Sunday, March 22, 2009

Bride, groom, and pretty woman: notes on My Best Friend's Wedding (1997)

Note: To balance out my critique of Roberts' work in Duplicity, here's an appreciation of My Best Friend's Wedding from my preblogging days.

Julia Roberts has a nose like a ski jump.  It plunges down before abruptly slanting up towards the end over her puffy upper lip, leading one to wonder if she's had collagen implants.  In P. J. Hogan's My Best Friend's Wedding, a conventional but funny romantic comedy, you get to know her face pretty well because close-ups of it fill most scenes.  In fact, you get the story largely from her perspective.

At the beginning, she gets a call from her old male friend played by Dermot Mulroney.  He announces to her that he's going to marry Kimberly (Cameron Diaz) in a 4 day upper class wedding extravaganza and he's quite naively asking her to "help" him through the ordeal.  Julia suddenly finds herself jealous and in love with him, and from then on plots various ways to break up the bride and groom before 6 pm on the upcoming Sunday.

So she flies to Chicago and encounters the massively preppy blond Diaz, who has a tendency to gush and squeal as a only a society bride-to-be can.  Meanwhile Roberts' long lost boyfriend Mulroney has a scar over his right lip (I said there were a lot of close-ups), and your generally hunky-tanned-droopy-brown-eyed-brunette-aw-shucks look we've been trained to accept as appropriate for leading men.  Pretty soon you have all of the sexual jealousies, misunderstandings, and recriminations that one would expect from a romantic triangle.

I may be making the film sound more tired than it is.  Fortunately there are several elements that make it work.  Often the movie is very funny.  At unlikely moments, characters burst into song, during the credits, in restaurants, and once underneath a tent three young men breathe in helium and harmonize some cheesy 70s song in high pitched voices, and the joyful silliness of their sound nicely offsets the romantic to-and-fro of the principal players.  

Moreover, Roberts has a gay friend named George, played by the even more handsome Rupert Everett (this film is full of pretty people) who pops into the movie on occasion to give it a well-needed punch.  During one of the many strangled-by-her-inability-to-admit-her-love-to-Mulroney scenes, Roberts blurts out that she's actually George's fiancee, and the audience gets treated to George's high parody of heterosexual love.  Speaking too quickly and generally mocking all of the other love scenes in the film, George lightens up everything in his few choice moments, seducing Diaz's rich family, fondling Roberts ironically in front of her old boyfriend in the back of a taxi, and making up outrageous stories about how they fell in love.  

Otherwise, the movie hangs on Roberts' nose.  Can she still carry it as she did Pretty Woman so many years ago?  Yes.  She's quite good at delivering punch lines or looking emotionally naked as she moves from one dastardly trick to another to stop the marriage.  Curiously, all of the attention on Roberts, and Everett's occasional scene stealing flatten out the rest of the characters in the film.  Diaz's father, the owner of the Chicago White Sox, never gets more character development than to look happy-go-lucky.  Mulroney himself, the cause of much of the confusion, never amounts to much of a character either.  He's just a hunk for Roberts to project her romantic fantasies upon. Diaz shows some spunk early on by driving wildly and jealously threatening Roberts in an elevator, but she quickly becomes a frighteningly faithful and loving rich woman who wears flower print yellow dresses.  I found her about as appealing as a model for a Saks Fifth Avenue catalog, but perhaps the director Hogan intended that.

After a lull in the middle an Apple notebook (these show up in most movies these days), Roberts finds herself doing the right thing both for herself and for the good of the movie.  In a summer full of grotesquely inflated ill-written special effects-filled action fodder, it was a pleasure to watch Julia Roberts reclaim her romantic comedy throne in My Best Friend's Wedding.  


PIPER said...

I own this movie. There I said it. I did it so that I would appear more emotional with the wife. Okay, okay, I like this movie - if for only one reason and that reason is the song in the restaurant. I could watch that over and over again. What makes this movie work is that they weren't afraid to break into song from time to time. And damn, if those songs don't work. It could have gone so wrong, but it went right. And for that reason the film deserves credit, which you've rightly given it.

What qualifies a movie to be a musical? I wonder, because this sure is walking the line. I've also wondered if School Daze qualified as a musical as well.

FilmDr said...

Thanks, Piper.

Why not a romantic comedy musical? I agree that the songs make the movie along with Rupert Everett's subversive presence. My Best Friend's Wedding also contrasted oddly with Hogan's previous film Muriel's Wedding. I wonder if he has made anything half as good since.