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My Best Friend’s Wedding

Posted by martinteller on August 6, 2014

There are a couple of interesting points of comparison with director P.J. Hogan’s previous film, Muriel’s Wedding, and I’m not talking about the word “wedding” in the title.  Both movies utilize a soundtrack that leans heavily on a particular artist.  In the first case, it was ABBA.  This time around it’s Burt Bacharach and Hal David.  The opening credits are a brightly-colored lip sync to one of pop music’s most insidious earworms, “Wishin’ and Hopin'” (sung by Ani DiFranco, of all people).  A number of other Bacharach/David tunes are sprinkled throughout the film, including the most memorable and delightful sequence, a giddily goofy dinner table rendition of “I Say a Little Prayer” that escalates into absurdity as waiters are waving lobster claw gloves in the background.

On a more basic level, both films seek to turn romcom conventions upside-down with a deluded heroine who makes bad decisions.  The key difference is that Julianne (Julia Roberts) is given none of the vulnerability that Muriel was.  We know from the beginning that she’s only cried three times in her life, establishing her as emotionally vacant, and her actions throughout the film are those of a self-centered, manipulating sociopath.  She’s truly despicable.  The movie is almost a lively subversion of romance tropes, and it could be something special if the script fully committed to making Julianne unlikable.  The problem is, it doesn’t go all the way.  The third act moments of clarity for Julianne don’t feel right at all… I don’t buy that someone this self-absorbed would start having regrets (I also don’t believe that she really loves Michael at all, but at least I can believe that she’s deluded herself into thinking that).  I don’t think the character has earned any redemption or sympathy, and yet clearly the movie was trying to redeem her and make her sympathetic.  I think it would be a better story if it went darker with the character, because by that point there was no way I was going to end up on her side.

There are assorted minor issues as well.  It’s 1997, so we can overlook the misunderstanding over how email works (if I want to send the screenwriter a copy of this review, I just put “Ronald Bass, writer, Hollywood” in the “To” box, right?).  But the establishment of Julianne as a food critic in the opening scene is all wrong… I’m pretty sure food critics don’t work like that.  There’s also the annoying shorthand of depicting her as a “career woman” by putting her in a lot of pantsuits… not to mention the trope of the career woman who’s bad at romance (you can’t have it all, ladies… just like Kimmy can’t have her man and pursue her architecture career at the same time, apparently).  And Dermot Mulroney is a real dud… handsome but bland and, well, kinda stupid, but maybe that’s how the character is meant to be.  It also sucks that they bothered to cast a fine actor like M. Emmet Walsh and gave him, what, two lines?  Boo.

There are some really funny bits in the movie, and even Roberts’s four (five? I lost count) pratfalls work well.  Rupert Everett (as Julianne’s gay friend and editor) walks away with the MVP award, absolutely killing it in the middle section (including the aforementioned sing-a-long scene).  I think the dialogue is generally well-written and on an aesthetic/technical level the film is pleasant enough.  As a former South Sider, it’s nice to see a Chicago movie that highlights the Sox instead of the Cubs for once.  And given what she has to work with, Roberts does a very good job of keeping the picture afloat and watchable.  It’s just that her character needs to be either more detestable or less detestable.  Trying to occupy the middle ground doesn’t work here.  Rating: Poor (59)

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