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Polish Wedding

movie review out of 4 Movie Review: Polish Wedding

Starring: Claire Danes, Lena Olin
Director: Jerry Crampton
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 101 Minutes
Release Date: July 1998
Genres: Comedy, Drama, Romance

*Also starring: Gabriel Byrne, Mio Takaki, Daniel Lapaine, Mili Avital, Philippe Leroy

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

"I am a queen. I have five children. I have a home" So declares Jadzia Pzoniak (Lena Olin), the matriarch of a large Polish-American family in Detroit, to which her not-so-secret lover, Roman (Rade Serbedzija) retorts, "If you're a queen, why are you here?" Why indeed? After all, the Detroit community photographed so well looks almost like the idyllic Florida location of Peter Weir's "The Truman Story". The townspeople are simple, hardworking ethnics. The members of the extended Pzoniak family include a baker, two office cleaners, and a cop. The church, which dominates the landscape, casts a forbidding gaze about the working-class community as though to insure at least a patina of family stability, celibacy for the young and unmarried, and innocence for all.

Novice writer-director Theresa Connelly punctures the sylvan scenario through a roundelay of vignettes that reveal the illusory nature of community. Jadzia looks for love because she married Bolek Pzoniak (Gabriel Byrne) not for love but for obligation: hers was a shotgun wedding which produced five healthy children, at least one of them is destined to repeat the miscalculation of the matriarch.

Connelly's "A Polish Wedding" tries to do for the Polish culture living in America what John Patrick Shanley accomplished for Italian-Americans in "Moonstruck." Shanley, an experienced playwright whose well-received film evoked its tone through the influence of moonlight, involved a great number of hilarious moments and madcap dialogue (as when during the course of a family dinner Olympia Dukakis tells her father-in-law "Feed one more bite of my food to your dogs, old man, and I'll kick you 'til you're dead!"). Though Connelly's film highlights the tense relationships among parents, in-laws and children who try to carve out happiness under the roof of their modest wooden home, the writer lacks Shanley's edge. Of the grudges the characters feel for others in "A Polish Wedding," none is evoked by such rollicking circumstances as that felt in "Moonstruck" by Nicolas Cage toward Danny Aiello when Aiello made Cage look the wrong way while slicing some bread and Cage lost his hand as a result.

That said, "A Polish Wedding" does have good ensemble performances by some talented, quirky actors, with Gabriel Byrne in the role of the laid-back baker who is aware of his wife's nocturnal goings-on and simply sighs with resignation and despondency; Lena Olin as the sexy mom who meets her lover in full military uniform, pretending frequent a meeting of the Polish Ladies' Auxiliary; and Clair Danes as the teenager, her mother's daughter, who climbs through windows to meet her boyfriend like Alice progressing through the looking glass in search of magic.

Connelly is more eager to establish a nostalgic tone, to re- create an American community that could have been found in the 1930s or 1940s, than she is in advancing a plot. To do this she relies heavily on Luis Bacalov's Fellini-esque music track and on a series of vignettes rather than a tightly-woven narrative. She sets up a flirtatious romance between young Chala (Claire Danes) and a young cop who gets her pregnant, Russell (Adam Trese), and as in most romantic movies puts enough obstacles in their path to delay the inevitable Polish wedding of the title. Despite the fairy-tale atmosphere of the entire story, credibility is created through the remarkable similarity in appearance and behavior of Jadzia and her daughter, the audience becoming as involved with one liaison as with the other. Given that the Pzoniak's married son Ziggy's (Daniel Lapaine) baby cries constantly, and that daughter-in-law Sofie (Mimi Avital) suffered a painful birth, Sofie is determined to avoid having more children-- which sets up increasing frustration for grandchild-loving Jadzia.

The appealing actors take us through a few laughable moments from time to time, particularly one in which the entire Pzoniak family marches on the home of the man who impregnated Chala, ultimately forcing him to marry in much the way that Jadzia herself entered into a coerced union with her unhappy husband, Bolek. Yet this is not the tale of a dysfunctional family but of one which has resigned itself to a life of brief, joyful assignations only to recognize by the final curtain that Dan Quayle may have been right.

Copyright 1998 Harvey Karten

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