My Best Friend’s Wedding - * * *

People bursting out in song. It’s not the sort of thing that you expect in a non-musical, yet it happens quite often in My Best Friend’s Wedding, and exemplifies the type of movie that it is: Light and frothy, enjoyable for some, irritating to others.

If you were to strip it down to its plot, it is apparent why the film needs an excess of levity, for My Best Friend’s Wedding is a rather mean spirited film. Julia Roberts stars as Julianne Potter, a food critic with an aversion to love. She is nearing her 28th birthday, a deadline set by her and Michael O’Neal (Dermot Mulroney), a college lover who became her best friend after they broke up. Several years ago, they decided that if they were unmarried by the time they turned 28, they would marry each other. Julianne has been dodging Michael’s calls for weeks now, but when they finally speak, he announces that he is getting ready to marry someone else, the wealthy, beautiful and perky Kimmy Wallace (Cameron Diaz). This, of course, makes Julianne realize that she is the one who loves Michael, and she is the one who should marry him. She packs her bags and heads to Chicago, where she has four days to separate the fiancees and wriggle her way into Michael’s heart.

Julia Roberts is winning in her performance as Julianne, which does the film a huge favor. Her character does so many evil, cruel and selfish things that you might be repulsed were it not for Roberts’ charms.

Dermot Mulroney, however, is rather stiff as the object of her desire. He and Julianne don’t generate much chemistry. You wonder what all the ado is about. In fact, Julianne and her gay friend George (Rupert Everett) make a much better couple (in fact, his invigorating appearance gives the film a much needed shot in the arm, just when it is starting to lag).

Cameron Diaz has an interesting take on her role, not playing either the ditz or the bitch that third-wheels usually are portrayed as. Instead her Kimmy Wallace is likeable, but irritating in her perfection. Unfortunately, this backs the film into a prickly position. You can’t help but feel sorry for Kimmy, yet you want Julianne to succeed. Either way, the film seems to almost guarantee an unhappy ending.

Still, through all the gloom and doubt that abounds, director P.J. Hogan has managed to create a light romantic comedy that cuts through the darkness. Just when the atmosphere of the film becomes oppressive, he distances the film from reality. And just before the whole thing loses substance, he wisely grounds the film again. It’s a delicate balancing act, and Hogan does a good job.

Still, My Best Friend’s Wedding is a Julia Roberts film, with all the baggage (good and bad) that that implies. Those who saw Pretty Woman as a sign of the impending apocalypse will fare no better here. However, if you care for romantic comedies, and don’t mind occassional slips into irrational levity, My Best Friend’s Wedding fits the bill.

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