The Wedding Planner (2001)

Rated PG-13 for language and some sexual humor.

Starring Jennifer Lopez, Matthew McConaughey, Bridgette Wilson, Judy Greer, Justin Chambers.
Directed by Adam Shankman.
Written by Andrea King, Michael Ellis and Pamela Falk.
Distributed by Columbia Tristar.
103 minutes.

  
Photo ©Columbia Tristar. All rights reserved.

Note: This page includes review and revision entry.

A Confused R.C.

The Wedding Planner is one of the more confused romantic comedies that I have seen. For me, a romantic comedy can succeed primarily in one of two ways: by sticking to the idea that it is a modern fairy tale and, therefore, never trying to fool the audience into believing that it's not in a fairy tale mode (e.g., Pretty Woman, Notting Hill); or, the opposite, to be realistic in that its main participants are as befuddled about love as the rest of us, offering some insight in to the motives of the people who are caught in its hold (e.g., When Harry Met Sally..., Chasing Amy). The Wedding Planner is either trying to be both, thus having its cake and eating it too, or it doesn't know what it's trying to be, thereby making an unconvincing story along the way.

The plot isn't complicated, naturally. Mary Fiore (Jennifer Lopez) is a wedding planner, who is able to co-ordinate the most fancy and elaborate weddings for often rich and socially important clientele. Her latest assignment is to plan the wedding of Fran Donolly (Bridgette Wilson); pulling it off will make her a partner in the wedding planning company she works for. Before she can get started, she finds herself in a moment of peril, and to the rescue is Steve Edison (Matthew McConaughey), a charming pediatrician. Mary, whose business is to help other lovers celebrate and who often doesn't get personally involved in the business of her business, can't help herself this time and finds herself smitten with Steve after a night at an outdoor movies-in-the-park fair with him. And of course, she soon enough finds out to her great chagrin that Dr. Edison just happens to be the groom of Fran.

At this point, the story starts to muddle, and one contrivance after another doesn't help it. Fran, of course, is oblivious to what has happened between Mary and Steve. While at a vineyard to assess it as a possible wedding location, Mary, angry at Steve for being dishonest, tosses subtle barbs at him, and Steve doesn't get to talk back. Along comes Massimo (Justin Chambers), a goofy Italian guy whom Mary's father (Alex Rocco) wants to fix up with Mary. Massimo proclaims with zeal that he and Mary are engaged, even though no real proposal had ever occurred, and this allows Steve to feel he has the right to snap back at Mary for her "dishonesty" as well. For some reason, Mary doesn't explain right away that she isn't really engaged and allows Steve to be smug with her for quite a while.

And then there's another convenience when Fran must jet off to who-knows-where for a week, leaving Steve to approve of each little remaining arrangement detail of their wedding with Mary. This gives the two main characters a chance to talk more and become friendly again. The sad thing is that no one has seemed to notice that, along the way, nothing really amusing or romantic is happening in regards to our two would-be lovers. They are surrounded, at first, by zany characters, but when they are left alone together nothing terribly humorous or magical happens. In fact, sometimes humor needs to be forced upon them as in one particular scene with a statue; otherwise, she seems wearily resigned that no wondrous romance can happen in her life, and he is just sort of the victim of whatever mood she happens to be in.

And now the movie has written itself in to a corner. It seems to want to go for the "realistic" approach as it heads toward the final act, with Mary sadly realizing that love isn't a magical thing and Steve being trapped in his engagement. Along the way, neither of the two really looks like they truly have that raw attraction to each other (this may be due to bad chemistry between the two leads). One character even gives a very sensible speech about how one can grow to love another person, because love isn't necessarily instantaneous and based on at-first-sight. Will Mary just accept things and marry Massimo? Will Steve end up with Fran after all?

You can answer those questions for yourself because by now, if you've read what I've written, I'm sure that you can. I think this movie wanted to be magical, showing that two people are bound for each other by a kind of destiny, one that doesn't have to follow the rules of what love should or shouldn't be like. However, by weighing itself down in some very convincing justifications of why people shouldn't necessarily look for that magic, the movie negates itself (a good example of this is the Massimo character, who starts off idiotic but ends up sweet and sympathetic, only to have that rather cleanly disregarded at the end). Mary herself had gone from someone who was clearly smitten to someone sadly resigned to the realities of her situation. Was she even in love anymore? By the end of the movie, nothing was convincing anymore. It was trying too hard, certain plot contrivances were too convenient, and by the end it pretty much stopped working for me (it really stopped working for me when the movie pulled out that old romantic comedy standby: one lover hurrying to get to the other before it's too late by driving manically down the streets, with traffic getting in the way).

When it's all wrapped-up, it's quite clear that this is simply a Jennifer Lopez vehicle designed to test her potential in being able to break in to a world ruled by Meg Ryan and Julia Roberts. She quite possibly has the goods to do well in this genre, because not only is she endearing and attractive, but her ethnic backgound helps to make her more accessible and identifiable as a whole. Her first choice for a romantic comedy to star in is, sadly, not strong enough to suit her potential. She deserved better than this rather confused and generally harmless movie. But is it the movie's fault or her own fault that, somewhere along the way, she doesn't really look like she's in love anymore? That's the most important rule in any romantic comedy that was violated here: never let the audience think for one moment that a main character has escaped the hold of love.

Rating: 4/10

©Jeffrey Chen, Feb. 17, 2001

REVISION

In my 2001 Hindsight article, I wrote regarding The Wedding Planner:

Two other movies that I went too easy on: Sweet November and The Wedding Planner. Both benefitted from the fact that I was new at this reviewing business, and I was trying to give whatever I saw more than a fair chance. As a result, they got 4/10 each. Looking back, both of these movies don't deserve more than a 3/10, my rating for a solidly bad movie.

Revised Rating: 3/10

©Jeffrey Chen, Jan. 13, 2002

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