Since a lot of romantic comedies have a wedding somewhere in the film, the reasoning must go, why not have an entire movie about them? From “The Wedding Singer” to “Wedding Crashers” to our two films today, imitation in the movies isn’t so much the sincerest form of flattery than a business proposition. Jennifer Lopez brought in $95 million as “The Wedding Planner” in 2001. This raised J.Lo’s profile and propelled her into other comedy/romance projects that tried to replicate it. Some (“Maid in Manhattan”) came close, while others (“Gigli”) diminished her standing. Now comes Katherine Heigl in her own wedding planner picture, “27 Dresses.”
It’s off to a roaring start: first week ticket sales are already a third higher than the film’s $30 million dollar production budget. That’s our Smackdown: Does “27 Dresses” leave “The Wedding Planner” at the altar?
Jane Nichols (Heigl) is a busy New Yorker who can’t help herself when it comes to organizing her friends’ weddings. Among her souvenirs: 27 bridesmaid dresses and no long term prospects of her own. Jane is so committed she arranges — and appears — in two weddings the same night. Jane has a crush on her boss George (Edward Burns) who is oblivious to her ardor and an office full of coworkers who are not. Jane’s sister Tess (Malin Akerman) comes to visit and enchants George. Their impending nuptials connects them and Jane with a roguish society writer at the local paper, Kevin (James Marsden) who witnessed Jane’s double bridesmaid duty. Deception lands Jane and her dresses in an embarrassing newspaper profile written by Kevin. Jane is uncomfortable with Tess flim-flamming her way into George’s heart. A series of showdowns and reconciliations pushes the action toward a predictable conclusion. This drama is about weddings — and 27 Dresses has a big one that ties up the loose ribbons. Anne Fletcher directed the screenplay from Aline Brosh McKenna.
Mary Fiore (Lopez) is a wedding planner who does her job perhaps too well. Her immigrant father wants to matchmake Mary with a childhood acquaintance from Italy, Massimo (Justin Chambers). She’s more concerned with work, especially after snagging the big society wedding that will make her career. Mary has a chance meeting with her client’s fiance, Steve Edison (Matthew McConaughey) and this creates the story’s big complication. Wedding Day looms: Steve to Fran (Bridgette Wilson) and across town, Mary to Massimo. Before the “I Dos” can be uttered, True Love descends like some Deus Ex Machina to untangle any wrong entanglement. Can you guess how this turns out? It’s not hard. Adam Shankman (Hairspray) directed this cupcake from a script by Pamela Falk and Michael Ellis.
Both films have comparable strengths and glaring weaknesses. Both story lines cobble together a few diverting set pieces but the dramatic conflict is undemanding, unsurprising. Luckily for both, good casts prevent these lightweights from blowing away with the first yawn. Katherine Heigl and JLo provide the spunk and personality lacking in the scripts. McConaughey is charming in Wedding Planner, Burns is largely wasted in 27 Dresses. Indeed, the wittiest moments in Dresses come at the very end and the final credits. Yikes. Judy Greer provides the best support from the bench — and she appears in both movies playing a nearly identical character.
These are unremarkable films but effective showcases for the lead actresses. Is there enough difference to decide which wedding planner gets left at the altar? Yeah.
Both movies are entertaining for audiences that do not expect anything special. You won’t hate either one, but it’s clear both women are better than the material. A small, superior film like Waitress offers a much stronger treatment about love and women who work. And it’s honestly funny.
J.Lo’s career has survived Gigli. She’s gotten married and spiced up her career with more music albums. Her positive bounce from Wedding Planner may have dissipated.
By contrast, 27 Dresses may continue Katherine Heigl’s trajectory to the A-list. Her performance in Knocked Up lit the fuse. She has the acting horsepower to add to her collection of Emmy and SAG awards. As she chooses better material, she will. For now, Heigl staggers home with our Smackdown! winner, “27 Dresses.”