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.
July 11, 2011 at 7:35 pm
I’ve been waiting for this review since I discovered your blog!
It really is strange to watch this one again as an adult if you haven’t seen it in years. I watched it again when I had just graduated from college, so I was sort of horrified that Kimberly is like 20 and drops out of school for her husband. Also, everyone else seems way older than her, which made that part more disturbing for me.
But yeah, other than that, this is a great wedding movie! I think it manages to be pretty emotionally complex for a romantic comedy and I love that Julia doesn’t get the guy but you feel like she’s going to be okay at the end.
July 12, 2011 at 7:42 am
You know, I was actually trying to write a little in this review about Kimberly dropping out of school but it was too rambly so I edited it out! But comments can be rambly! SO: I think Kimberly dropping out of school is supposed to be one of her realistic character flaws, and the dark side of a lot of her “perfect qualities” (young, rich, devoted to Michael). And I like that she’s conflicted about it. Because, yeah, I mean, girlfriend, finish school. It’s one more year. On the other hand, it’s not like she needs to work as an architect to keep a roof over her head, you know what I’m saying? She’s not being irresponsible, just kind of… lame?
Which I find more forgivable.
But in the end it is just a plot device so Julianne can exploit the conflict about Kim dropping out of school in trying to break up the wedding.
July 11, 2011 at 7:48 pm
I have a tender spot in my heart for this movie, for all the reasons you mentioned, and because it’s one of the first movies I owned. An aunt thought it would be a great idea to gift me the VHIS (VHS! Do kids these days even know what those are? ) for Christmas around the time I was twelve or thirteen. Not quite sure what she was thinking, haha.
July 12, 2011 at 7:43 am
Oh, I should make a list of all the weird movies my aunt gave me on VHS for Christmas in the 90s. The only one I can think of pre-coffee is Quiz Show. OH, AUNTS.
July 11, 2011 at 9:16 pm
Oh my goodness I could talk about this movie for hours. Here are my thoughts off the top of my head:
–I agree with some of this entry so much I was like, audibly nodding. (that doesn’t make sense). Yes, this movie uniquely and masterfully pulls off Julia Roberts as an asshole but not such an asshole you can’t stand to keep watching. Reasons why I think this is in addition to what you said:
—-the plot line is so relatable to a lot of women watching. The What If guy! THE WHAT IF GUY. Ladies have them, and it is crushing to see them go away, I think, even if you are happily with someone else. I mean, it depends on what level the What If guy is; if I had a What If guy on par with Michael, I might lose my mind too. All’s far in love and war right? I don’t know, I like that she pulls it together in the end and lets him go, but the bad-person-choices she makes are ones that in a certain universe I could see myself making. Or at least I think that when I watch the film
—-RUPERT EVERETT. Oh em gee, you didn’t mention him! (There is a lot to cover, I know, and I always appreciate the brevity of your entries) I sort of remember when this came out people or critics being like “he is definitively the best part of the film.” I don’t know, maybe just my parents thought that. Either way, the film was brilliant to attach an *EXTREMELY* likable (believable-likable like Kimberly) to this lady.
—-The scene on the boat. (see below)
–I am the SAME WAY about Kimberly’s breakdown scene. I totally remember watching that and being all, “wow, girl. wow.” And now, I get. Like have BEEN THERE get it. And that is exactly what you do, and say, and how it feels, and that is love. The so-ugly-it-comes-back-around-to-beautiful side of love.
–The only thing I don’t like about Kimberly’s character is that she drops out of school? Even with my aforementioned point, I don’t know, I felt like there was a way to write that less dramatically “that’s absurd of her.” Giving up a dream job, sure, but this was like, retiring at 22? I didn’t get it. Maybe I just don’t remember correctly.
–I don’t think Dermott is horrible. I have found him horrible in EVERYTHING else, but I think he is what he’s supposed to be in this movie. A “lead” role, who is actually, the 4th most interesting role. Maybe I just found him very dreamy at the time.
–Finally: the scene on the boat, where he sings softly to her while she cries, is for me, one of the best scenes in a romantic comedy. I used to think of it often and had a real fear that moment would happen to me. Not what they’re doing, but the emotion behind what is happening. Or maybe what I was really afraid of was no would love me enough and I wouldn’t love anyone else enough for it to be able to happen. Man. So well done.
July 12, 2011 at 7:55 am
–I feel like you just gave Liz and I a subtle plea to help you check yourself before you wreck yourself regarding some of your what if guys.
–If this were anything other than my wedding week, I would have written another 400 words about how awesome Rupert Everett is. But I had freaking cardstock hearts to glue!
–Kimberly’s breakdown should come with a warning label for naive teenagers like us: “This sort of thing really happens when you are in love.”
–See above about Kimberly dropping out of school. Her dad owns the White Sox! I’m impressed she even pretended to want a college degree. [I would make such a lame rich person!]
–He is definitely most dreamy in this movie, especially on the boat scene you mentioned. Dancing to music only you can hear? UGH>apsdfb so romantic.
July 11, 2011 at 10:24 pm
1. This really made me want to read your review of Runaway Bride, which obviously you had written and I had read but it does not exist. I just made it up in my mind, even though I think we talked about Runaway Bride a lot freshman year?
2. I had inserted Dylan McDermott into Dermott Mulroney’s role, because it makes more sense to be in love with Dylan McDermott, especially in the 90s.. and really always.
3. I had totally forgotten how good the soundtrack to this movie is.
4. I would disagree with Abby in that he isn’t a “What if” guy, he is a “had him and wasn’t good enough but will settle later if you have to” guy because they made that agreement that if they are TWENTY EIGHT (Jesus Christ, I am going to kill myself) and unmarried, they might as well get married.
5. I always remember the scene where Julia Roberts calls Cameron Diaz “jello” and compares herself to a scallop wrapped in bacon or something. Cameron Diaz stands up for herself and is all “Look bitch, he loves jello.” That has always stayed with a good explanation of love; even if you’re supposed to want someone different or better, you love who you love.
July 12, 2011 at 8:06 am
1. Our ongoing conversation about Runaway Bride: eggs benedict is not a freaking “kind of eggs.” It is a dish prepared with poached eggs. Poached eggs can be her favorite kind of eggs. Eggs benedict cannot. ARGHHHHHH!
2. Ah, Dylan McDermott and Dermot Mulroney. The Bill Paxton & Bill Pullman of the C-list.
3. Burt Bacharach what what!
4. Oh, the 28 thing broke my brain also. Who needs to be married by 28! I know a bunch of people who’ve said they want to get married by 29, especially pre-Sex and the City (I know this sounds super lame, but I believe in my heart that show helped the cause of 30-something single women), which is sad enough, but TWENTY EIGHT!
Also note that I kind of snickered like, “What, these people are not even remotely 28.” Dermot Mulroney was 34, which is kind of a stretch, but Julia Roberts was only 30.
5. YOU HAVE THIS SCENE REVERSED. Cameron Diaz is “creme brulee” and Julia Roberts is jello. Cameron Diaz whines, “I can be jello!” and Julia Roberts says (essentially) ‘look bitch, he loves Jello” I still agree with your conclusion that love can have warped standards.
July 12, 2011 at 1:20 pm
I downloaded Runaway Bride to watch last night but instead watched at least 8 episodes of Pawn Stars. Are omelets are kind of eggs?
Ugh, but Cameron Diaz IS Jello that is who she is as a human being. She is all bright and happy and annoying but strangely likable. Also, Julia Roberts is a food critic. Food critics cannot describe themselves as Jello.
July 12, 2011 at 5:21 pm
I think Michael is still her “what if” guy, in terms of how we think of and know BOTH those types in the characters of our lives (our = the muppets at large, too). Because doesn’t she say they dated for like, a month? Or one hot minute?
I think you have to date for a chunk of time before you are like the “oh, we didn’t work, but I’ll come back to you if I have no one else by [age redacted because it's now YOUNGER than me!!]”
My own “what if” guy, I like, sort of dated him? For a date or two. But not REALLY. I didn’t give it a chance, which is what defines the what if guy. What if you had really dated and gone for it.
I just think that’s how you think of him in terms of the movie, because I think it’s not relate-able to make Julia Roberts so abso-crazy-insane over just, stolen property. I know she quips “he was mine first” but I honestly think that’s not what’s going on. She is losing the chance to ever see if they could be happy together, really together, the way Michael and Kimberly are really together.
The defense rests.
July 11, 2011 at 11:27 pm
I also love the jello line.
And I also love Rupert Everett in this film.
And in a strange twist of fate, this movie is showing on TV tonight! I’m getting the popcorn ready.
July 12, 2011 at 8:07 am
Try putting some fresh cracked pepper on that popcorn. Delish!
July 12, 2011 at 7:01 am
I’ve been waiting for YEARS to be able to sneak into a wedding and reveal myself like Rupert Everett in this movie. Alas, I’ve had no luck this far.
This was the first “chick flick” (SEXIST) that I really enjoyed. It’s been a downward spiral of romantic comedies from that point on in my movie-going career.
July 12, 2011 at 8:09 am
I would like to point out that I bought this movie (in a double DVD pack with The Wedding Planner) when you gave your approval when we were grocery shopping at Giant Eagle together last summer.
July 12, 2011 at 11:10 am
My very most favorite parts of this movie are 1) the irony of Ani singing the opening song; 2) Francis from Malcolm in the Middle huffing helium with his friends; and 3) every frigging time Rupert embarrasses her. I wish he hadn’t gotten so grumpy and plasticized – this movie made me love him.
July 12, 2011 at 7:22 pm
I guess it should not really be surprising that I’ve never seen this. We have to add this to the list.
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