Riding the crest of the indie ethnic wedding pic wave, Vanessa Parise’s crowd-pleasing and defiantly old-fashioned espousal of traditional values is less a celebration of warm, touchy-feely Italian culture than an unoriginal putdown of contemporary American (read New York/Hollywood) mores. New England-set pic moves briskly, propelled by an admirably determined, energetic optimism that (wo)manfully plows through a cliched script, pitilessly bouncy wall-to-wall music and uneven thesping. Winner of the Golden Starfish award at the Hamptons fest, “Kiss” boasts a charm-the-socks-off-’em perf by father of the bride Burt Young and may have what it takes to dazzle feel-good movie-craving auds nationwide.
Structured as a long flashback, film begins as a weeping bride searches for her inexplicably absent hubby-to-be, complete with ominous voiceover about her wedding day not being the happiest day of her life. The problem, evidently, is not the groom : The rub is the bride’s three stereotypically modern sisters who are immersed in their own selfish dramas.
Cute is the operative word for curly-topped blond bride Danni (Amanda Detmer), whose Goldie Hawn cheeriness, rounded figure, endearing little malapropisms, and decision to stay home, get married to the boy next door and have kids is diametrically opposed to the restless lifestyles of her slim, ambitious, bratty urban sisters. Before Danni’s sisters blow in, she and her supportive mother (Talia Shire) and gently senile grandmother (Frances Bay) work in tri-generational harmony on the wedding preparations. A twentysomething virgin, Danni even asks her mother about the birds and bees.
Predictably, the three sisters have made more successful but less appropriate and therefore less fulfilling choices. Niki (Brooke Langton), older sister and brains of the outfit, has gone Hollywood, starring in a “Baywatch”-y female cop show. Niki is escorted by her new boyfriend/manager, Marty, a character of such crass, distasteful insensitivity that he may read to some as a monument to anti-Semitism instead of anti-Hollywoodism. Niki dumps the creep in due course and reconnects to her old sweetheart Tom (a thoroughly engaging Sean Patrick Flanery).
Chrissy (played by helmer/writer Parise herself) is a cold, driven Gotham wheeler-dealer with tons of money but no man, so desperate, as the market plunges and her company starts to slide, that she makes a play for Niki’s boyfriend Marty.
Youngest “rebel” sister Toni (Monet Mazur), a motorcycling rocker, arrives with her band member and ladylove Amy (Alyssa Milano) whom she flauntingly kisses on the lips upon reentry into the family bosom.
There’s something almost daring in the reductive exaggeration of these cardboard figures, particularly in the hands of relatively inexperienced actors who can’t bring enough personality to redeem their characters’ one-dimensional fall from smalltown grace. Pic is unevenly divvied up between seasoned pros (Flanery, Shire and especially Young) who infuse the most banal line with ineffable tenderness, and tyros representing “alternative” lifestyles who mouth rationalizations they don’t seem to believe themselves. The one exception, Milano as a lesbian in love with Toni, effortlessly commands the screen as she tells off her lover for using her to shock the family.
When Danni rises in an uncharacteristic show of self-worth to denounce her siblings and all they represent, her gesture becomes a heroic act that resounds with almost patriotic zeal. Pic ends triumphantly with the three chastened sisters implicitly on the verge of cleaning up their acts as they bridesmaid an idyllic wedding on the beach.
Film’s jaunty neo-conservatism finds expression in a non-stop steady flowing pace and profits greatly from location work in quietly quaint locales. For Parise, true to pic’s message, doesn’t stray far from the nest, shooting in her showcased hometown of Westerly, R.I.