Ben Platt and Kristen Bell star in "The People We Hate at the Wedding." Photo courtesy of Amazon
NEW YORK, Nov. 18 (UPI) -- Veronica Mars and The Good Place actress Kristen Bell says she hopes her new romantic comedy, The People We Hate at the Wedding, makes members of dysfunctional families everywhere feel better about themselves.
Premiering Friday on Prime Video, the adaptation of Grant Ginder's novel stars Bell and Ben Platt as American siblings Alice and Paul, who reluctantly attend the lavish London wedding of their seemingly perfect British half-sister Eloise (Cynthia Addai-Robinson).
"I read the script in the middle of the pandemic, and I was aching to do something feel-good. I have that ache a lot, let's be honest, but I really wanted something that wasn't saccharine or sugar-coated -- that was the type of witty, raunchy, messy comedy I like, but still had kind of a heart-felt meaning," Bell told UPI in a recent Zoom interview.
"I was hoping that families who watch this would be able to sit in their own living rooms and go: 'You guys! We're not nearly this dysfunctional!' And walk away feeling better about their situations."
Alice, whom Bell describes as a "hot mess," is financially strapped and having an affair with her married boss at a dead-end job, while Paul is in his own toxic relationship when they receive Eloise's wedding invitation at the beginning of the movie.
They have no intention of going, but their mom, Donna (Allison Janney), insists.
Along the way, Alice meets handsome nice-guy Dennis (Dustin Milligan), but is too wrapped up in her own secrets and lies to give him a proper chance; Donna briefly reconciles with her ex, Henrique, Eloise's philandering father (Isaach De Bankolé); and Paul and his boyfriend, Dominic (Karan Soni), have an awkward threesome with Dominic's old college professor Alcott (Julian Ovenden).
"You meet this family at such a place of dysfunction in the beginning of the film. It is a great place to start from because then you have 90 minutes of road to fix them and make everyone's hearts feel better," Bell said.
"There doesn't have to be any gigantic set pieces or crazy spaceships landing," she added. "You just have a bunch of people that have some high-level drama in their interpersonal relationships, which are the most interesting types of scripts for me."
Bell had nothing but high praise for her co-stars, saying she has been "the biggest Ben Platt fan forever" and Janney is "the definition of a hoot."
"And I went to college with Cynthia, who plays my sister!" she said of her fellow New York University alum. "We lived on the same floor."
Bell said the casting of Milligan was a "no brainer." She knew him from his time on the sitcom, Rutherford Falls, which shared writer-director Michael Schur and network NBCUniversal with The Good Place.
"The Mike Schur world is a very intimate one, a very close one, and I knew everyone on that show, so I knew [Milligan] was A+," she said.
"The only way you could have someone play a character like Dennis, who is so nice and so sweet, is that you have to have a biting wit inside that person, which Dustin really has."
The actress said she got a kick out of the name, The People We Hate at the Wedding, and fully understands who it references.
"I love a hearty title. I like the title to give you as much information about the project as possible while remaining a complete mystery. That is hard to do," Bell said.
"Audience members will see the title and go: 'Oh, yeah. There are definitely people that we've hated at weddings and these characters will probably find them throughout the course of the film.'
But, as they near the end, I believe that they will realize that our characters have stumbled upon the realization that perhaps they are the people that are hated at the wedding."
Alice isn't just a horrible person without reason, however.
"She experienced a traumatic event that she doesn't want to deal with," Bell said.
"Having a miscarriage is a very big deal that requires some emotional attention and Alice does not know how to give it," the actress said.
"She does not realize that the only way out is through. It's a hard realization for people and she is making bad decision after bad decision to try to change the subject of her life."
Reuniting with her immediate family, the people who know and love her best, forces her to face the choices she has been making.
Only after she hits rock bottom can she embrace her vulnerability and communicate with her mom and siblings.
"That is actually what I loved most about this script -- not a single character is let off the hook," Bell said. "There are real repercussions to people's bad decisions."
This extends to Alice's complicated, romantic life.
"It's never, ever a good idea to sleep with your boss. Although I have worked for my husband before at times when we were sexually intimate, but that is a little different," joked the wife of actor/comedian/podcaster Dax Shepard.
"Alice is not using her frontal lobe at all," she added. "She is in her reptilian brain, which is providing the carnage that she leaves in her wake.
"When she meets someone, though -- Dustin Milligan's character, Dennis -- who is actually optimistic and vulnerable and sweet and has no ulterior motive, it upends her world. She doesn't trust the most trustworthy person in the film. She's never experienced that kind of authenticity."
Dennis isn't a pushover, however, and he earns Alice's respect when he shows he can see right through her.
"Halfway through the film, Dennis calls Alice out on all of her nonsense and explains to her that her decisions aren't that offensive -- they're just sad, which is about the worst thing you could say to someone," Bell said. "It's the first time Alice has her attention grabbed in a very long time."
Despite their differences, Eloise loves Alice and also wants better for her.
"With family, you have an expectation of who they should be to you and how they should respect you, but expectations are resentments under construction and they always lead to trouble, particularly with these two sisters," Bell said.
"They've had so many miscommunications," she added. "But by hitting rock bottom beside each other, they end up providing the support system that the other had been in need of for so long."