My Best Friend's Wedding
Director: P.J. Hogan. Cast: Julia Roberts, Dermot Mulroney, Cameron Diaz, Rupert Everett, Philip Bosco. Screenplay: Ronald Bass.


For all of the couples that populate My Best Friend's Wedding, the most welcome union of all is the collection in one movie of Julia Roberts, one of our most game comic actresses, with younger talents like Cameron Diaz and Rupert Everett who turn this thinnish project into a truly winning confection. The recipe, as with Meg Ryan's Addicted to Love, released the previous month, makes the surprising move of casting its perky, well-liked heroine as the villain of the piece, or at least the closest thing to a villain this particular story has. Jules, the restaurant critic (read: snippy, critical-minded control freak) played by Roberts, speaks for the first time in a long while with Michael (Dermot Mulroney), her best friend and ex-flame of a few years. Jules and Michael had always agreed that they would marry each other if they still had no spouse by a certain age—my memory of the movie's charm obscures more specific details like the terms of their agreement—then they would marry each other.

Of course, much of the events that put the plot in motion do not require a genius to predict. Jules grows increasingly smitten with the idea of marrying Michael, but when he actually calls, it is to announce his engagement to Kimberly (Diaz), an upper-crust though spirited and welcoming young lady who has sidetracked any career ambitions or outside life to make a home with Michael. It is never clear what it is about Kimberly that so rankles Jules, especially since Roberts' own effusive beauty—the long copper curls are back!—doesn't make Diaz's blonde perfection as threatening as it might otherwise be. Does Roberts the career woman resent the affluent Kimberly's ability to do away with the need to work? Is Jules actually in love with Michael herself, or does she just find herself feeling that way out of rivalry and spoiledness on the eve of Michael's marriage to Kim?

That the film never resolves this mystery deserves praise; Roberts' feelings are not reduced to any particular point of jealousy, but are allowed to be as rootless in their unfriendliness, as arbitrarily cruel to Kim, as such feelings are in real life. It seems true enough that we do not always have real or valid reasons for disliking some people except that they are doing what we wish we could do but know we cannot. Roberts does not forget, however, even in tackling a character who perpetrates some real doozies of low-blows, that this picture is a comedy and demands a certain lightness of touch. She plays the bad girl I have always wanted Roberts to attempt and the spritely "Julia Roberts" persona that allows us to observe such shenanigans and not get totally fed up with Jules and her ruthlessness. It's a nimble piece of work, and together with the intriguing Conspiracy Theory, shows Roberts to great advantage as a major talent who keeps picking shrewd and deserving projects.

Part of what keeps the balance of the film so impressively balanced between supporting Jules' forwardness and condemning her duplicity is that Diaz makes Kimberly an actually likable person; we love to root for Roberts, but we hate to root against the woman whose happiness she assaults. Unlike the vixens Diaz got stuck playing in vehicles like She's the One, Kimberly is humane and warm, and even when Roberts tries to trap the notoriously tin-eared Kimberly into busting out a routine in a karaoke bar, Kim pulls through. Diaz, like her distaff co-star, trickily plays two emotions in this scene: the affection for Michael that gets her through the ordeal, right on top of the embarrassment she feels at receiving such wide attention for what she knows to be a meager performance. The whole scene is zany, funny, and surprisingly moving, and even if Dermot Mulroney never seems to deserve the great fuss that's made about him, Roberts and Diaz play their different versions of dreamy rapture so convincingly and smartly that we barely stop to notice.

I have not yet mentioned one of My Best Friend's Wedding's capital delights, which is the performance of Rupert Everett as Jules' best friend, a gay male confidant and colleague named George who out-suaves everyone around without smothering us in charm. It's an infectious performance, particularly after George decides that the best way to survive his growing involvement in Jules' schemes is to indulge his own most flamboyant tendencies toward white-lie deception. He even injects so much energy and flair into his public-restaurant rendition of Dionne Warwick's "I Say a Little Prayer" that we don't mind seeing this same damn scene for the 1000th time in a movie. In the tradition of Hollywood's gay-male best friends, George is a dapper and swoony presence who nonetheless remains without a partner himself as the picture ends. Still, like the movie itself, Everett is so breezy and pleasurable while we are watching him that we can hardly think about how little we actually know of him and how little structure his character actually has.

If there's a pattern to this review, it's the emphasis on those virtues of My Best Friend's Wedding that make such a vivid and appealing impression that we forget, ignore, or fail even to notice those elements that are less successful. Yes, it would be nice to have a romantic comedy that didn't require displacing our attention away from a doltish lead actor, a few unsatisfying plot intrigues (like one in which Kim appears to trivialize Michael's sportswriting job), or the heavily dog-eared institutions of the spontaneous song, the effete asexual companion, the woman vs. woman antagonism. Those are all problems (or at least uninspiring neutral elements) in Ronald Bass' script, but the talent brought on board My Best Friend's Wedding aces the task of throwing their strengths where we'll most appreciate them, tiding over the rough spots in the material with a healthy dose of star-power, candy-colored designs, and even a refreshingly uncertain ending. In a movie era where stars are so often plugged into material that does not take full advantage of their gifts, I'll say a little prayer to the rare movie that shows its cast—and its audience—a jolly good time. B


Academy Award Nominations:
Best Original Score (Musical/Comedy): James Newton Howard

Golden Globe Nominations:
Best Picture (Musical/Comedy)
Best Actress (Musical/Comedy): Julia Roberts
Best Supporting Actor: Rupert Everett

Other Awards:
Satellite Awards: Best Supporting Actor, Musical/Comedy (Everett)

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