There's no wedding in Polish Wedding, but that's the least of its troubles. Written and directed by Detroit native Theresa Connelly, and filmed entirely in Hamtramck and nearby neighborhoods, Polish Wedding has a distinct sense of place and two strong central performances from the talented Gabriel Byrne and Lena Olin going for it. What it lacks isn't just cohesion, but any real context for the baffling actions of its muddled characters.
Bolek (Byrne) and Jadzia Pzoniak (Olin) are parents to a large brood living in small Hamtramck quarters. Their four sons, aged from early teens to early 20s, toe the line established by their strong-willed, fiercely demanding mother, who regularly expresses her deep pride in them. One, Ziggy (Daniel LaPaine), has married Sofie (Mili Avital) and started his own family.
But their daughter, Hala (Claire Danes), is trouble. A high school dropout with no apparent agenda for rebellion, Hala hangs around the house --as the only girl, she gets her own room --and occasionally accompanies her beloved father around town.
In Connelly's view, women represent sex. Not just in terms of eliciting desire, but in the earth goddess, we-are-the-womb sort of way. So during Polish Wedding, Hala discovers her true calling: to go forth and multiply.
When the none-too-bright Hamtramck cop, Russell Schuster (Adam Trese), persistently sniffs around Hala, his fate is sealed. In one scene, Jadzia and Sofie counsel Hala, describing the ways they've successfully forced men to marry them by becoming pregnant --"Polish wedding" is used as a variation of shotgun wedding (!)
If all this weren't quite enough, Connelly raises the stakes by having a pregnant Hala selected to lead the procession of the virgin, which no one --particularly the indignant girl --seems to view as being hypocritical. It's just one example of how utterly unaware these characters are, not only of their motivations, but of how their actions affect others. Jadzia is a woman so utterly self-involved that she has stocked a small pantry with jars of homemade pickles without realizing she's the only one who eats them.
While the film suffers severely at the script level, Theresa Connelly isn't enough of a visual stylist to make Polish Wedding more than sporadically interesting. She paints Hamtramck as a post-industrial rural village, and reinforces this by frequently showing sensuous wild child Hala walking around barefoot.
The Pzoniaks don't even own a car --an odd sin of omission for Detroit --and Connelly portrays them as proudly provincial, unaware and uninterested in the world beyond their small enclave. While interesting films have been made about individuals who are content to reproduce their parents' existence, this isn't one of them.
Serena Donadoni writes about film for the Metro Times. E-mail her at email@example.com.