FILM MARATHON: Julia Roberts #4 – My Best Friend’s Wedding [1997]

“This is my whole life’s happiness; I need to be ruthless”

Okay, for some reason the opening credit sequence to My Best Friend’s Wedding is sort of brilliant. Showing four women dressed for a wedding, they lip-synch the words to “Wishin’ and Hopin’” (with a version surprisingly sung by Ani Difranco) while performing choreography on a solid pink backdrop. It’s equal parts cute, endearing, and over-the-top, much like the film itself. I’ll admit that my first viewing and impression of the movie was a bit harsh. Watching again, over a decade later, still doesn’t vault it to favorite status—I do think it drags excruciatingly slow in parts—but it did win me over with its charms. I forgot just how important music was, becoming a character in its own right. Besides the opening, the dying animal sounds of Cameron Diaz singing karaoke, and a helium-induced squeaky trio serenading, comes the pièce de résistance, the one moment I could watch over and over again, with a stirring rendition of Burt Bacharach’s (I hope he got some coin for single-handedly supplying this movie’s soundtrack) of “I Say a Little Prayer”. It is Rupert Everett’s shining moment in a role chock full of them.

Julia Roberts, however, is the woman at the center of the insanity. About to turn 28, her Julianne’s memory is jogged when best friend and ex-lover Michael (Dermot Mulroney) calls with urgency. The two of them made a pack many years before that if unmarried at the milestone age of note, they’d wed each other. So, a bundle of nerves, she calls him up anticipating the outrageously—or are they—nuptials, only to be told he found someone and is marrying her in five days. The bride in question is Diaz’s Kim, a young woman of perfection, so much so that jealousy isn’t enough to describe feelings towards her. She is so flawless in beauty, heart, affluence, and love that the mere sight of her breeds annoyance. Her presence stirs up feelings inside Julianne, feelings she never thought existed within her pragmatic soul. Only when she finally sees the man in her life is soon to be gone does she realize how much she truly loves him. Therefore, instead of falling in equal amounts of love for the do-no-wrong bride-to-be, she stakes out a plan to despise her; a willingness to be cruel and unusual forms and the race to win Mike back begins.

It is this game of hers that takes me out of really enjoying the film. Roberts is fantastic in the role, I have no qualms with her performance because when she is given guts and an unwavering sense of confidence, she can play off the best of them. The timing on both lines and expressions—including that unmistakable hyena laugh—is pristine, but to what gain for the character? Her success in playing Julianne is actually what proves it to be so horribly unlikable. The actions and manipulations she is not only capable of but also actually able to fulfill are unspeakable. And through it all, she shows no signs of remorse. Perhaps this can be seen as a remarkable trait in her ability to go after the prize, but what about the consequences? This isn’t a high school catfight between cheerleaders over the star quarterback, there are people’s lives hanging in the balance—kind and gentle people’s lives. No matter how often the filmmakers show Roberts’ on the verge of tears for what she has just accomplished, she never stands up and admits her transgressions. While she might be the heroine in terms of top billing, Julianne is in fact the villain. We should loathe her unequivocally, and that fact unfortunately renders the goal of the film moot.

Besides this underlying problem with the construct of the love triangle for which there can be no winner, My Best Friend’s Wedding isn’t without its merits after all. The nefarious activities of Roberts may become repetitious—slowing the pace by showing her defeated face over and over after a planned sabotage blows up—they are generally funny to watch as well. If nothing else, every actor involved gives one hundred and ten percent to being as hammy and entertaining as possible, yet still retaining some semblance of emotional weight when called upon. Diaz gives a performance that caters specifically to her skills. The role of Kim is bubbly, complicatedly naïve, and unable to even fake a mean streak. I often have nothing good to say about her—with good reason I believe—but I can say with honesty that there is little to fault here. And as for the third in the love puzzle, Mulroney stays true to the typeset he nails even today. Few can be the charmingly handsome suitor for as long as he has made a career of it. The guy is effective, so kudos to him.

But the real reason I’ve almost turned 180º on the subject of this film is due to the supporting players. I had completely forgotten how utterly ambivalent the Wallace clan is. They aren’t quite ditzy or stupid, but they do carry an air with them of complete cluelessness. The parents of the bride and brother of the groom are of a cutesy, idyllic mold and M. Emmet Walsh is left to appear a senile old man, Definitely below his worth if I may say. But then there’s the wedding party, containing within it three stellar character actors. The Newhouse sisters and bridesmaids are “Six Feet Under’s” own Brenda (Rachel Griffiths) and “True Blood’s” Arlene (Carrie Preston), while one of the uncredited groomsmen is “Prison Break’s” iconic Paul Kellerman (Paul Adelstein). Heck, even Paul Giamatti joins the fun as a pithy bellman of reason. Yet despite all this craziness, there is still one man rising above to give the performance of his career—at least the little of it I have seen. Chop this thing up and splice together every frame with Rupert Everett and I dare say you’d have a 10/10 film of pure comic genius. He is the glue keeping Roberts’ Julianne sane and also the constant winning piece to an otherwise flawed piece of cinema. There definitely will be dancing.

My Best Friend’s Wedding 6/10 | ★ ★ ½

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