WFTB Score: 6/20
The plot: Longtime friends Jules and Mike have an arrangement to marry if they’re still single by the time they turn 28; and when the plan’s ruined by Mike’s engagement to wealthy young Kimmy, Jules realises that she should be the one he’s taking up the aisle. Her initial plans failing to put Mike off, Jules ups the ante by interfering in his career plans – with disastrous results.
To look at Julianne Potter (Julia Roberts), you’d imagine she was pretty content with her life. As a New York food critic she strikes fear into chefs, and her editor George (Rupert Everett) is a wonderfully waspish companion. She also has a long-standing agreement with old flame Mike (Dermot Mulroney) that they’ll marry each other if they haven’t found soulmates by the time they’re 28, which doesn’t trouble Jules until Mike calls to say he’s marrying student Kimmy (Cameron Diaz) in four days’ time.
Suddenly realising she’s in love with Mike herself, Jules rushes to Chicago – where Kimmy’s family just happen to own the White Sox – intent on breaking the lovebirds apart. However, the plan backfires when she becomes both Kimmy’s maid of honour and Mike’s best (wo)man, and neither the fiancée’s awful singing, nor her innocent intervention – at Jules’ bidding – in Mike’s work life, nor Jules’ unlikely claim to be wildly in love with George, distract the groom-to-be.
In desperation, and ignoring George’s advice to simply tell Mike how she feels, Jules sends a headhunting email to his employer in the guise of Kimmy’s father. It has the desired effect, to the extent that Mike calls off the wedding; though little of what happens next gives Jules much cause for celebration, optimism, or pride.
It’s easy to deconstruct My Best Friend’s Wedding, an entirely unromantically assembled rom-com which rides on the trains of contemporary weddingy films such as Four…and a Funeral, using the star power of Roberts and the subversive influence of Australian director P.J. Hogan (director, of course, of Muriel’s…) to draw the punters in. But whereas Hugh Grant’s Charles was a sweet bumbler, and Muriel – for all her deceptions – was a complicated, funny and ultimately optimistic character in Collette’s capable hands, Jules is, for want of a better word, a psycho, lying constantly to get her way and refusing to tell the truth until it’s (nearly) too late.
Jules says of herself, ‘I’ve done nothing but underhanded, despicable, not even terribly imaginative things since I got here’, and she gives the viewer absolutely no cause to disagree; so why are we meant to feel anything but disgust for her?
The answer, apparently, is because she’s played by Julia Roberts, which would be fine if the actress were stretched by a witty or blackly comic script; but neither writer Ronald Bass nor Hogan get her to do much bar smile her dazzling smile and look vaguely troubled whilst talking to Paul Giamatti’s inexplicably wise valet. Even Jules’ daily life is annoying, her high-flying, low-stress job allowing her to disappear for days on end without the slightest consequence. There are also at least four instances of Jules or one of her cohorts falling over, a slapstick device which viewers of TV’s Miranda will recognise as a useful alternative to jokes that arise organically out of the plot.
It’s not only Jules who doesn’t satisfy. Mulroney’s a big dumb lump of conflicted emotions, exhibiting little that would logically send either Jules or Kimmy gaga; and Diaz is very pretty but an archetypal spoilt rich girl. Rachel Griffiths and Carrie Preston enjoy larking around as Kimmy’s friends, but they don’t feel like real people, and like the rest of the cast don’t inhabit anything resembling a real world.
Okay, so it’s a film, and in the fantasy of film a bar can be won over by Kimmy’s abysmal karaoke and a whole table, nay restaurant, can be word-perfect performing I Say a Little Prayer*; but My Best Friend’s Wedding skims so relentlessly on the surface of its set-up (aren’t rich people’s nuptials fabulous?) that asking us to do anything so involving as empathise with selfish old Jules feels like a rotten cheek.
Thank the Lord, then, for Rupert Everett. The Englishman takes what could have been a wretched part, the queeny best friend, and brilliantly makes George the movie’s leading man. Whether through acting genius or sheer luck, Everett finds exactly the right camp tone between fantasist fluff and Jules’ selfish strops, playing his part with wit and gay abandon when asked to play her fiancé. The energy dips whenever he’s not on screen – which is quite a lot – but Everett has so much fun with George (at Julia’s expense – watch his busy hands in the taxi!) that he single-handedly makes the movie worth sticking with. Little wonder that when all the mundane wedding business is over and done with, it’s George who proves to be Jules’ knight in shining armour.
Everett isn’t all there is to recommend about My Best Friend’s Wedding, but he’s just about the only thing about it that’s memorable apart from Jules, played with skill by Julia Roberts but memorable for all the wrong reasons. If you’re absolutely desperate for a romantic comedy and this is the only thing to hand, this goes through the motions in mechanical fashion: but in all honesty, why settle for such blandness, such mediocrity, if you can enjoy When Harry Met Sally or Annie Hall instead?
NOTES: You’re well served if you like Bacharach and David songs, but Dionne over Aretha? You’ve got to be kidding.