VOD film review: My Best Friend’s Wedding
James R | On 19, May 2018
Director: P.J. Hogan
Cast: Julia Roberts, Dermot Mulroney, Cameron Diaz
“Michael’s chasing Kimmy. You’re chasing Michael. Who’s chasing you?” That’s the catty observation made by George (Rupert Everett) partway through My Best Friend’s Wedding, and it’s one that gets right to the heart of what makes this romantic comedy one of the genre’s best.
The film stars – who else? – Julia Roberts as Julianne, the best friend of Michael (Dermot Mulroney). Mates since forever, they’ve a pact for years: if both of them are sill single when they turn 28, they’ll get hitched to each other. Three weeks before he hits that milestone, he gives her a call. The news? He’s about to get married. In four days. To someone else. And so she flies in to New York to attend the ceremony, support her friend, and meet the woman who stole the man of their dreams.
It’s a cracking premise, which takes the high stakes of a marriage and combines it with the age-old formula of the textbook 90s romantic comedy: woman loves man (or vice versa), woman has to tell man she loves him before too late, man realises he loves her too. Ronald Bass, who also wrote Rain Man, peppers his script with just the right amount of familiar beats, from karaoke and private boat rides to last-minute chases after The One just in time for the crucial deadline. But the screenplay is sharper, and more acerbic, than you might suspect – and those barbs become more obvious every second we spend in Julianne’s company.
Played by Roberts with every ounce of heartfelt honesty, she cuts a wonderfully relatable figure, genuinely caring for Michael, and shocked to realise that she may have let him slip through her fingers. She’s the perfect foil to Cameron Diaz, who delivers what may be her best performance as Kimmy, the polar opposite to Julianne; where one is red-haired, grounded, mature and cynical, Kimmy is bright, breezy, blonde and the daughter of a rich baseball team’s owner. She can’t sing in tune, she doesn’t share the same jokes Julianne has with Michael, and she’s got zero awareness of personal space.
What each actor manages over the course of 90 minutes is to gradually flip those personalities on their head; Kimmy’s sickly sweetness becomes simply sweet, while Julianne’s calculated attempts to prise the engaged couple apart become more and more unsettling, but crucially without losing our entire support. In a genre where we’ve been conditioned to know that the right people end up with each other, My Best Friend’s Wedding dares to suggest that maybe – just maybe – Julianne isn’t the right fit for Michael after all. Director P.J. Hogan plays with the possibility that he’s not The One for her, and that her love for him isn’t enough, without every shortchanging or questioning the sincerity of those expectations. Dermot Mulroney, meanwhile, stands in between the two extreme outcomes, perfectly attractive, attractively imperfect, and able to see the positives in both the important women in his life.
The result sparks with endearing chemistry between all of the ensemble, managing to find real moments of happiness – and tear-jerking moments of pain. But it does all this complex subversion of romantic comedy cliches without once missing an opportunity for a laugh. Many of those come courtesy of Everett’s swoonsome George, who rides in to keep Julianne company as things heat up (and has fun getting revenge on his friend for taking advantage of him as her GBF). But they also come from Julianne’s sarcastic quips (Roberts lets rip with the fun of effectively playing the villain), the delight of seeing a room of people all join in with the same song, and one of the best uses of the term “food critic” you’ll ever see in a film.
“If you love someone, you say it, right then, out loud,” Michael passionately declares to Julianne, in one of their many heart-to-hearts. My Best Friend’s Wedding, though, reminds us that saying something is only the start of a very complicated can of worms, and that people in real life aren’t as flawless as the movies would have us believe. This is a quietly bold, darkly hilarious deconstruction (and celebration) of romantic comedies that finds joy in being together, but also strength in being single. After all, just because a movie’s got the word “wedding” in the title, that doesn’t mean everyone has to get married.