1 Hr., 52 Mins.
My Best Friend's Wedding April 23, 2020
re you crazy? Jules, are you — are you completely insane? I mean — Jules, how could you do that?” It’s a relief when Michael (Dermot Mulroney), the object of affection slash wedding-haver slash best friend in 1997’s My Best Friend’s Wedding, throws this series of questions at Julianne (top-form Julia Roberts), the heroine of the movie. For almost the entirety of the film so far,
Julianne, who has been Michael’s best friend for years, has been trying to sabotage his nuptials, days away, so rigorously that it’s like she had a list of alternate plans of destruction starting with B and ending with Z just in case. (She’s doing this because she has gone into the festivities deciding that she would like to have Michael for herself.) These questions are also a relief because they assuage our early fears that My Best Friend’s Wedding will ultimately be “Internalized Misogyny — The Movie”: a film-length suggestion and then confirmation that the woman who is set to be married to Michael, the naïve but likable Kimberly (an affable Cameron Diaz), is not "worthy" of Michael because of x, y, and z reasons and because she is not Julia Roberts.
If this movie were to allow Julianne to not only thwart a wedding but also get the guy she’s trying to win because of a very superficially competitive reason, it would be a deplorable one. (Back in the day, when they were in college and casually dating but about to evolve into best friends, Michael and Julianne made a pact that they would marry each other if neither was wed at 28; Julianne's 28th birthday is in a couple of weeks, and she’s still in love with him.) So, again, Michael’s questions are a relief. The film also thankfully takes a more reasonable higher ground than most romantic comedies in its class. It subverts the expectations of its particularly demented rom-com plot without forgoing what I think most of us are chasing after when we seek out the genre: not only a narrative to escape into and enjoy being in but also a temporary albeit soothing, indistinct “fuzzy” feeling.
Nice, too, how the hijinks engineered by Julianne (and which make up most of the movie’s action) consistently backfire. In one sequence, she takes Michael and Kimberly to a karaoke bar after the latter casually confesses that she cannot carry a tune. Then Julianne is bewildered to find that Kimberly’s seagullish warble wins everyone over after she cruelly pressures her to take the mic. In the middle of the movie, Julianne, a writer, invites her acerbic British editor and good friend George (Rupert Everett), who is gay, to hang out with her before the ceremony. But when Juliette lies to Michael and says that George is in fact her fiancé, the latter, pissed off, makes it a point to embarrass her at lunch out with most of the wedding party by ambitiously leading the restaurant’s patrons in a rendition of “Say a Little Prayer.” “The misery, the exquisite tragedy — the Susan Hayward of it all,” George at one point muses after ruminating on Julianne’s various desperate attempts to destroy.
My Best Friend’s Wedding might’ve been more interesting — though darker — if one of its biggest defects weren’t so prominent. We don’t really know these characters. Because these people function inside a rom-com plot engineered to keep a sense of the feel-good intact, while doing away with at least a couple of genre clichés, the film avoids fleshing them out too profoundly to avoid emotion-complicating questions. But we have them anyway. They mostly relate to what is so unfulfilling about Julianne’s life that she would be more than happy to impede the wedding of people who seem to be pretty good for each other. We know that she’s a food critic, that she uses sarcasm probably as a shield, and that she perhaps would have liked to have been married at 25 or something. They also relate to the inner world of Michael, who isn’t much more than a handsome love object for Julianne and a columnist for the cleverly named Sport magazine, and even the relationship between him and Kimberly, which is too generically established to be as persuasive as it could be.
Such minutiae aren’t typically necessary to know all about in the case of most romantic comedies. The majority can ride high on fantasy-like narratives and buoyant comic sequences. But the underlying darkness of My Best Friend’s Wedding and its abundant subversions of our expectations means that it’s going to destabilize other areas. Still, that it can manage a happy ending, all the while maintaining its refreshingly gloomy undertow, summarizes the bold balancing act it finally and mostly pulls off. We hear “Say a Little Prayer” early on in the movie, thinking it’s foreshadowing channeled through music — an indication that we’ll eventually be asking for divine help for Kimberly. When I finished My Best Friend’s Wedding, I was glad it wasn’t her I was meant to be
worried about, but Julianne. B+