Saturday, April 19, 2014

My Best Friend's Wedding


I finally have some news to report. After several weeks of sitting here at Chateau Maine, waiting for Hollywood to coming knocking at my door with a truly fabulous part in a prestige motion picture, opportunity has arrived. It's not exactly what I would have chosen but Joseph, my manager, assures me that it will be a wise career move. I have been asked to be a celebrity spokesperson for AOL. At first, I was somewhat taken aback - what do I know about computers? I was also a bit afraid that I might become something of a pop culture joke, like the Dell dude. However, it was then explained to me that this was a different AOL, the American Osteoporosis League.

AOL wants me to appear in a series of public service announcements warning women of the grave threat osteoporosis may make to their life and health. I am a bit concerned as I am, at my ever youthful thirty-nine, far too young to have to worry about a disease associated with age and infirmity. The league, however, think that my image may appeal to their target audience and the honorarium they're mentioning will more than pay for the repairs to the swimming pool. I have given them a tentative 'yes' and told Joseph to investigate whether or not a line of MNM brand health supplements for the prevention of chronic diseases might not be in order. My first television spot is to be a lively tap number and, as it needs a kicky little ditty to accompany it, I've suggested that we change the name of the disease to 'Supercalcifragilisticosteoporosis' - I may even be able to get Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke to be my back-up dancers.

With everything finally looking up, I decided I was in the mood for a film where everything works out happily ever after so I went to my home theater and searched under the Ottoman for an unviewed film in the romantic comedy genre. There, I found the 1997 film My Best Friend's Wedding with Julia Roberts. This was the film that brought Julia roaring back to the top of the heap, after a few years of rather odd career choices (Mary Reilly anyone?) On the surface, it appears to be a fluffy Hollywood romantic comedy, but there's a real subversive edge to Ronald Bass's script and Australian director P.J. Hogan (of Muriel's Wedding fame) leads the action in some rather unsuspected directions and peppers the film with memorable moments from minor supporting players.

Julia Roberts is Julianne, a food snob restaurant critic, living in New York where she works for some unnamed magazine under the tutelage of her urbane editor, George (Rupert Everett, stealing every scene he can get his hands on). Julianne has had bad luck with men and can't seem to get a relationship to last, but she does have an old love, Mike (Dermot Mulroney), a sportswriter who has been there through thick and thin for her. Julianne's biological clock is ticking and when she receives a call from Mike out of the blue, she's sure it's an avowal of love. It's not. He's called to inform her that he's engaged to Kim (Cameron Diaz) and the wedding is in four days. Julianne, deluding herself that Mike really loves her and she him, immediately departs for Chicago, auburn mane flying, determined to break up the happy couple and to win Mike back for herself.

This leads to a rather rocky series of events as this mismatched trio chase each other through a series of scenic Chicago locations - Julianne after Mike, Mike after Kim and Kim after Julianne as she tries to protect her relationship. Of course George shows up, and despite his obvious queeniness, Julianne tries to pass him off as her fiancée. Julianne plots and counterplots, involving Kim's doting parents (Philip Bosco and Susan Sullivan), Mike's cheery father (M. Emmett Walsh) and younger brother (Chris Masterson). There's even a couple of trashy cousins for Kim (Rachel Griffiths and Carrie Preston), self described vengeful sluts who provide comic relief. We move from sports stadia to the train station to country villas to the el to a boat on the Chicago river to the Palmer house as various friends and relatives of the happy couple tag along.

Julia Roberts is in her element here. This is the kind of part she can play in her sleep. All she needs to do is toss her hair, bray that laugh of hers and show her usual gawky charm and the audience is captivated. The subversive thing about the film and why it works is, however, that her role is that of the villain. Mike and Kim should not be broken up and Julianne, for all of her charms, is wrong-headedly pursuing evil actions. Director Hogan manages to find the fine balance between us rooting for Julianne's manipulations to succeed and being appalled at what she's doing. Not an easy feat. Most of this is accomplished by inserting small comic moments which don't really involve the main plot. There are riotous moments with George being taken for straight, the slut cousins getting involved with an ice sculpture, little brother and his buddies having fun with helium balloons and, in an audacious coup de theatre which shouldn't work, but does, Hogan has the entire cast break out into Bacharach and David's I Say A Little Prayer For You as a musical number in the middle of a restaurant. A lesser filmmaker would have made hash of that moment.

The one brilliant performance in the film is Rupert Everett, as the suave George. He is the voice of reason and gives all of his lines a little twist and panache that make them resonate. His sexuality is essential to the character and, in what is ultimately the most subversive element of the film, he's the most appealing and attractive member of the cast. By the end of the film, Julianne is in his arms dancing and laughing and it feels absolutely right - and not like the end of civilization as we know it. The small parts are also well played and all make the maximum use of their screen time. The weak link is Dermot Mulroney. His Mike is more a piece of furniture or plot device than a human being. His big emotional speeches and moments are handled with all the aplomb of an Encyclopedia Britannica salesman. Cameron Diaz, as Kim, is charming, and shows some of her natural flair for comedy, especially as a horrific karaoke singer.

There are a number of Burt Bacharach standards on the soundtrack providing something of a musical language for the film. They're an inspired choice as they tie into the romantic comedy ideals of the sixties while providing some bounce and brio for the proceedings. The opening credits are a lovely little musical number to Wishing and Hoping which needs to be seen to be believed and which sets exactly the right mood.

Bridal bouquets. Airport greetings. Interrupted poetry readings. Dionne Warwick references. 'I Am Woman' singing. Gratuitous stolen bread van. Idiotic stored email plot device. Psychotic with echolalia. Gratuitous Paul Giamatti. Lavender gown. Jerome Kern love ballad.

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