27 Dresses (United States, 2008)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

I have no idea why the people who decide such matters have elected to release this perfect Valentine's Day movie in the middle of January. Perhaps it's counter-programming for Cloverfield. Whatever the case, 27 Dresses is an illustration of what can result when the filmmakers possess a solid understanding of the romantic comedy formula and decide never to stray from it by one iota. There's not a surprising moment in the movie yet it works in spite of the stale, insipid storyline. That has a lot to do with lead actress Katherine Heigl and a little to do with the glowing embers between her and her co-star, James Marsden. Take away these two and their low-key chemistry and there would be little here worth seeing.

If there's a romantic comedy cliché missed by choreographer-turned-director Anne Fletcher and her screenwriting cohort, Aline Brosh McKenna (who previously penned the smarter and edgier adaptation of The Devil Wears Prada), during the course of assembling 27 Dresses, I'm not sure what it is. Then again, most viewers who pay money to see this will not be on a quest for originality. As I've stated before, all a picture like this needs to succeed are charming actors who convince us they're in love. Everything else is beside the point. The central romance is a paint-by-numbers affair but we like the characters and root for them to become locked in a passionate embrace as the end credits roll. Smiles at the end are forgivable; less so the scowls of die-hard cynics (who shouldn't be seeing this in the first place). However, while the main thrust of the movie reaches its target at the climax, the secondary storyline is resolved in a perfunctory, unsatisfactory manner apparently designed to increase the saccharine quotient to an impressively high level. Sugar shock alert.

The story is simple enough, as befits an entry into a genre where dense plots are few and far between. Jane (Heigl) is an amateur wedding planner. She loves weddings, relishing the fairy tale atmosphere. Her favorite thing is to watch the groom's face as he gazes upon his bride approaching him at the altar. Jane's day job is as an assistant to an advertising exec, George (Edward Burns), but her real passion lies in helping all her friends and colleagues arrange perfect ceremonies. She'll do anything to help, from standing in for a busy bride at the gown fitting (if she happens to be the same size) to negotiating with the cake baker. She has been a bridesmaid 27 times and hopes that some day her prince will come. She's in love (the unrequited kind) with George but lacks the courage to tell him. Enter her fun-loving, globe-trotting slut of a sister, Tess (Malin Akerman), who sweeps George off his feet. After a whirlwind courtship, the two are engaged and Jane is faced with the bittersweet prospect of planning her sister's wedding to the man she loves. Complicating matters is Kevin (James Marsden), the Wedding Announcements writer for the New York Journal, who is intrigued by Jane's history and wants to write a piece about her (without her knowledge). The two are like oil and water which, of course, means the attraction will eventually become too strong to deny. That moment happens when they both have a little too much to drink and sing Elton John's "Benny and the Jets."

Heigl is the perfect romantic comedy lead - she's attractive, energetic, likeable, and willing to get raunchy if needed. 27 Dresses is more tame than Knocked Up, but she's no less appealing. She understands comedic timing and knows how to bring real emotion to scenes that could otherwise feel completely scripted. If she continues to do these movies, her popularity could surpass that of former title holders Julia Roberts and Reese Witherspoon. James Marsden isn't quite as magnetic but he displays more charisma here than in either X-Men or Superman Returns and he interacts well with Heigl. He also understands that this is her movie and doesn't try to steal scenes from her. For Malin Akerman, this is the second consecutive outing in which she defines "insufferable" (following The Heartbreak Kid). The concern isn't just that she is becoming typecast but that she's too good in this kind of part. She is nails-on-the-blackboard annoying in 27 Dresses. Edward Burns and Judy Greer (in the thankless "best friend" role) hang around in the background until called upon to utter the occasional line or two.

Part of me enjoyed 27 Dresses in the same way I occasionally like to down a handful of chocolate covered raisins. They're not filling or nourishing but they provide a moment's forgettable pleasure. Heigl's appeal and talent elevate this to a little above the romantic comedy noise and, while it's strictly for self-appointed aficionados of the genre, there will be those who adore what Fletcher and her cast have wrought. Nevertheless, it puzzles me why such an obvious date movie was released a month before the ultimate date night of the year. Then again, this is from an industry that thinks summer begins on May 1 and Labor Day weekend is the perfect opening for something called Halloween. So enjoy 27 Dresses' limited charms for what they are rather for when they are on display. This isn't a great movie but it fills a niche.

27 Dresses (United States, 2008)

Director: Anne Fletcher
Cast: Katherine Heigl, James Marsden, Edward Burns, Malin Akerman, Judy Greer
Screenplay: Aline Brosh McKenna
Cinematography: Peter James
Music: Randy Edelman
U.S. Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Run Time: 1:48
U.S. Release Date: 2008-01-18
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Profanity, Sexual Situations)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1