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(1998) (Lena Olin, Gabriel Byrne) (PG-13)

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Drama/Comedy: The matriarch of a Polish American family must deal with her rebellious teenage daughter's pregnancy while carrying on her own adulterous affair.
Jadzia Pzoniak (LENA OLIN) is the matriarch of a large Polish American family living in Detroit. Proud of the four sons and one daughter she's raised with her passive baker husband, Bolek (GABRIEL BYRNE), Jadzia spends her days as a cleaning lady and at least one night a week carrying on an affair with a local businessman, Roman Kroll (RADE SERBEDZIJA).

Bolek suspects something is amiss with his wife, but his nighttime job drains most of his energy and the rest he focuses on their rebellious teenage daughter, Hala (CLAIRE DANES). She's been sneaking off at night mischievously exploring her sexuality, a behavior then eventually gets her pregnant by Russell Schuster (ADAM TRESE), a young local cop.

As Hala tries to cope with her pregnancy and simultaneously being named to represent a festival of the virgin at her local church, she comes to realize that she's simply following in the parental footsteps of both her mother and sister-in-law, Sofie (MILI AVITAL), who got pregnant before getting married to Hala's brother, Ziggy (DANIEL LAPAINE).

While Hala confronts Russell with her "problem," Bolek eventually takes steps to find out what his wife is really up to on the nights she leaves. As the family comes to the point where these problems nearly drive them apart, their strong familial bonds ensure that everything will be okay.

Unless they're fans of someone in the cast, it's not very likely.
For mature thematic elements, sensuality and language.
  • LENA OLIN plays a domineering, Polish American matriarch who's proud of her family, yet carries on a weekly adulterous affair.
  • GABRIEL BYRNE plays the near passive husband whose only recourse to being beaten down by life seems to be endless chain smoking.
  • CLAIRE DANES plays a rebellious teenager (and unemployed high school dropout) who sneaks out at night for amorous encounters, one of which gets her pregnant.


    OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
    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.

    Here's a quick look at the film's content. Profanity is heavy with 2 "f" words and a small assortment of others, and several sexual encounters occur. While we don't ever see anything explicit (we see the beginning or ending of such activity), one results in a teenager getting pregnant, and the family seems to accept this as par for the course (since the other women have similarly gotten pregnant before being married).

    That teenager is openly rebellious and often sneaks out of the house at night, and the mother has an affair that she tries to keep secret from her husband. Beyond all of that and a scene where the women in the family briefly drink shots of liquor, the rest of the categories have little in the way of major objectionable material. Even so, you may want to take a closer look at the content should you or someone else in your home wish to see this film.

  • Hala hangs out with three other teens, and the two guys there are drinking what's presumably alcohol from brown paper bags.
  • We see an open bottle on a table in Bolek's bakery, but can't tell whether it's liquor or not.
  • Jadzia, Sofie, and Hala drink shots of liquor while celebrating their common unmarried pregnancy bond and Hala's upcoming "Polish wedding."
  • None.
  • Jadzia has both for carrying on an affair.
  • Hala has both for continually sneaking out of the house at night, and for not telling her priest that she's pregnant (while stilling planning to head a festival of the virgin event).
  • Ziggy and Sofie "make" Jadzia and/or Hala watch their baby because they're too tired or they think it's Hala's duty.
  • Russell has both for initially not wanting anything to do with Hala after learning that she's pregnant, and some may see his wanting her to have an abortion (never exactly referred to, but heavily suggested) as having both as well. He also comments that you only to have to pull on the ear of "Polock girls" to get them pregnant (and says that girls are "always ready and waiting" for a family).
  • Jadzia calls her daughter-in-law a gypsy (although they otherwise seem to get along).
  • None.
  • None.
  • Phrases: "Screwing" (sexual), "Jerk," "Ingrate" and "Bastard."
  • Hala's younger brother loudly belches at the breakfast table.
  • Hala gives "the finger" to Ziggy, and later to a nosey neighbor.
  • Hala often sneaks in and out of the house through a basement window.
  • None.
  • A tiny bit of playfully suspenseful music accompanies a few scenes.
  • None.
  • At least 2 "f" words, 2 "s" words, 1 hell, 1 damn, and 2 uses of "For God's sakes," "My God," "Good God," and "Jesus" and 1 use each of "G-damn," "Mother of God," "Oh God," "Oh Jesus," "Jesus and Mary," "Oh Christ," "By God" and "Holy mother of God" as exclamations.
  • During the opening credits we see many classical paintings (ie. Renaissance type) of nude women (and some children) in various poses that show bare breasts and occasional full frontal nudity (but again, they are centuries old paintings).
  • At night we see a man's hand running up the inside of Hala's thigh (under her skirt) as both lie on the ground. We see a pleasured reaction on her face, and he asks if she likes what he's doing (she says yes). Nothing else happens, however, as Jadzia comes to the window and the young man runs away.
  • We see Jadzia in her bra and slip while getting dressed, and later shows some cleavage in her bra in a similar scene.
  • Jadzia pulls Roman (the man with whom she's having an affair) onto the bathroom floor she's cleaning and straddles him. She then undoes his shirt and he eventually rolls over on top of her (implying that they may have sex there).
  • Jadzia shows a lot of cleavage while leaning out a window.
  • The family talks about the upcoming festival of the virgin and one of the sons asks how they really know if the girl chosen to lead the festival is really a virgin. Jadzia says that you can tell by looking, and after a pause, adds, "It's in the eyes." Everyone looks around the table at the others and points to one of the guys and exclaims, "Virgin!"
  • Hala undoes Russell's shirt and then his belt while they stand out in an open lot. She then unbuttons her shirt, but we don't see anything. We do, however, see him getting up from having been on top of her (and she covers her bare breasts with her arms), and she asks why he stopped. We later learn that she got pregnant from this (or another) encounter.
  • Hala and Russell make out on the ground and it's implied that they have sex. Upon returning home, Hala's younger brother asks where she was and what she was doing. She responds that she was "out with a bad boy....screwing." She then adds, "Now that you know who, do you want to know how? (pause) Like there was no tomorrow."
  • Roman undoes Jadzia's dress and we see her in her bra as well as some cleavage.
  • When Russell's father tells the Pzoniak's that his son is "upstanding" (as they've arrived to confront him about getting Hala pregnant), Jadzia chimes in, "There's only one thing about that boy's body that's upstanding."
  • Bolek and Jadzia kiss in bed and it's implied that they have sex.
  • Although certainly not explicit, we do see Hala's nude baby.
  • Bolek smokes throughout the film, while Hala and her younger brother also smoke several times (the kid often lights the cigarettes for Hala). In one scene, the three stand in the room and share two cigarettes among them (after the father discovers the other two secretly doing so).
  • Jadzia and Roman also smoke a few times, as do several minor characters.
  • Jadzia's affair obviously puts a strain on her marriage to Bolek, and they come to near blows after he finally confronts her, but everything turns out okay in the end.
  • Both parents are upset with Hala for sneaking out, and likewise have the same reaction when they learn that she's pregnant.
  • Families that get through crises by having strong familial bonds.
  • Adulterous affairs.
  • Teen pregnancy -- it seems to be accepted here since both Jadzia and Sofie found themselves in the same state earlier in their life.
  • Hala's younger brother loudly belches at the breakfast table, causing Bolek to slap him on the back of the head.
  • A priest briefly whacks an altar boy for pulling a prank of giving the wrong name of the person chosen to lead the festival of the virgin.
  • Hala smacks her younger brother when he states that her pregnancy test resulted in a positive reading.
  • Having discovered that her daughter snuck off at night again (but to her father's bakery), Jadzia drags Hala away by the hair.
  • After Jadzia kicks over a trash can, her sons kick open the door at the Schuster's home and drag Russell out into the yard (played comically).
  • Bolek chases and knocks Jadzia to the ground and raises his arm to strike her, but doesn't.
  • After learning that Hala isn't a virgin (but is leading the virgin festival), her priest tries to grab at her (to remove her from the proceedings) and then raises his arm to strike her, but Jadzia stops him.

  • Reviewed July 27, 1998

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