Released on Netflix earlier this year, Jenny’s Wedding is somewhat of an enigma. The film, which was originally independently produced, and then featured as part of an Indigogo campaign for post-production costs, stars Katherine Heigl, Tom Wilkinson, Linda Emond, Grace Gummer, and Alexis Bledel as a group of family and friends learning to cope with a daughter coming out as gay and announcing her impending marriage. While the cast is well-known and more than competent in their art, the movie itself is puzzling in its attempt to tell a story of growth, resistance, and eventual acceptance, while never seeming to actually embrace the people around which the story revolves.
I should start by saying that I am always skeptical of “coming out” pieces – whether it’s a play, a TV episode plot, a movie, etc. The arc itself is inherently tricky because of the sensitivity of the coming out trope, and it is easy for writers to fall into the trap of making that coming out process overly dramatic. That isn’t to say that coming out isn’t rightfully dramatic for those who do go through that process, but is merely to suggest that is doesn’t always need to be a thing of tragedy.
In Jenny’s Wedding, the coming out process is odd. The film starts in a church while Jenny’s (Heigl) parents talk about the possibility of Jenny having children and getting married as they watch her hold her godchild during the baptism ceremony. During the ceremony, Jenny is asked by the priest (as is tradition in baptism) if she renounces Satan and all of his acts. Jenny replies, “Well what if I don’t believe in Satan?” and the priest retorts, “Oh, just answer, will you?” This is a jarring beginning to the movie, especially if you know the plot going into it, because you know already at this point that Jenny is a lesbian. The scene with the priest is jarring on a surface level because one wouldn’t expect a priest to be so quick to let someone’s beliefs slide at a baptism ceremony, but even more so because it implicates that anyone who is homosexual likely will not believe in God, and even more so, may not renounce Satan. And yet, weirdly, at the end of the film, the couple is married in a church, which then begs the question: what was the point of the opening scene?
The scene then moves to the family house where Jenny’s mother (Emond), sister (Gummer), and father (Wilkinson) all wait to have various awkward conversations with her. Her sister brings up the fact that Jenny is always single, which leads to Jenny suggesting that maybe she isn’t single, and she just hasn’t introduced her significant other to the family. This leads to a bizarre plot in which her sister and mother both believe that she is having an affair with a married man. Jenny tells her father this isn’t the case, but still will not reveal any information about who her special someone might be.
In the next scene, Jenny goes home to her apartment where she lives with her roommate, Kitty (Bledel), who turns out to be – surprise! – her girlfriend. The chemistry between the two actresses is about as palpable as liquid nitrogen – which is to say, not at all. In fact, they don’t even kiss, they just hug extra tightly. It’s not that I’m a huge fan of on-screen romancing or anything, but to have two characters who are supposedly planning on getting married not share a more meaningful embrace than a hug in their first few minutes of screen time together seems strange, and frankly, a little apprehensive. When they do eventually kiss at their wedding, it’s believable, but certainly not passionate (although, I guess it’s slightly more authentic than the sucker-punch marriage in I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry).
After Jenny and Kitty are shown on screen together for the first time, Jenny determines that she has no choice but to tell her family about Kitty. In a supremely uncomfortable scene, Jenny chooses her parents’ anniversary party as the perfect time to come out, whisking away her mother in the middle of family festivities in order to announce bluntly, “I’m gay.” Emond, to her credit, does an excellent job as a disbelieving mother, stammering, “But you had boyfriends” and “I thought you were like me,” before leaving the room in utter confusion.
When Jenny tells her dad, it actually seems to go alright, until he asks her not to tell anyone else. Evidently, her mother and father, though seemingly as supportive as they can be, do not want to drag anyone else into the “mess.”
For the next 40 minutes of the movie, Jenny jumps through hoops trying to once again keep her secret, even adopting the “married man” story again – because apparently, it is more acceptable to sleep with a married man than to be gay. When she finally decides that enough is enough, she makes the incredibly awkward decision to drag Kitty along to a wake for a family friend, announcing to the mourners that Kitty is her partner of five years, and inexplicably asking Kitty in the middle of a heated argument with her father which one of them “wears the strap on.” Yikes.
In the end, the story unfolds how I suppose any of us could have guessed. Jenny’s mother and father are at first upset, but then eventually come around to realizing that the love of family is more important than the sex of the person a family member falls in love with. Though Jenny’s dad still has his hesitancies at the wedding and won’t look at the couple kiss (although who could blame him with that Anakin/Padme-like chemistry), his presence there signifies a change in attitude in the future, and the possibility that everything might just end up okay.
Overall, Jenny’s Wedding lacks creativity, but also lacks spark. Heigl and Bledel have no chemistry, which really detracts from their believability as a couple, and therefore makes it easier to see why someone might not see their relationship as authentic from the outside. Not that anyone else has the power to validate or invalidate another’s relationship, but having the characters do more than hug certainly would have made their romance seem a bit more real. Still, while Jenny and Kitty’s stories fell flat, Jenny’s mother and father’s individual stories were well-acted and for the most part, well-constructed. And, though her bizarre tirade about “green grass means that you’re happy” is a little far-fetched, Jenny’s sister also ends up coming into her own in the end, in a story that might be pulled a little too thin, but will still make you smile, in a sort of pitying way.
Taken as a coming out story, Jenny’s Wedding is a disappointment, with Jenny being perhaps the most unlikeable character and her relationship being perhaps the least believable. However, if you are able to focus on the rest of the cast and their journeys with their characters, it might just make the movie worthwhile – might.