My Best Friend's Wedding (United States, 1997)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

My Best Friend's Wedding is the estrogen alternative to the vast quantity of testosterone being pumped out by the other major June releases: Con Air, Speed 2, Batman and Robin, and Face/Off. As the summer's centerpiece romantic comedy, My Best Friend's Wedding boasts a pair of A-line actresses, Julia Roberts and Cameron Diaz, dueling for the affections of the unprepossessing Dermot Mulroney (the guy from Copycat and The Trigger Effect, who is frequently confused with the equally low-key and same-initialed Dylan McDermott). Fortunately, this film doesn't fall into the overcrowded category of the traditional frothy romance. In fact, My Best Friend's Wedding has a bit of an edge and enough intelligence to keep it from drowning in the kind of mawkish sentimentality that often makes this sort of movie hard-to-swallow.

Australian director P.J. Hogan must have a thing for movies about weddings. His previous feature, Muriel's Wedding, was a black comedy about a young woman who loves ABBA songs and dreams about getting married. And, although Hogan accepted a studio project as his followup to the international hit, he chose something in keeping with his desire to corrupt the formula. While this movie isn't as offbeat or "out there", it defies more than a few expectations without ultimately dissatisfying the audience.

As in any romantic comedy, the two most important elements are in place: the couples and the complications. Couple #1 consists of the soon-to-be married groom, Michael O'Neal (Mulroney) and his perky bride, Kimmy (Diaz). Couple #2 comprises food critic Julianne Potter (Roberts) and her gay editor, George Downes (Rupert Everett). They're not really together, but they pretend to be to make Michael jealous. Because, for the past nine years, since they had a one-month fling in college, Julianne has carried a torch for Michael. They've been best friends, but only now, when she's about to lose him to another woman, does Julianne realize that she wants to be the bride. And, to get her man, she's willing to do almost anything, including play dirty. So, when Kimmy opens her arms to Julianne and offers her the position of maid of honor, Julianne accepts, all the while plotting the best way to break up the happy couple.

Because My Best Friend's Wedding features a smart script and deft direction, it manages to keep alive the mystery of who will end up with whom. Things aren't as clear-cut as they initially seem to be, and, with every passing minute, they get murkier. The film has a high energy level and features a number of standout scenes, some of which are designed to cull laughter from the audience, others which go for the tearducts. The best is arguably a restaurant episode where an impromptu sing-along gets everyone in the place to join in. It's clever, irreverent, and fun.

My Best Friend's Wedding starts off slowly, and it takes the better part of a half-hour before we first start getting a feel for the characters. Mulroney's Michael is an especially difficult case -- at first, there doesn't seem to be much there (which begs the question of how he managed to get two beautiful women to fall head-over-heels in love with him). The actor plays his role in a low-key fashion that's an asset late in the film, but not at the beginning. Cameron Diaz turns up the good cheer and high spirits to an almost-unbearably lively level. And Julia Roberts, returning to the genre that made her a star, embraces the part like it's a homecoming. Her performance as Julianne is competent and comfortable, but the ingenue of Pretty Woman has been replaced a more mature performer, and this results in a better-rounded character. Supporting players include a scene-stealing Rupert Everett (the Cemetery Man himself), Rachel Griffiths (who appeared as the title character's best friend in Muriel's Wedding), and M. Emmett Walsh as someone who's not the least bit creepy (for once).

Although My Best Friend's Wedding is intended to be relatively light entertainment, it briefly addresses some interesting, serious issues regarding the nature of friendship, jealousy, and love (real and idealized). There's a wonderfully evocative scene that suggests "a moment passing by," which will undoubtedly cause a portion of the audience to reflect on similar occasions in their own lives. In the final analysis, My Best Friend's Wedding represents two hours of fine entertainment not because it offers a feel-good love story but because the film makers understand that it's possible for a romantic comedy to appeal not only to the heart, but to the mind as well.

My Best Friend's Wedding (United States, 1997)

Run Time: 1:45
U.S. Release Date: 1997-05-20
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Profanity, Sexual Situations)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1