I’ve saved “the best” (my favorite) for “last” (are you kidding me? I’m not retiring this feature after my wedding).
When I first saw My Best Friend’s Wedding I was thirteen years old. I’m pretty sure it was before my dad instituted “Movie Camp” to fill in the blanks in my cultural upbringing [Movie Camp did not involve any actual camping, just a bunch of trips to Blockbuster to rent classic flicks.] My eyes were fresh and my heart was naive, and My Best Friend’s Wedding was the first movie I ever saw where the bad guy is the main character.
And I loved that! I loved being forced to sympathize with and even root for someone who is very a plainly terrible human being. Because it was novel to me. The trouble is, after My Best Friend’s Wedding, Hollywood took having a selfish lying narcissist jerk for a protagonist as one of the fundamental ingredients of a wedding movie. I see now that this movie I adored is responsible for all my frustrated sighs over these many long movie-reviewing months.
The crucial difference that separates Julia Robert’s Julianne from the other monstrous wedding movie protagonists who have followed her is that the movie isn’t trying to gloss over the fact that she is an awful person. We watch Julianne stoop lower and lower to stop her best friend/former flame Michael from marrying “annoyingly perfect” (read: beautiful, young, rich, nice, charming, supernaturally adept at coping with her fiance’s ex-baggage) Kimberly with as much horror as amusement. We’re supposed to find her antics entertaining but not charming; and her desperation relatable, but not admirable.
Which is the appropriate characterization given the plot of the movie! Because despite what Hollywood tells us, breaking up a wedding is, at least 99.9999% of the time, a really shitty thing to do. I’m sure there is someone out there who pulled a Benjamin Braddock and then lived happily ever after with his Elaine and had a passel of children and one f them went on to cure Cancer, but for that one person there are untold legions of people who messily shoved their drama into a busy, important, stressful, should-be-joyful day. Thankfully, I think most real people know that, but I worry sometimes about the message we are sending to our children. [Sidebar: seeing Julia Roberts smoke a lot in this movie really dated it for me. Even bad guys hardly ever smoke in the movies these days.]
Of course, My Best Friend’s Wedding would fail if all it did was accurately depict wedding saboteurs as jerks. Well, maybe not, there sure are a lot of movies about jerks, at least if Netflix’s “quirky independent drama” suggestions are to be believed. People must like them. But from where I sit, movies about jerks need two things:
1) The jerk must be charismatic. The jerk must remind you of that friend who finds a way to piss you off once a fortnight but you keep her around anyway because, well, she’s really awesome, too, just… difficult. This is particularly vital when the jerk is in any way a romantic lead, because fact: people fall in love with jerks, but only the fun ones. And the really, really hot ones. But that sort of goes without saying in the movies, so you can’t just say, “Oh he loves her because she looks like Julia Roberts!” That’s a cop out.
2) The jerk must lose in the end. Because this is actually the happy ending. When the protagonist does a series of horrible things to accomplish his or her goal and succeeds, all I can think about is the collateral damage. Even when the movie goes out of its way to make the jilted party The Even Bigger Jerk. That just feels contrived.
Which brings me to my final note of praise for this movie (which I guess I should parenthetically mention is also quite funny and has a great soundtrack): the characterization of Kimberly, the bride. No, she’s not really perfect, but in a lesser movie, her beauty and friendliness would be a facade and she’d either be a bitch at heart or painfully vapid. But Kimberly is neither. She’s not stupid about what Julianne means to her fiance, she’s just trusting, because she’s a good person. But they don’t make her impossibly perfect, either. On this viewing, I really loved the scene where one of Juliana’s machinations almost leads to Michael calling off the wedding but Kimberly sobs and begs for him to give her another chance. When I first saw that scene, I thought she came across as pathetic. But now that I am in love, I know exactly how that feels. That sort of desperate need is a realistic weakness that brings Kimberly down from her pedestal without throwing her immediately in the dirt.
In contrast, the dude in dispute is the most poorly realized character, but that may be because Dermott Mulroney is not just a charisma vacuum but a DYSON-brand charisma vacuum. Can you believe they tried to remake The Rockford Files with this guy?
Ok, kids, that’s all I got. Oh, and in case you didn’t pick up on this message? Don’t try to break up my wedding. I will make you regret it.