wouldn’t make these mistakes. The “Cruella” soundtrack also has the obligatory new and original song that will undoubtedly be promoted for awards consideration: Florence + the Machines’ “Call Me Cruella,” which was co-written by Florence Welch and “Cruella” composer Nicholas Britell.

Despite some of the flaws with the screenplay, editing and song selections, “Cruella” can be enjoyable to watch if viewers brace themselves for the overly long run time. “Cruella” isn’t a superhero epic origin story, although at times it seems to want to use that template when it should have been a movie under 100 minutes. “Cruella” is a movie that’s supposed to be a fun and cheeky romp, but the jokes and slapstick comedy just aren’t very imaginative and edgy as a young Cruella is supposed to be. If not for the great comedic talents of Stone and Thompson, “Cruella” would be nothing but cast members playing elaborate dress-up in a bloated and mediocre Disney movie.

Walt Disney Pictures will release “Cruella” in U.S. cinemas and at a premium extra cost on Disney+ on May 28, 2021. The movie’s release date on digital, VOD, Blu-ray and DVD is on September 21, 2021.

Review: ‘In the Earth,’ starring Joel Fry, Ellora Torchia, Reece Shearsmith and Hayley Squires

April 26, 2021

by Carla Hay

Joel Fry and Ellora Torchia in “In the Earth” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

“In the Earth”

Directed by Ben Wheatley

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed part of England, the sci-fi horror film “In the Earth” features a racially diverse cast (white people , black people and one person of Indian heritage) who mostly portray scientists during an unnamed pandemic.

Culture Clash: Two scientists encounter terror while they are walking in the woods. 

Culture Audience: “In the Earth” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching horror movies that are pretentiously abstract to cover up for a flimsy and repetitive plot.

Joel Fry and Hayley Squires in “In the Earth” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

It’s easy to see how “In the Earth” might be compared to the 1999 horror film “The Blair Witch Project,” because both movies are mainly about people possibly being trapped in the woods while an evil spirit might be on the loose. However, “In the Earth” is a much more incoherent film, with a lazy ending and too many scenes that drag monotonously with no scares. The movie has an over-reliance on strobe lights. It’s not terrifying. It’s annoying. Maybe the filmmakers thought the strobe lights would trick people into thinking that “In the Earth” was a good horror movie.

Written and directed by Ben Wheatley, “In the Earth” takes place in an unnamed part of England during an unnamed pandemic. There’s a very small number of people in the movie’s cast, so at least viewers won’t be confused by too many characters being in the film. What viewers will be confused by is why this pretentious and boring movie wastes a potentially good story concept on idiotic chase scenes and repetitive scenes that go nowhere.

“In the Earth” begins with Martin Lowery (played by Joel Fry) arriving at a place in a wooded area called Gantalow Lodge. He meets with a man named James (played by John Hollingworth), and they talk about an unseen doctor who’s handling lockdown procedures. It soon becomes apparent that the lodge is some kind of meeting place for scientists, although they don’t seem to be doing any real work. One of the first things that Martin says is that “Bristol took a bad hit after the third wave.”

Martin meets another scientist at the lodge named Alma (played by Ellora Torchia), who gives the impression that she’s all about work. Soon after they meet, Alma and Martin are in a room together when he sees some children’s illustrations of Parnag Fegg, a witch-resembling entity that’s part of local folklore. Parnag Fegg is described as “the spirit of the woods.”

Alma mentions that a few kids went missing in the 1970s. And because this is a horror movie, viewers are supposed to automatically think that Parnag Fegg could have had something to do with these disappearances. Or maybe it was the Blair Witch, because “In the Earth” rips off a lot of the same ideas as “The Blair Witch Project,” except for the “found footage” format.

After Martin gets a medical test to make sure that he’s not infected with the unnamed virus that’s plaguing the world, he finds out that he and Alma have to get some equipment from a scientist named Dr. Wendle, who used to be Martin’s boss. Martin isn’t too thrilled about it because he parted ways with Dr. Wendle on bad terms that he won’t talk about when Alma asks Martin why he no longer works with Dr. Wendle. Alma tells Martin that the only way they can get to Dr. Wendle’s place is to walk through the woods, and the trip will take two days. Of course it will take that long, because there has to be an illogical excuse for why this moronic movie is stretched into a tedious slog.

After all, the filmmakers don’t want Alma and Martin to drive to their destination because using a vehicle means that they would get there faster and a vehicle would give them a better chance to escape when they inevitably get stuck in the woods. And whatever this “equipment” is, it must not be that large, because Alma has insisted that they have to walk to Dr. Wendle’s place, which means they’re not using a vehicle to bring the equipment back. Don’t expect “In the Earth” to answer basic questions that would make this movie more coherent.

And so, Alma and Martin, who are supposed to be intelligent scientists, start walking for a two-day trek in the woods with no camping equipment and no first-aid supplies. They also show no signs of bringing any phones or emergency communication equipment with them. And you know what that means in a badly written horror movie like this one: Someone’s going to get injured and they can’t call for help.

Whenever “In the Earth” can’t come up with anything clever or logical in the story, Alma and Martin pass out for unknown reasons and wake up to something that’s supposed to be horrifying. It isn’t long before this gimmick happens. Gunshots are heard, the strobe lights begin pulsing, and Alma screams. And the next thing you know, Martin wakes up and finds Alma unconscious. He’s able to revive her, but they discover that their shoes are missing. And only their shoes.

Alma and Martin act as if walking in the woods with no shoes is just a minor pesky problem that won’t interrupt their schedule to get to Dr. Wendle’s place. And sure enough, Martin gets injured when he steps on something sharp that gives him a big, bloody gash on his left foot. Because Martin and Alma were too dimwitted to bring emergency medical supplies, they can’t properly treat Martin’s foot injury.

Another gimmick that the movie repeats on a very irritating loop is using any injuries that Martin gets (yes, there are more that happen later in the story) as excuses to have gross-out close-ups of these injuries. These close-ups are intended to make viewers squirm, but they aren’t really scary. They’re just bloody and gratuitous. When Martin’s foot gets infected, it’s easy to predict what will happen.

During their barefoot walk in the woods, Alma and Martin encounter a disheveled and dirty man, who gives the impression that he’s homeless, because when he first meets them, he’s relieved that Martin and Alma are not park rangers who will report him. This stranger introduces himself as Zach (played by Reece Sheersmith), and he notices that Alma and Martin aren’t wearing shoes and that Martin has an injured foot.

And so, Zach invites them to his makeshift camp site, where he says he has spare shoes they can wear. He also has medical supplies to treat Martin’s wound. But predictably, Zach isn’t such a friendly stranger after all. And the movie goes downhill from there in some nonsensical scenes involving torture, chases in the woods and bizarre photo shoots. Martin accumulates enough serious injuries that would leave a person in medical shock and incapacitated in real life, but there he is running around as if he’s only got a limp.

Dr. Olivia Wendle (played by Hayley Squires) is eventually seen in the movie. The mystery of Parnag Fegg comes in and out of the story like a story angle in search of a cohesive plot. But viewers shouldn’t expect major questions to be answered by the end of the film. “In the Earth” doesn’t even have suspenseful chase scenes, because every time a villain corners a victim or victims, nothing really happens except some talking and people passing out when the strobe lights start yet again.

Viewers won’t learn much about the characters in the film and certainly won’t care much about them either. All of the actors in the cast are quite dull in their roles, although Torchia makes an effort to bring some emotional depth to her Alma character. It’s not saying much, because all of the characters in the film are hollow, with no backstories or memorable personalities.

The production design, cinematography and editing for “In the Earth” look like a poorly thought-out student film. It’s as if the filmmakers decided to throw in some strobe lights and psychedelic fever dream imagery all over the movie to try to pass it off as artistic horror cinema. There is absolutely nothing scary about this movie.

And worst of all, “In the Earth” has such an obnoxiously inflated tone of self-importance that it tries to fool viewers into thinking that they aren’t smart enough if they’re confused by anything in the movie. The ending is actually quite anti-climactic, and any explanation of what’s going on is badly filmed. “In the Earth” isn’t too smart for most people to understand. The reality is that it’s just a pointless movie that cares more about bombarding people with strobe lights than telling a good story.

Neon released “In the Earth” in select U.S. cinemas on April 16, 2021.

Review: ‘Love Wedding Repeat,’ starring Sam Claflin, Olivia Munn, Eleanor Tomlinson, Joel Fry, Freida Pinto, Jack Farthing and Aisling Bea

April 10, 2020

by Carla Hay

Allan Mustafa, Freida Pinto, Joel Fry, Olivia Munn, Sam Claflin, Tim Key, Jack Farthing, Aisling Bea and Eleanor Tomlinson in “Love Wedding Repeat” (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

“Love Wedding Repeat”

Directed by Dean Craig

Culture Representation: Taking place in Italy, the romantic comedy “Love Wedding Repeat” has a predominantly white British cast of characters (with some representation of Asians and one black/biracial person) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: At his sister’s wedding, a man tries to reconnect with a potential love interest and prevent a highly intoxicated uninvited guest from spoiling the wedding.

Culture Audience: “Love Wedding Repeat” will appeal mostly to people who have little or no expectations for a romantic comedy to be very romantic or very funny.

Sam Claflin and Olivia Munn in “Love Wedding Repeat” (Photo by Riccardo Ghilardi)

Imagine being at a wedding reception and being stuck at a table with mostly annoying people who say and do ridiculous things. That might give you an idea of what it’s like to watch “Love Wedding Repeat,” a very misguided attempt at being a romantic comedy. The movie (written and directed by Dean Craig) is based on the 2012 French film “Plan de Table,” which translates to “Table Plan” in English. “Plan de Table” was a flop with audiences and critics when it was released in France, so it’s kind of mind-boggling that the “Love Wedding Repeat” filmmakers wanted to do a remake of a flop. However, changing the setting to Italy, making it an English-language film with a mostly British cast, and altering some of the plot elements did not make “Love Wedding Repeat” an improvement on the original film.

“Love Wedding Repeat” is also split into two different storylines, with the same characters but with alternate endings. This split personality of the film ultimately falls flat, because it makes the first half of the film look like an even more of a time waster than the second half. The latter half is the one that’s supposed to have the “real” ending. The way that the movie transitions between the two storylines is clumsy at best. Penny Ryder, a Judi Dench sound-alike, does some brief voiceover narration playing the “oracle” of the movie, where she spouts some mystical-sounding mumbo jumbo about fate, destiny, and how one little action can have a big chain reaction on people’s lives.

In every movie with the word “wedding” in the title, there are two people in the story whom the audience is supposed to want to end up together. In “Love Wedding Repeat,” those two people are Jack (played by Sam Claflin) and Dina (played by Olivia Munn). At the beginning of the movie, it isn’t clear what Jack does for a living (he later tells Dina that he’s recently qualified to be a structural engineer), while Dina is an American journalist whose specialty is covering wars. They’re visiting Italy for some unknown reason and now have to go their separate ways back to their regular lives.

The movie begins with Jack and Dina having a starry-eyed romantic stroll in Italy in their last night together on their trip. Jack tells Dina, “This has been a pretty special weekend.” Dina replies, “You’re not as irritating as I thought you would be.” Dina is a friend of Jack’s younger sister Hayley, who apparently set them up on this blind date.

As he leans in to give a goodbye kiss to Dina, they’re suddenly interrupted by Jack’s former college classmate Greg (played by Alexander Forsyth), who literally comes out of nowhere to barge in between them and is completely oblivious that he’s ruined a romantic moment. The movie is filled with these types of unrealistic barge-ins where people randomly show up to cause uncomfortable situations.

Greg than proceeds to embarrass Jack by telling Dina that Jack used to have the nickname Mr. Wank in college because Jack was known for “wanking” (British slang for masturbating) a lot back then. Jack denies that he was the person with the nickname Mr. Wank, but based on how the scene is played, viewers are supposed to believe that Jack probably did have that nickname.

Meanwhile, Greg can’t take a hint that Jack and Dina want to be alone together (this movie is filled with socially clueless people), so he prattles on while Jack (who’s too spineless to end the conversation with Greg and get him to move along) watches with a frustrated expression on his face. Since Jack doesn’t have what it takes to get rid of Greg, Jack then makes the decision to say goodbye to Dina by giving her an uncomfortable handshake instead of a kiss. The disappointed look on Dina’s face shows that Jack had a chance to possibly continue their romantic connection, but he blew it.

The movie then fast forwards three years later. Jack is in Italy again, this time for the wedding of his sister Hayley (played by Eleanor Tomlinson), who is apparently marrying into a well-to-do Italian family, since the wedding is taking place at a large and beautiful estate. (The production design and cinematography are the best things about “Love Wedding Repeat.”)

Jack and Hayley’s parents are dead, so Jack will be the one to give away the bride. And wouldn’t you know that at this big wedding where there are hundreds of guests and numerous tables at the wedding reception, Jack will be seated at the same table as Dina, Jack’s ex-girlfriend Amanda (played by Freida Pinto) and Amanda’s current boyfriend Chaz (played by Allan Mustafa). It’s mentioned at some point in the movie that Jack and Amanda dated each other for two years after he and Dina first met each other in Italy, but the relationship between Jack and Amanda ended horribly because she was a difficult shrew. Jack describes Amanda as a “nightmare of a girlfriend.”

And apparently, Amanda hasn’t changed since she dated Jack. Amanda and Chaz are a bickering couple who are obviously mismatched. She’s cold-hearted, bossy, and shows a lot of contempt for Chaz, who is annoyed with her because he proposed to Amanda six months ago and she still hasn’t given him an answer. Chaz is so insecure that he’s fixated on comparing his penis size and sexual skills to Jack’s and other men’s, and Chaz constantly brags that he’s the best of them all. That’s essentially what his character is about for the entire movie. Meanwhile, it becomes apparent during the course of the film that Amanda still has some unresolved feelings for Jack.

Also seated at the same table are Jack’s close friend Bryan (played by Joel Fry), a high-strung, self-absorbed aspiring actor who wants to meet a famous Italian movie director who’s at the wedding; Rebecca (played by Aisling Bea), a tactless motormouth who has a crush on Bryan; and Sidney (played by Tim Key), a socially awkward car-insurance agent who’s desperate to give the impression that he’s not boring. There’s also a “surprise” uninvited guest who’s seated at the table: Marc (played by Jack Farthing), a former childhood classmate of Hayley’s who’s obsessively in love with her and very upset that she’s getting married to someone else.

Jack and Dina are very happy to see each other at the wedding. They’re both available—Dina recently broke up with a work colleague who cheated on her with several other women—but, of course, this wouldn’t be a romantic comedy without obstacles to keep this would-be couple apart. “Love Wedding Repeat” uses very flimsy plot devices to prevent Jack and Dina from spending a lot of time together at the wedding reception, even though they’re seated at the same table.

The main “obstacle” is that a very intoxicated Marc—who’s unexpectedly shown up at the wedding while high on cocaine, which he continues to snort throughout most of the movie—is determined to ruin the wedding by revealing a secret in order to humiliate Hayley and get her new husband to possibly break up with her. (It’s very easy to guess what the secret is.) Hayley panics when she sees Marc and demands that he leave, but he refuses.

Hayley’s new husband Roberto (played by Tiziano Caputo), another clueless person in the movie who can’t read body language and nonverbal signals, sees Hayley and Marc having a tense conversation together. Roberto is oblivious to the tension and instead goes over and assumes that Hayley is talking to an old friend.

Hayley tells Roberto that Marc was just about to leave because he showed up uninvited and there isn’t room for him at the wedding reception. But instead, Roberto insists that Marc stay because they can find room for him at a table. Of course, it happens to be the same table where Jack, Dina, Amanda, Chaz, Bryan, Rebecca and Sidney are seated.

But instead of getting security personnel or some other people to remove Marc from the premises, Hayley makes the dumb decision (as one does in stupid movies like this) to enlist Jack’s help by begging Jack to put a strong liquid sedative that she happens to have in her purse and secretly put the drug in Marc’s water glass at the table where they’ll be sitting. Before the guests arrive in the ballroom where the wedding reception takes place, Jack sneaks in and puts some of the sedative in the glass next to Marc’s name card.

After Jack puts the sedative in the water glass and makes a hasty exit from the nearly empty room, a group of young kids who look to be about 5 to 7 years old then suddenly appear and head right to the same table, where they immediately rearrange all the name cards on the table and then immediately leave. It’s the only table in a roomful of tables where these kids pull this prank. Even for an already unrealistic romantic comedy, this pivotal scene has absolutely no credibility whatsoever. “Plan de Table”  had at least a more plausible way for the table name cards to be rearranged, since it was the ex-boyfriend who did it.

Of course, the rearrangement of the name cards means that Marc will not be the one who gets drugged with the sedative. In the first half of the movie, Bryan is the one who accidentally gets drugged. In the second half of the movie with the alternate storyline, Jack is the one who accidentally gets drugged.

The ending presented in the first half of the movie is actually pretty morbid, so when the movie’s “oracle” announces that viewers can see how one action can make things turn out in many different ways, you pretty much know by then how the movie will really end. Between the first and second storylines, there’s an unnecessary quick montage showing each scenario that would’ve happened if each person at Jack’s table had ingested the sedative in the drink, before getting to the scenario that Jack is the one who accidentally gets drugged.

Throughout the course of the film, there are plenty of wedding movie clichés, such as an intoxicated person making an embarrassing speech, a mishap with the wedding cake, a big fight, and a wedding guest getting unwanted attention from someone who wants to hook up with that person. And, of course, since the sedative is the catalyst for the “problems” in the movie, the person who ingested the drug becomes incoherent or falls asleep at the wrong times.

The movie also has several illogical aspects in order to set up a slapstick scenario. For example, Bryan is an actor who is Hayley’s “maid/man of honor,” and yet he’s shocked to find out on the day of the wedding that he’s expected to give a wedding speech, so he doesn’t have a speech prepared at all. And even though they are seated at the same table, Jack and Dina are mostly kept apart at the wedding in both storylines, because Jack is too busy running around trying to keeping Marc from ruining the wedding. Jack knows the secret that Marc wants to announce at the wedding, so Jack is frantic about not letting that happen.

In the movie’s first storyline, Dina also gets unwanted attention from Sidney, who’s worn a Scottish kilt and keeps complaining about how much the kilt “chafes” at his genitals. (You can bet this is used for at least one slapstick moment in the movie.) And in the alternate storyline in the second half of the film, it’s the famous Italian movie director Vitelli (played by Paolo Mazzarelli) who zooms in on Dina, which is an obstacle for a heavily drugged Jack to have some quality one-on-one time with Dina.

The biggest problem with this movie is that even in the often-unrealistic genre of romantic comedies, “Love Wedding Repeat” is filled with so many conversations and scenarios that are too phony to take. The people who end up coupling aren’t very believable together. And there are parts of the movie that are very dull. Bryan and Jack aren’t the only ones who fall asleep in this story. You might fall asleep too while watching this movie.

If you’re the kind of person who expects romantic comedies to have a big scene where a person frantically runs to catch up to someone and reveal true feelings before it’s too late, then you’ll be happy to know that “Love Wedding Repeats” delivers on that predictable trope too. It’s unfortunate that the movie’s cast, who are otherwise talented, are saddled with roles and dialogues that are obnoxious or incredibly boring and unoriginal. “Love Wedding Repeat” is a disappointing movie that certainly doesn’t need to be repeated through a remake or a sequel.

Netflix premiered “Love Wedding Repeat” on April 10, 2020.