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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

32

The Hairpin Rom Com Club: My Best Friend's Wedding

Kimmy?! Kimmy.

Welcome back to the Hairpin Rom Com Club! It’s just like a book club, but you don’t have to go easy on the white wine if you don’t want to. This week’s movie is one that many, many people cite as one of their all-time favorites: My Best Friend’s Wedding. Released in 1997 when Julia Roberts was at the height of her rom com powers, this movie is bonkers. I mean it. I have seen it a dozen times and I’m a few months shy of having a PhD in rom coms, and I cannot for the life of me figure this movie out. From the very first shot of the opening credits, which feature a blonde bride and her three back-up singer bridesmaids wearing gowns that look like they were borrowed from a local ballet school production of The Nutcracker, lip syncing to “Wishin’ & Hopin’” which is the world’s least feminist song after “Blurred Lines” and “Area Codes,” but which is inexplicably sung by Ani Difranco, this movie promises to be totally and completely nuts. And it keeps that promise, hard.

A quick plot summary for the three of you who haven’t seen this movie yet: Julianne (Julia Roberts) is a feared New York City food critic who has also written a book about which we never learn a damn thing is single, because she’s emotionally unavailable and doesn’t like all that girly gooey shit (she also goes by “Jules” because she’s basically a dude, you see). She’s tight with her editor, George (Rupert Everett), who is both gay and British because they had a diversity quota to fill. One night she gets a call from her best friend, Michael (Dermot Mulroney), with whom she once had a fling and who, it appears, has been in love with her for almost a decade while she was busy being emotionally unavailable and not a real woman, and he announces that he’s getting married in, like, a day. Best friends, indeed. She flies to Chicago to break off his marriage to perky, perfect Kimberly (Cameron Diaz), who is very wealthy and friendly and goes by “Kimmy” because she’s very feminine, you see. Jules does everything she can to break them up, including committing electronic mail fraud, while George is trying to make her act like a human and not like a goddamn rom com heroine (it’s almost as if gay people are capable of understanding the sanctity of marriage, sometimes more than straight people do). Michael chooses Kimmy, they get married, and the end of the movie finds Jules sad, but dancing with George to a happy song. She is a terrible person, but she’s going to be just fine.

I have so many questions about this movie. First of all: Jules and Michael made a pledge that if they were still unmarried at 28, they would marry each other? That is the average age of first marriage for American men right now. I’m a woman, so I’m not great at maths, but I’m pretty sure “average” means that lots of people – lots! – get married well after 28. Because maybe this is just my unwed 26-year-old denial talking, but 28 is not that old. Did they make that pledge to each other while living in a Jane Austen novel, in which 28 was considered irredeemably over the hill? I have jokingly made pledges like that, but the deal is that we settle for each other when we’re forty-five, not TWENTY-EIGHT. Secondly: Jules and Michael have been best friends since they were in college (which was a decade ago because they are now 28 and therefore basically ready to check in to a nursing home), but he doesn’t tell her that he’s getting married until about 72 hours beforehand? There’s no handbook for how to be a best friend, but if there were, I’m pretty sure there’d be a chapter called Give Your Best Friend More Than Three Days’ Notice If You Decide To Get Hitched On The Other Side Of The Country. Sure is lucky that Jules has a rom com job, and not a real job, so she can just hop on a plane at a moment’s notice for some dress fittings and hilarious highjinks (a rom com job is one in which you do almost no work but still make a salary that allows you to live an upper middle class lifestyle and go to all sorts of fancy work events where men have the opportunity to stage grand gestures in order to win your love. See also: magazine journalist, party planner. Rom com jobs are not equal opportunity employers, as only women characters seem to have them).

I don’t know what to do with this movie. Is this a nineties feminist parody of a rom com? Is it a nineties anti-feminist backlash rom com? Why is there so much singing in this movie? I mean it: why is there a goddamn musical number in the middle of this romantic comedy, and why are all the patrons of the Barry the Cuda seafood restaurant (that’s really what it’s called) totally fine with this table full of preppy white people belting out Dionne Warwick in the middle of the lunch service?

And, when it comes to gender roles, I’m of two minds about My Best Friend’s Wedding. On one hand, it’s got some pretty obvious anti-feminist, backlash-y kind of stuff going on. Jules has been too focused on her career for all these years, and too caught up being a feminist, to realize that she’s in love with Michael, or to let herself be vulnerable to admit it. This is Kimmy’s description of Jules, based only on what Michael has told her: “You hate weddings, you never go. You’re not up for anything conventional or anything that’s assumed to be a female priority, including marriage, romance, or even…” “Love?” Jules finishes. Ugh, those feminists, always resisting tradition and ending up crazy and alone as a result, while the blonde sorority sisters who are juniors in college and marrying 28-year-olds (what?) steal the men of their dreams. In one scene, after Kimmy and Jules have conspired to try to get Michael to quit his sports writing job and stay put in Chicago, so Kimmy doesn’t have to, you know, drop out of school in order to be with him, Michael loses his shit and yells at Kimmy in the middle of a restaurant (great conflict resolution skills, dude. Solid foundation for a marriage). He’s upset because Kimmy doesn’t seem to think his job is good enough for her and her rich family, and she bursts into tears, partly because, again, he has flown off the handle and is yelling at her in the middle of a restaurant. He accuses her of making him look like a “sexist, insensitive asshole” because he wants to keep travelling and she wants to keep going to college, and she is reduced to a quivering, sobbing, begging, pleading, pink twinset and pearls wearing mess, and they kiss and makeup and everything’s fine, except it’s not, because she really wants to finish college and have a life of her own. She paraphrases Virginia freaking Woolf, for god’s sake. The question of his job is never resolved, which means that the question of her staying in college is never resolved. We never get to find out if Kimmy finishes college and pursues her dream of becoming an architect. But she is super happy about marrying him, so who really cares? We barely know anything about Jules’s career, so what does it matter if Kimmy ever even has one?

On the other hand, this movie is, in many ways, radical. It’s an anti-rom com. Jules spends much of it running around like a crazed rom com heroine, pulling ridiculous stunts and operating under the assumption that you can lie, trick, and manipulate a person into falling out of love with their fiancée and into love with you. It doesn’t work, and George, who is half walking gay stereotype and half The Only Sensible Person in This Movie tells her on multiple occasions to give it up and act like a grown up. She is, after all, TWENTY-EIGHT. The result is that the movie ends “unhappily” – that is, the heroine doesn’t get the man she wants, despite lots of grand gestures and a lot of clumsy falling down (Julia Roberts falls over at least four times in this movie).

The ending is, instead, bittersweet: Jules doesn’t get the man, but she does get to dance with George. “Maybe there won’t be marriage. Maybe there won’t be sex. But by god, there’ll be dancing,” he says, in one of the more famous lines of the movie. But the line I find more telling is what he tells her while she’s still chasing Michael through the streets of Chicago in a stolen truck while talking on a cell phone. “You’re not the one,” he says. You’re not the one. These four words fly in the face of almost every rom com ever made, because the central premise of the genre is that the heroine is the one: the one woman who can get the ungettable guy, who can turn the beast back into a prince, who is worth traveling through time for, whatever. The One. Jules is not the one. She doesn’t get the guy. She does terrible things to try to get him, to try to “win” him. She follows all the laws of rom com world, but the laws don’t apply here. Kimmy calls her two-faced and Michael calls her pond scum, and though they ultimately forgive her, those assessments are correct. She’s not the one, so she can’t get away with acting like two-faced pond scum. No happy ending for her. It’s a pretty radical thing to do to your mainstream Hollywood rom com heroine. And it’s so rare. In big budget rom coms, that kind of ending has not happened since My Best Friend’s Wedding was released almost 15 years ago.

Then again, Kimmy, the compliant, perky, blonde bride gets her happy ending. The foul-mouthed, career-driven feminist does not. But Kimmy is secretly more feminist than she lets on. And, you really do get the sense, at the end, that Jules is going to be just fine.

It’s complicated, kind of like real life, which is why, I think, so many people rank this rom com among their favorites. It’s not a predictable, paint-by-numbers story. If you haven’t seen it before, you can’t tell from the first scene how it’s going to end. It turns out that when you challenge viewers a little – yes, even girly women who watch chick flicks – they like it. They love it.

And they’ll look the other way while you insert utterly inexplicable musical numbers into the middle of your screenplay.



32 Comments / Post A Comment

19695252@twitter

I love and hate this movie so much! So many questions, not the least of which is, why does Julia Roberts run around in the final scenes with 2 pairs of sunglasses on her head? This is never explained and it haunts me to this day. And Kimmy must be like a really sad person that she has to ask a stranger to be her maid of honor. I just don't buy her explanation that her best friend shattered her pelvis line-dancing in Abilene over spring break. (I did not have to Google that. I remembered it. This movie is stuck in my brain forever.)

MeganBungeroth

@19695252@twitter (The above comment was by me. Apparently I don't know how this system works.)

eizverson22

I liked the movie, the friendship between women is forever.

juksie

I never payed close attention to the beginning of this movie (I've always caught it on cable, don't know if I've ever actually seen it the whole way through) but I'd always just assumed that Kimmy was in grad school and not...21 and still in college? Why are her parents okay with this wedding????

I love your analysis of why people like this movie- I think that the "who is chasing you" scene is just as, if not more, affecting as any realization of love is in other romcoms. It gives us an emotional climax that speaks just as much to our real experiences as our desired experiences, while still holding the rest of the romcom framework.

OTatHeart

@juksie I came down here to say the same thing - The "who is chasing you" scene is completely brilliant and has stopped me from making more than one bad decision myself :)

BuffyBot

@juksie If I recall correctly, she's actually 20!

Choire Sicha@facebook

I LOVE THIS MOVIE SO MUCH, I DON'T EVEN REALLY KNOW WHY, IT IS PROBLEMATIC ON SEVERAL LEVELS BUT OMG I DO NOT CARE, AND EVERYONE IN IT IS AT THE PEAK OF HER OR HIS HOTNESS. Also the gay specificity of the gay dude felt actually really ideal to me. WILL STOP AND WATCH ANY TIME IT IS ON.

MeganBungeroth

@Choire Sicha@facebook This was the first movie I remember watching with a gay character who I understood to be gay (and not just implied) and also the first movie I ever saw where someone used the word "fuck" to mean "have sex with" and I was dazzled. You got a lot of bang for your PG-13 buck back then.

StandardTuber

@Choire Sicha@facebook also, like the last movie Julia Roberts really "acted" in, instead of "I'm Julia Roberts reading the part of Jules."

Choire Sicha@facebook

@StandardTuber YES. She works her ASS off in this movie, and it's GREAT. I cried.

Choire Sicha@facebook

@MeganBungeroth YES. It's like, SUPER-SPICY. And he's a great gay: totally urbane, very funny, kinda sleazy, and not misogynistic. A+ GAY.

deathcabforcutes

@Choire Sicha@facebook This was my favourite movie when I was a kid! I remember watching it with my mom and asking "Why can't she just marry George?" And my mom said "Because he's gay!" My child brain could not understand why two friends couldn't get married and be happy together.

HelloTheFuture

In many ways, Young Adult is the spiritual successor to this movie and has the same ending. But I don't think Young Adult counts as a rom-com.

Ten Thousand Buckets

@HelloTheFuture 13 Going on 30 pleases me because it also ends with Man marrying Bride instead of Protagonist. (Well, until she time travels again and fixes everything, but in the first timeline she doesn't get what she wants just because she wants it.)

KateTay

I just watched this all the way through for the first time this weekend, so this is incredible timing. I kept thinking that it was going to end up being some sort of fantasy/dream -- the singing, the falling, every choice Julia Roberts made was so surreal. So, better watched as a bizarre nightmare in which the guy friend you always assumed you'd end up with calls you and tells you he is getting married right away and you have to be in the wedding as the MAID OF HONOR (WHAT).

Justis Phillips@facebook

Are there any movies in which the tables are turned ie: when a career driven man who has been best friends with a woman is told she is getting married, does everything he can to stop it but she is like "Uh, dude, I guess I loved you once but this guy is so much better than me...Plus you're being incredibly overbearing and manipulative and creepy as fuck?"? Because I can't really think of one. Mostly because it would probably be a stalker flick, right?

Gilgamesh

@Justis Phillips@facebook There's Made of Honor, but it wasn't much of a hit: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Made_of_Honor

designateddrinker

@Gilgamesh also, Michelle Monaghan gives up on Scottish guy THAT IS THE HEIR TO THE LIQUOR FORTUNE from Grey's Anatomy for McDreamy, which is a Grade-A dumb move. (just watched this 2 weekends ago and was generally confused).

Rookie (not the magazine) (not that there's anything wrong with that)

@designateddrinker ha, I was just logging in to say it was really only made as a star vehicle for McDreamy, and as yet another movie where Michelle Monaghan is actually in the movie but the advertising for it nearly completely forgets her. Like, look at this poster: http://www.imdb.com/media/rm3620769792/tt0866439?ref_=tt_ov_i she plays the bride in a movie about a wedding, and yet she's just photoshopped in and her name isn't even on it!

Gilgamesh

@designateddrinker I know! McDreamy's character seemed to be a real douche, too.

EM87

@Justis Phillips@facebook Also I'd put in that 500 Days of Summer is a good inverse of the formula-- JGL is like "Why would you break up with me for someone else, how can you get married to this dude when you wouldn't commit to me, wahh." and Zooey Deschanel is basically like "I didn't love you, sorry."

That movie was unbearably twee but I did like the central message, ie, sometimes you just have to deal with your heartbreak and then get your shit together. That movie was a good call-out of how basically projecting your fantasies onto someone you barely know doesn't work very well, despite what most other rom coms suggest.

deathcabforcutes

@EM87 Good nomination! I really liked how it was JGL's character who wanted commitment, somehow it made me feel less alone in my previous struggles with wanting to be with someone who didn't want to be with anyone...

279th District Court

@Justis Phillips@facebook

Not in a movie, but that's exactly what apparently happened to my grandmother at her wedding. The ex-boyfriend apparently preceded the attempted spoiler by having an epic odyssey across the United States with at least one catastrophic event in Colorado only to arrive and be told, "I called to say I'm marrying Tony, not come and stop my wedding."

I think I might need to write this up...

Kitekatze

I don't believe I was an adult at 28. legally of course but mentally I'm pretty sure I'm still not at 34 either. whoops!

Claire Fallon@facebook

I made a pledge that I'd marry my high-school long-distance for-like-a-week boyfriend when we were 28 if we hadn't married anyone else by then. (I was 17 at the time, and a romantic idiot.) A few years later, I remembered that pledge and almost had a heart attack. WHAT WAS I THINKING 28 IS SO YOUNG. And that guy, while sweet, was a million times over so wrong for me and we broke up like two weeks after that pledge. So yeah now I have to get married in the next two years or I'm contractually obligated to marry some dude I haven't spoken to in years.

Also, your analysis here is spot-on and makes me super happy.

Cheerfulcynic

Regarding the age thing, obviously 20 is a bonkers young age to get married and 28 is still on the young side, but I was always under the impression that people did get married earlier in the nineties. Our generation is all about prizing youth and holding onto it for dear life, plus the added emphasis of living your life/figuring out your shit before any serious commitments.

I remember watching a random episode of Full House and it was mentioned that Danny Tanner was thirty years old in one episode, I forgot which, and he had THREE DAUGHTERS AND A HOUSE and my mind was fucking blown.

mc coolfriend

@Cheerfulcynic Yeah, on the cusp of 30 was synonymous with OLD AS SHIT back in the nineties though. You know, kinda how 13 was fully grown and ready to have kids/rule a kingdom in the 1500's. Same thing happens to me w the cast of Friends; I saw an episode when I was like 11 where Monica is 26 (and lying about it bc TOO OLD)....but then I saw it again when I was 26 and she still looked like she was pushing 40. They all did. I don't know, maybe the unflattering office casual clothes and heavy brown makeup and ease of homebuying meant that 30 was a lot older back then.

dreeski

@Cheerfulcynic They definitely got married earlier then. The was a huge attitude change in the early 2000s. I got married in 1994 and had my first child in '95. At that point, I was considered a bit young to be having a baby, but not that young. The majority of my high school friends were also having families, and a good portion of my college friends. But by the time I had my third child at 32, most of my 'grown-up' friends were having their FIRST baby.

Sandra Raquel@facebook

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pakaian rajut

I've never watched this movie, but look at the above statement would haunts many questions after finish watching the movie. I love acting, but once he is julia robert woman could be my favorite among Hollywood artists

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