Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 21, 2016)
After a hot start in the early Nineties with Pretty Woman and a few other moderate successes, Julia Roberts quickly sank into a roster of lackluster flicks that failed to prosper. She bounced back toward the end of the decade, though, and that renewed status went into motion back in 1997 when Roberts starred in My Best Friend’s Wedding. Essentially her comeback vehicle, It wasn’t the biggest hit of her career, but it set the stage for bigger successes to come.
Wedding brought Roberts back to her bread and butter genre: romantic comedy. Via flicks like Mary Reilly, she tried to branch out a bit, but when those failed to reach an audience, she apparently remembered what brought her to fame in the beginning.
Despite success in other genres since 1997, films like Wedding remain her core, for better or for worse. Personally, I think “for worse” mainly applies to Wedding, a fairly flat comedy that has a few good moments but generally fails to provide an engaging and witty experience.
In Wedding, Roberts plays Julianne “Jules” Potter, a nearly-28-year-old New York restaurant critic. Her career has prospered, but she lacks much of a romantic life, and her primary relationship is with her homosexual editor George (Rupert Everett). In her past, she’d briefly been hot and heavy with college friend Mike (Dermot Mulroney); though they broke up as a couple, they remained intimate friends over the years.
When Jules gets an urgent message from Mike, she recalls a pact they’d made: if neither got married by 28, they’d join together. As she discovers when they chat, Mike has marriage on the mind, but not to her. Instead, he tells Jules of Kimmy (Cameron Diaz), the college student with whom he’s fallen in love and plans to wed in a few days.
Not surprisingly, this sends Jules into a tizzy as she finally admits to herself that she loves Mike and wants him for herself. As such, she speeds to Chicago to break up the impending nuptials and claim the groom for herself.
Also not surprisingly, wackiness ensues when she arrives. In I Love Lucy fashion, all of Jules’ plans backfire on her; no matter how hard she tries to find Kimmy’s dark side, it just won’t emerge. Eventually George arrives to offer some moral support, and Jules quickly enlists him in her cause; he briefly poses as her fiancée, a stint that offers some of the movie’s best moments.
Too soon, unfortunately, George heads back to the Big Apple, so we’re left with Jules, Mike and Kimmy alone. From there the movie follows the thickening triangle until someone eventually gets married. I won’t reveal the ending, but it essentially tries to have its cake and eat it, too.
I don’t fault the conclusion, for it seems to be about as satisfying as one could hope for this kind of film. As with something such as Forces of Nature, this sort of flick can’t have a perfect resolution; when there’s a love triangle, somehow has to be the odd man - or woman - out in the end. Still, Wedding pulls off the conclusion in a reasonably suitable manner.
The rest of the movie seems much more erratic, though. Part of the problem stems from the insufferably cutesy tone set by director PJ Hogan. The film begins with a purposefully-retro musical performance that seems to mock the concept of women who slavishly do whatever they must to keep their men.
However, the flick itself doesn’t really deviate from that path. The opening seems to make fun of this apparently-archaic notion, but the actions of Kimmy and Jules fully embrace the concept. They both are more than willing to cede their personalities to wed Mike. I’m not sure what message Hogan wants to send, but this attitude feels odd.
Hogan also has no sense of subtlety. Throughout the movie, we find a number of small gags that should remain in the background. Instead, Hogan can’t leave well enough alone, and he pushes these bits to the front.
For example, one of a pair of slutty sisters gets her mouth stuck to an ice sculpture at the wedding. It’s enough for us to be told that the piece replicated Michelangelo’s David; if audience members can’t put two and two together and figure out the risqué aspects of this action, that’s their problem.
However, Hogan clearly wants to make sure everyone gets the joke, for we quickly move to a close-up of the sister’s mouth around David’s frozen phallus. Maybe this makes the bit funnier to some, but for me, it totally ruins any potential comedy.
Despite the ham-fisted and campy direction, Wedding could have succeeded solely due to the qualities of its cast. The film features a pretty solid roster, and most of them offer good work. Roberts does her usual performance, which is fine with me; I’m not a big fan, but I think she gives some nice and satisfying performances in this kind of part. She doesn’t approach the charm seen in Pretty Woman, but she comes across well nonetheless.
Diaz long ago proved herself to be a solid comic actress, and she does fine as Kimmy. It’s a fairly thankless role, since most of the audience probably roots against her, but her inherent charm and likeability help make the part more winning and endearing than it could have been.
While the actresses both provide good work, Everett’s turn as George steals the show. Wedding single-handedly established Everett with US audiences, and this occurred for good reason. He offers a funny and loose performance that more than makes the most of his limited screen time.
Indeed, George proved so popular with test audiences that the filmmakers felt compelled to pad Everett’s screen time. Everett does a wonderful job here; he makes me wish the movie was about him.
That seemed especially true due to the performance of the putative male lead, Mulroney. While the other three main actors seem quite good, Mulroney provides a sucking hole at the heart of the movie. He makes Mike into a totally drab and flat personality; never once do I have the slightest clue why these women fight over him.
Sure, Mike’s reasonably attractive, but he’s not that good-looking, and Mulroney comes across as such a jerk that any physical charms should become negated. Mulroney looks vaguely constipated throughout the flick, and the character always feels totally unworthy of women such as Roberts and Diaz.
Ultimately, My Best Friend’s Wedding offers a sporadically entertaining experience, but its flaws outweigh its positives. Some good performances can’t overrule one very weak lead actor and poor direction. Roberts fans will probably still like it, as it provides her usual form of romantic comedy, but it remains a fairly weak effort.
Future star alert: look for Paul Giamatti in a small role as a kindly hotel clerk.