The Big Wedding, the newest marriage comedy written and directed by Justin Zackham and starring Robert De Niro, Susan Sarandon, and Diane Keaton, is getting walloped by reviewers, but it’s really not a bad film if you arrive at the theater with reasonable expectations. It’s a funny – okay, vulgar – movie with a big-name cast, and Robin Williams – who I feel is good in every role – plays a Catholic priest.
Whether or not you’re interested in seeing Topher Grace as Jared, the 30-year-old virgin (essentially an older Eric from ‘That 70s Show,’ Grace’s breakout role’) or Christine Ebersole as the aptly named “Muffin,” mother of the bride to be (Amanda Seyfried), there are some things worth looking out for in The Big Wedding – and they’re on the walls in the big house where said “big wedding” takes place, and in De Niro’s character, Don’s, studio. This is where you can see the work of two Connecticut artists: David Gesualdi of Bethel and David Boyajian of New Fairfield.
The Big Wedding was filmed in the summer of 2012 in a lakeside home in Greenwich, and the art department created a sculpting studio for Don by removing the doors on the standalone garage. The next step was making it look like an artist’s studio, and that’s where Boyajian and Gesualdi came in.
Gesualdi, who sculpted the war memorial outside Bethel’s town hall and the statue of P.T. Barnum outside the library, was recommended as a stone carver to the Wedding crew by the Silvermine Arts Center in New Canaan. Gesualdi has shown his work in Boyajian’s gallery at the Sculpture Barn in New Fairfield, where Boyajian creates his own work and teaches workshops in metal, stone, and wood sculpting. The crew landed on the Sculpture Barn website, and not long after that, both Boyajian’s and Gesualdi’s studios were cleaned out: everything, from hammers to stone slabs to maquettes to chairs – even Boyajian’s wood burning stove – were rented from the artists to fill out Don’s studio for six weeks of filming.
Gesualdi’s etchings adorn the walls of the house and the studio in Wedding, and in the studio scenes, you can glimpse the torso of Boyajian’s wood sculpture “Maple Seed Dancer” and a plaster cast of a head from Gesualdi’s war memorial (The sculptures in the foreground of the studio are neither Boyajian’s or Gesualdi’s. Their work is in the background of these scenes – so, that sculpture of the reclining, pleasure-seeking woman in the first studio scene was created by another hired sculptor).
“They unbolted every mirror, shelf, everything,” Gesualdi said at a pizza party at his studio after he, Boyajian, and a bunch of friends saw the movie on April 26, opening night, at Bethel Cinema. “They got another sink though, because I wouldn’t let them have my sink. But then they brought this sink back [pointing to a shot of the sink on set] and I gave it to my dad. He put it in his studio.”
Gesualdi was also commissioned to carve an intricate box that appears in the film, and he was invited to the set to check out the recreated studio and to coach De Niro and Katherine Heigl (who plays Lyla, Don’s daughter) in an intimate sculpting scene. Gesualdi suggested to Zackham that the characters use rifflers – long sculpting tools with a curved file on either end – instead of the chisels written into the scene.
“I told the director that I don’t see how they’re going to be able to talk while he’s chiseling, why don’t we use a riffler instead,” Gesualdi recalled.
The scene was ultimately edited down to focus on Don and Lyla’s conversation.
“De Niro really wanted to get that scene right,” said Gesualdi. “He kept calling me over, asking a ton of questions. I think he really got it right. He was really working the riffler, asking me how would you hold it. I’m bummed that it wasn’t in there.”
“Well, they were in and out of that studio at least three or four times in the movie, so that’s pretty impressive,” Boyajian reflected. “It became an important element and tie-in.”
While both artists would have liked to see more actual sculpting in the film, both acknowledged that it wasn’t an integral part of the plot – just Don’s profession, which must have been lucrative for him to land that house in Greenwich. And it meant some money in their own pockets.
“We made some money, and I paid a portion of my son’s tuition with that,” Boyajian said (his son is studying architecture at Syracuse University). “That summer, I was going ‘Where’s the next thing going to come from?’ and it rolled in. And it was great, it really was.”
Here’s another interesting local tie to The Big Wedding: Robin Williams’ character’s name, Father Moinighan, is strikingly similar to that of the real-life Father Moynihan, the former pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Roman Catholic Church in Greenwich, who was sentenced to five months in prison for federal obstruction of justice last summer, while Wedding was being filmed. Moynihan apparently used about $300,000 of the church’s funds to pay for personal expenses and did a bad job of lying about it.