“What color is that—vomit?”
Can expectations ever be high for a romantic comedy starring Katherine Heigl The answer from this guy, who was even low on Knocked Up, is no. Coming from a script by screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna, she of abysmal Laws of Attraction and mediocre Devil Wears Prada fame, I can say I went into 27 Dresses very low, with only the stalwart adoration of my viewing partner keeping me from not even giving it a chance to prove itself. A day later, I am glad she got me to watch it because, upon reflection, it wasn’t that bad. With a scene of impromptu karaoke featuring Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets”—bearing similarities to another rom-com I abhorred despite its own brilliant use of song, My Best Friend’s Wedding—a fun cast, and some entertaining moments, (the opening cab scenes as Heigl’s Jane attends two weddings in the same night is inspired), I have to admit I didn’t hate it. Are the obvious clichés and plot evolutions that seem recycled in every film of this genre at work? Yes. But even so, those “been there done that” moments carried enough interest to keep me from throwing the movie out as complete waste.
It’s that old adage, “always a bridesmaid and never a bride”, at work. Jane is a career woman who gives herself completely to those around her, whether friends, boss, or family. She will do anything for Edward Burns’ George because she is in lust with him, her idyllic image of the perfect man for which she can be the perfect employee and hopefully trick into falling for her; she’ll organize and break her back in order to give all her friends perfect nuptials, killing herself in the process and taking up her closet space as she keeps each dress for the memories they contain; and loves her sister Tess so much that even after having helped raise her when their mother died, she decides to keep her mouth shut while watching a web of lies spin out of control, resulting in baby sis getting the guy she always wanted for herself. If it weren’t enough to watch a selfless patsy make everyone around her happy while she devolves deeper and deeper into a self made depression for laughs, add in cocky, wise-guy wedding editorialist Kevin, (the always stellar James Marsden), and you get that perfect piece of abrasive sandpaper to get under Jane’s skin, even though you know his volatility only exists to eventually be overcome with burgeoning love.
You know how this tale of unrequited love and love unknown will end, so it is up to the filmmakers to keep it interesting enough so that your butt doesn’t leave the seat. The best way to do so is by creating some humorous moments to alleviate the clairvoyance-induced boredom you’d otherwise be feeling. A scene like the drunken karaoke is priceless as a result. It’s unexpected, forging the first glimpse of romantic bonding between Kevin and Jane, two opposites that appear to have more fun mocking each other than finding what they have in common deep down. Adding a morally ambiguous best friend in Judy Greer’s Casey helps as well, infusing the proceedings with some crass fun to counteract the wholesomeness Jane exudes. Even Malin Akerman as sister Tess does a good job at playing the puzzle piece to throw everything out of whack, in other words, the reason there is even a conflict to create a film at all. While not the greatest actress in the world, Akerman excels as the beauty turning heads and causing a wholesale upheaval of her sister’s world.
27 Dresses cannot rely on its supporting cast to carry it though. Oftentimes, these periphery players come and go quickly, showing face to advance the plot, disappearing when their job is done. While not necessarily a bad thing, being that none of them really have a fully-fleshed out role, (Akerman sort of does and Ed Burns maybe, despite his very one-dimensional dreamboat humanitarian façade), their comings and goings mean that Heigl has a lot of work to do. I think anyone asking whether she would be up to the task is correct to do so. After all, she only has two lengthy television credits and a whole lot of forgettable theatrical roles to her name. Can Izzie from “Grey’s Anatomy” carry a big budget rom-com expected to bring in huge money? I will never lie in saying I’m a big fan, she doesn’t quite have the looks and most times comes across as bitchy in the parts she gets, but I give her a hand here for doing an admirable job. I do believe Marsden carries her many times, stealing some moments with his charm and comic timing, but Heigl holds her end well, especially since she is on screen close to 100% of the runtime.
The premise is ripe for quality comedy pertaining to something we all know, that insane pomp and circumstance of wedded bliss manufactured to be more “party of the year” than the moment when two people’s love manifests itself into a union of kindred spirits. Once you get beyond the convenience of having our two leads meet coincidentally at a wedding—the down on her luck bridesmaid and the jaded wedding writer who’s flowery words no longer match his feelings about the “big day”—you will enjoy the comedy their meeting creates. Besides the opening yellow cab changing room sequence and karaoke extravaganza, there is one more crucial moment. It is the scene that encapsulates the entire film, Marsden’s discovery of Heigl’s closet of memories. This one scene has every emotion that director Anne Fletcher is looking to portray. It’s the embarrassment of having been in so many without a love for herself; the genuine smile on her face as she remembers the good times had in each; the morphing of his mocking smile to one of understanding as he sees the true worth of each dress; the devastating expressions of both when he takes that final photo of her sad face. His is so apologetic, both for taking the photo and knowing what it is he will be doing with it. The rest is all fluff, leading up to the conclusion we played in our heads an hour before we saw it. Thankfully, amidst all that window dressing lie a few moments of truth where all involved got it right. They may not make 27 Dresses a resounding success, but they do make it ever so slightly relevant and worth a glimpse.
27 Dresses 5/10 | ★ ★