A disjointed but funny look at a fictitious, blue collar, Polish American family, "Polish Wedding" manages to be enjoyable due to its winning cast and charmingly buoyant aura that permeates the film. That, accompanied by some nicely done individual scenes, allows the picture to overcome its mediocre and often unwieldy plot, resulting in a decent, but not great, hour and a half diversion in a darkened theater.
The title comes from an old tradition (according to the movie) where a man is forced under pressure to marry the woman he got pregnant, and therein lies the central theme of this story. All of the women in the Pzoniak family have come into a "family way" before getting married, and from Hala to new mother Sofie to long time mother Jadzia, the message seems to be that it's okay and that parenthood gets easier with time, especially when you have family around.
In fact, that's the driving force behind Jadzia, wonderfully played by Lena Olin ("Enemies, A Love Story," "Romeo is Bleeding"). Despite her adulterous needs and her troublesome daughter (who's simply following in her mother's footsteps), she still loves, and is fiercely proud of, the family to which she's given life. At one point, she adamantly states, "Making life and love. That's my religion."
Fortunately, her character, and those of the other main players, are drawn and portrayed in an interesting enough fashion so as to circumvent the otherwise unwieldy script. As such, first time writer/director Theresa Connelly has nicely captured the homogenous, yet idiosyncratic feel of a small town populated with a diverse, but charming collection of characters.
Nevertheless, they spend much of their time meandering their way through the movie -- which offers a hodgepodge of episodic moments that are occasionally interesting -- but don't add up to much of a collective or cohesive whole. While the plot does move along in a linear fashion -- from point A to B and so on -- it often takes more of a zigzag course rather than a straight line that nearly kills any dramatic or comedic momentum.
The film does benefit, however, from its winning cast and while the minor characters don't do much more than take up cinematic real estate, the leads are a fun and charming bunch. As mentioned earlier, Lena Olin is wonderful in her role. Perfectly capturing the concept of a woman who has made her family the focal point, as well as the pride and joy, of her life, Jadzia is always believable in her own way, and Olin delivers a great performance.
Gabriel Byrne ("The Usual Suspects") is also good as the world-weary father who's been driven to near passivity by his nighttime/early morning job, domineering wife, and household of family members who won't move out. While his Polish accent occasionally comes close to sounding too forced, Byrne otherwise gives a winning take on his easily sympathetic character.
As the young woman who finds herself reliving her mother's life but still stirring up problems, Claire Danes ("To Gillian On Her 37th Birthday," "Little Women") is occasionally outstanding in her role. Nicely balancing a mischievous childhood demeanor with the dismayed dissatisfaction of realizing her life as an adult isn't going to be what she thought, Danes is charming, fun to watch, and steals every scene she's in.
While some of the material -- in particular the adulterous affair and teen pregnancy -- might seem like depressing material, Connelly has wisely chosen to play everything with a light and whimsical touch and delivers several funny moments and bits of dialogue. Accompanied by a lively and comically upbeat score by Luis Bacalov that permeates much of the film, the proceedings are never heavy handed and often have a near fantasy like feel to them.
Charming and entertaining despite its faults, Connelly's feature film debut shows that she's got a great deal of potential and should only get better with time and the experience of putting more pictures under her belt. Easily getting the mood and characters just right, it's too bad the script isn't tighter to make this film a great deal better. As is stands, we give "Polish Wedding" a 5.5 out of 10.