What do women want? While Sigmund Freud may not have provided an adequate answer, Hollywood’s come up with something. Women want weddings! If not their own, any cardboard cut-out cutie’s will do in a pinch. Women want long white dresses and flowers and bridesmaids…grooms seem just the tiniest bit optional. Like garters. We gather together to witness two wedding-themed chick flicks as they walk down the multiplex aisle side by side, one indie dark and dreaming of Oscar, the other courting big box office – brightly lit and light as meringue. Both star doe-eyed sylph Anne Hathaway. Which do you take for two hours of cinematic bliss? I’ll speak now or forever hold my peace. Ha. Not bloody likely.
Anne Hathaway plays Emma in this one. And she has a team in place to keep her hair and makeup looking mostly swell. Phew. A big clue that this one’s for you, not the critics. And her wedding’s at The Plaza, not in some déclassé backyard. And she doesn’t have a sister. She has a bestfriend. Usually fluffy Kate Hudson plays tough legal eagle Liv and does double duty as one of the film’s producers. The bucks stop there. (Hudson’s own shaky-cam foray into seriousness lies ahead of her.) Emma and Liv are the kind of best girlfriends who stop at nothing to destroy one another for reasons so flimsy as to…Wait. Let me catch my breath a moment. All the blood’s rushed from my head. Besides, if you’ve seen the trailer, you get more than an idea of what lowbrow hijinks await you. These girls are freaking vicious. They make “House Bunny”’s dimwitted sorority sisters look like Rhodes scholars. It’s Ashton Kutcher’s Punk’d with a double shot of estrogen-fueled cruelty and dopey personal vendettas. Setting the women’s movement back to the Dark Ages, these two flickchicks oughta be decked out for Roller Derby so ludicrous is the premise. Without the benefit of rollerskates or helmets, these demented pinheads take turns dishing up sophomoric sabotage, messing with their rival’s pre-nup beauty hair-dye and spray-tan rituals. Blue hair’s not just for old ladies any more, and Oompa Loompa orange is the color of revenge served up stale. Are you laughing yet? Dumb is hardly the new smart.
The Defending Champion
Let’s set the record straight. Anne Hathaway isn’t Rachel. She’s Rachel’s edgy and estranged sister Kym and the biggest name on the marquee. Lesser known and tightly wound Rosemarie DeWitt plays Rachel, brilliant clown Bill Irwin plays their father, and much-missed Debra Winger their mother. Industry lion/upstart Jonathan Demme directs from a script by Jenny Lumet, sometime actor daughter of directing giant Sidney Lumet and granddaughter of legendary Lena Horne. (What a pedigree.) Can you conceivably buy more indie cred? I think not. This thing should totally rock. And it sort of does. For a while. Until the music starts. And then never ever ends.
A real headcase with real problems not conveniently (or even remotely) solved by movie’s end, Kym’s arrival upsets the precariously balanced apple cart of family happiness. All these loose ends are refreshing indeed; this family has some screws loose, and we are fortunate to have been invited to the wedding for a privileged peek behind the facade. After all the preparations and the wedding dinner and all those toasts, we feel like real guests, extended members of this very particular tribe.
“Rachel Getting Married” paints a shaky-cam family portrait of a particularly fraught weekend. The tone veers frequently and sometimes jarringly from drama to comedy as many real life family weekends are wont to do. Kym’s return from rehab unearths some long-buried tensions and secrets, and unexpected dysfunctions surface, marring the festivities and making drama of the very small details that comprise so much of well-observed family life.
Let me just say: “Rachel Getting Married” features a cathartic climactic scene about loading a dishwasher, the not-terribly-Special Olympics of passive aggression. While this may have seemed pretty nifty on the page, it amounts to little more than a protracted yawn on the screen. That awkward lull prepares us for the longest post-wedding world music marathon ever projected anywhere but an unedited home video. I seriously considered leaving Rachel’s wedding a little early; perhaps if they’d served recreational drugs and alcohol, the audience might have found the festivities as amusing as the onscreen guests do. It’s a low-budget movie; maybe they shot the wrap party. Still, the film has its weird charms. Messy textures and that sense of eavesdropping on a real family in their most private (if dramatically inflated) moments. Immediacy. The filmmakers paint a stand-alone huggy-feely hippy-dippy world; characters exist in an understated beside-the-point racial mix, a cultural melting pot of groovy non-issue issues. This new world order extended family floats unscathed through the drama, mildly intoxicated and thoroughly intriguing. There’s something smug and self-satisfied about all the feel-good racial harmony. Only the white chicks seem completely ruffled — bitter, neurotic messes all; those other mellow off-white earthlings move through the weekend too cool for school. Is there a lesson here? Sure there is.
Here’s another. Anne Hathaway plays a drug-addicted screw-up with abandon. She dares to wear the kind of tragically bad Louise-Brooks-with-razor-and-attitude haircut that screams Oscar. It’s a fearless and much-heralded performance, and while Anne Hathaway earns tremendous brownie points for appearing onscreen sans lipstick, like Charlize Theron and other beauties who’ve ventured into similar Take Me Seriously As An Actress territory, she never looks anything less than ravishing. But she’s got some acting chops, and one applauds her (perhaps calculating) brush with eschewing vanity and glamour for this gritty portrayal of a prickly character who’s pretty hard to love.
[Note to Hillary Duff, Vanessa Hudgens, and other twenty-something Disney divas: Quick! Date Bernie Madoff before he’s carted off to prison! Then, in every interview, talk endlessly about how you don’t want to/can’t talk about him and how you deserve the love of a good man. (Why Bernie? you ask. Oh sure, he’s not young or Italian or much of a hottie, but he is a felon, it’s not like he actually killed anyone, plus he’s still walking around free.) Next step, leave that lipgloss at home, fire that hairdresser, and voila! Start practicing your Academy Award acceptance speech and choosing a dress! It’s like a goof-proof magic trick.]
“Bride Wars” Manhattan is the eerily familiar all-white Movieworld New York City where a middle school teacher can afford a blowout at The Plaza and still have plenty of dosh left over to spring for ultra-expensive sneak snack attacks. How did she do it? Well, you can bet she saved a ton of money on food over the years, eating half a lettuce leaf for lunch and sipping lemon water for breakfast.
Bloomie’s and Vera Wang and Bluefly and Godiva. Tiffany’s! Oh my. Can you say Product Placement?
Comedy veteran Kristen Johnson delivers every one of her lines as if her life depended on it, and Candice Bergen pops in from time to time, looking relieved she’s not the unfortunate ingénues most egregiously humiliated in this morass of lameness. Most of the other characters barely have names, let alone personalities. Emma and Liv seem to have friends but they’re stumped when it comes time to choose their alternate maids of honor. Hmm. Should they pick the married one with the funny lines, the one who eats ice cream, or the one who pops pills? The grooms are slightly animated Disney princes, cake toppers delivering unearned plot twists with not much ado.
The real lesson of this film is never mentioned; weddings are not the point. Plaza, June, spoon, whatever. Friendship is more important. Obviously. But one thing more. Marriage is more important than weddings. Duh.
These lovely dolts are not even fighting over a guy; they’re fighting over a date. Have any fought harder for less? (Not counting, say, the Middle East.) This kind of passionate battle is usually reserved for movie lovers who are meant to be together in the last reel. Wait. Maybe the original and more edifying happy ending would have Emma and Liv trucking up to Vermont to tie the knot with each other. Dump those forgettably interchangeable grooms altogether and seal it with a kiss. Two white gowns. Two veils. Two bouquets. Too controversial? Too bad. I was starting to smell sequel.
Critics know they can’t kill “Bride Wars” with a stick. It’s shiny and it’s high concept and it’s playing in every freaking multiplex in the country. It takes a village to make any movie, which is why I won’t mention the names of the three screenwriters credited with concocting this decidedly unoriginal brew of leftover comic invention. “Bride Wars” isn’t the first stupid wedding comedy and it won’t be the last. Tepid and dumb as a box of rocks, it does precious little to advance the cause of female solidarity and friendship. In fact, it advances a feeble and perhaps unintentional case against the theory of evolution. If you stop chewing your popcorn and really concentrate, you can actually feel your brain cells dying as you watch.
While you may want to duck out of Rachel’s wedding a tad early – those onscreen musicians and wedding guests are having way more fun than we are after a point – at least you’ll leave the theater with something to think about. And something left to think with.
I, Sherry, take you, “Rachel Getting Married,” to be my Smackdown winner, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part. (Can’t wait to hold the DVD remote in my hand so I can speed through the reception…)