CR Movie Club: My Best Friend’s Wedding

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This is CR Movie Club. Each week in quarantine, we’re revisiting a classic film from yesteryear to explore why we loved it in the first place and how it holds up over time.

Not only is My Best Friend’s Wedding my favorite romantic comedy, it might be the best one ever made. Unexpected yet surprisingly old-fashioned, it’s a story of the terrible lengths we’ll go to for love told through the lighthearted romp of destruction. Directed by P. J. Hogan, who bookended the Hollywood hit with Murial’s Wedding and Confessions of a Shopaholic, the 1997 movie stars Julia Roberts as Julianne Potter, its titular over-looked lover, and was a rebound of sorts for the actress, who was then still recovering from her box office bomb the year before, Mary Reilly.

At 27, Julianne is a wildly successful food critic in Manhattan that has, unbeknownst to her, never fully moved on from her college boyfriend, Michael O’Neal (Dermot Mulroney), although the two remained best friends in the decade since. Weeks from her upcoming birthday, she receives a phone call from Michael that she takes as a sign of fate—years earlier the two made a marriage pact should they both be single at 28. In actually, it was an invitation: Michael had met someone, fallen in love, and was to be married in four days. Would Julianne come to the wedding? He couldn’t get through it alone and couldn’t wait for Julianne to meet her. The next day Julianne boards a flight to Chicago, but not to attend Michael’s wedding, but rather, to stop it and claim him for her own.

The film is a classic triangle love story with half of the threesome unaware of their impending threat. The actions are over-the-top and the moments are high-stakes melodrama for all involved. Moreover, My Best Friend‘s is sprinkled with a coquettish musicality that is never truly acknowledged in that do the other characters hear? type of haze that often blankets musicals. Like vaseline over a camera’s lens, this begins from the get-go with the movie’s opening scene, an homage to the Golden Age of cinema. There’s pops of flamboyancy and bits of early ’60s nostalgia in this four-minute prelude as four doe-eyed gals appear across a bubble gum pink screen, performing various scenes of matrimonial preparation while lip-syncing to Ani Difranco’s cover of “Wishin’ and Hopin.'” In these actions we see the rituals of love—i.e. marriage—celebrated with a white glove level of service, and while the actresses do not continue in the feature that follows, their message is clear: this is a story about doing anything to be loved.

In its entirety, My Best Friend’s Wedding has all of the hard-to-accept tropes that have made us tired of the romantic comedy mash-up since its time. There is the blissfully unaware blonde villain, Kimmy Wallace, played Cameron Diaz pre-There’s Something About Mary glow-up; the gay best friend and fixer-upper, George, fronted by the charming Rupert Everett; the realization that we don’t want something until it’s gone; the lost-in-the-crowd, slow-mo montages; the catty female friendships; the conversations at nearly a breath’s length apart; the karaoke(!); and so on. But more than the archetypal potholes and the gloss and glitz (Kimmy’s father owns the Chicago Cubs, so you know the wedding is a big to-do), My Best Friend’s Wedding’s power is in its campy balance of manic lovesickness and crippling humanity. It’s a rom com that playfully supersedes the formula of the genre despite having all of its heavy players.

While we long for our hero to succeed, like Julianne, we too are anchored by conscious even in spite of our own terriblenesses. Deep down we know that she won’t win out. She can’t get the guy because she can’t destroy others—or even him himself—to do so. And while we are bruised in Julianne’s contempt, we are allowed to revel in the turmoil around it, which is only entertained by the absurdity of her lies and the circumstances of others. Perhaps the film’s most endearing scene is the bridal party lunch in which George is asked the story of how he and Julianne first met. Feigning to be engaged to make Michael jealous, George wraps his arm around a disconcerted Julianne and begins signing “I Say a Little Prayer” by Dionne Warwick. The rest of the table joins in cheer, and as the whole restaurant is suddenly singing in choir, it’s not clear where the line stops between reality and delusion.

Eventually, her best friend does indeed get married—spoiler—but not before a memorable three-way chase and an admittance of all her acts of sabotage. (“I’m pond scum,” Julianne famously says. “Well, lower actually. I’m like the fungus that feeds on pond scum.”) Single as ever, our protagonist smiles her way through her maid of honor speech at the ceremony: “I had the strangest dream. I dreamt that some psychopath was trying to break the two of you up,” she says. “Luckily, I woke up and I see that the world is just as it should be.”

While this type of self-realization in a flick’s final ten minutes is certainly nothing new, the moment is perfectly wrapped and covered with a bow that makes anything but a warm smile impossible. As “I Say a Little Prayer” plays one final time, George appears yet again. Taking Julianne’s hand, they dance, and in a stunning opposition to the movie’s opening sequence just an hour and a half earlier, we see that love can’t be created. It can’t be forced or feigned or prepared for—it just is. And even when it isn’t, that’s okay, too.

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