Review: The Wedding Diary II

Marriage isn't a word, it's a sentence - a life sentence! Or so the joke goes, but this pessimistic, if not out-and-out ludicrous analogy, turns out to be strangely prophetic in the case of The Wedding Diary II, an intermittently charming but otherwise frustrating movie about marriage that seemed to last an eternity.

A follow up to The Wedding Diary (which I disliked a lot), Part 2 continues to chronicle the relationship between Wei Jie (Aniu) and Zhixin (Elanne Kwong),  who now, in addition to being newlyweds, have a bundle of joy to take care of. Wei Jie resigns from his job to take care of his baby son full-time, while Zhixin takes over the reins of her father's business. When her father (Zhu Houren) suffers from a stroke, problems pile up and cracks in the protagonists' marriage start to show. Further complicating things are the sudden appearance of Zhixin's half-sister, the existence of which no one in her family besides Colin (her father) is aware.

Less concerned with the clash of cultures/families that the first part was preoccupied with, The Wedding Diary II focuses more on being an authentic portrait of a young married couple's life. Which, I thought, would lend the film more heart, and more humour, but boy was I wrong. The film opens, promisingly enough, with a shot of a lamborghini whizzing along the road, and then the camera tracks a person's legs walking out of it. Cut to Wei Jie, whose colleagues admiringly acknowledge his presence as he waltzes past the corridors of his office. We'll learn, soon enough, that they're doing it not because of some lofty position he holds, but because he's about to resign. And we learn, unsurprisingly, that the Lamborghini doesn't belong to him, but to some jerk who gives Wei Jie a condescending glare.

All this is a deliberate effort to establish Wei Jie's middle-class bona fides, to make thunderously clear the disparity in social status between him and his wife. He's so middle-class, so unremarkable, so normal compared to Zhixin, that it makes him the natural candidate to take care of their child full-time, while she continues to scale new heights in her career. Reversing traditional gender roles - ambitious, go-getting father and nurturing, stay-home mother - isn't exactly a subversive gesture anymore in today's society, but nonetheless has the potential for humour, and the director Adrian Teh quite ably pulls out the laughs in the first 20 minutes or so.

The humour isn't exactly what you would call high-brow, and very often, was alternately too cutesy or scatalogical for my liking, but there were definitely parts that made me guffaw. But what's most pleasing (to me, at least) about this film is how often in the first 20-30 minutes it tries to make the central couple's wedding bliss a source of humour. Many comedies are adept at mining a married couple's tension for laughs, but I admired The Wedding Diary II, more so than its preceding film, for insisting that marital bliss can be as great a source of humour as marital discord. The film's unironic treatment of it is a generous move in our cynical times.

What comes after this first segment though proceeds to undo any goodwill garnered before. After Colin suffers a stroke, his long-lost daughter  appears and her sudden presence complicates family dynamics. Tension arises as a result. This needless sideplot seemed shoehorned into the film in order to facilitate the happily-ever-after denouement. (I don't believe I'm giving away any spoilers here, but all family tensions get resolved, and the leading couple's marriage becomes ever more solid). Instead of keeping the film on a comedic track, director Teh takes a meandering detour towards melodrama, and causes not-insignificant tonal unevenness.One moment the film seems to be mildly funny, the next it pulls out all the stops to make a bid for your tears.

The film's need to be taken seriously as a family drama hijacks the humour of the film, draining away much of my enjoyment of it. Which is not to say that a comedy can't also double as a family drama, of course, but after the first segment, the film is not longer good at tackling either genre. A family drama needs some organic dramatic momentum, not conveniently tacked on incidents to drive the narrative. And the acting by the lead characters seemed at odds with that of the supporting characters. While Aniu's sulky expressions and goofy antics, as well as Elanne Kwong's almost-unbearably cutesy voice -as I said in my review of Part 1, she sounds as though she just ingested helium in most of her scenes - and mannerisms lend themselves adequately to comedic material, the phoniness constantly drains any real sense of drama from the proceedings. God, I know that sounds so uncharitable, given that they are both nice, endearing personalities in real life, but in this case I can't bring myself to give these actors a pass because of that.

There are simply too many implausibilities to go through here without giving away spoilers,. I will say this though: plot developments in the middle and ending segment feel contrived at best, downright silly at worst. It's a problem that all-too-often plagues local commercial features: many directors and screenwriters somehow feel the need to turn Singapore films into a reaffirming statement on the Importance of Family, and hence coarsely shove in ridiculous plot turns in order to get to its destination.

Happy endings aren't necessarily a bad thing - we all love them! - but when it feels unearned and inauthentic, as is the case here, there's a nagging feeling that the filmmakers are desperately trying to patronize and pander to you. This may be annoying, but the contrivance wouldn't have been as dangerous if the movie wasn't so disingenuous about what it was trying to be; by claiming to be a "wedding diary", that is, a catalog of observations (sometimes explicitly conveyed to us via Wei Jie's voice-overs), the film makes pretenses at trying to get at something vital and raw about marriage and family. In the end, though, it's just another in a long line of films that perpetuates local cinema's facile notion of what "family" is.

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