Sunday, January 20, 2008

FILM: 27 Dresses

George and I both love a good "chick flick", so yesterday we went to see 27 Dresses, with much anticipation after having seen a barrage of trailers and commercials for months. We both enjoyed the film, but we both agreed that it was a cream puff of a movie -- sweet, light, and not very filling. Certainly it was fun to watch Katherine Heigl's character Jane work through her "always a bridesmaid" complex, with some good laughs along the way, and I was appropriately misty-eyed at the big "I love you" declaration moment, and at the final scene. We were smiling and saying "yea!" at the end. But we had hoped for more. This romantic comedy was, well, a bit light on the romance. One of the things we crave from a good romance is seeing the chemistry between two characters, moments when sparks fly off the screen, and, in a truly great romance, scenes that make us sigh even years later as we recall them in vivid detail, projecting ourselves into them and wishing for such moments in our own lives. Much as we wanted to like this movie, it left us wanting that kind of chemistry. I don't blame the actors (who are often to blame when chemistry fizzles instead of sizzles). Katherine Heigl was perfectly endearing in her part, and her expressiveness and range, everything from dreamy-eyed pining to guilty rationalization to happy-face-covering-hurt to pent up angry release, was everything you could want. Alas, Jane was the only character in the film that showed more than one dimension. James Marsden did the best he could to rescue Kevin, a character of poorly-conceived motivations, from the limitations of the script, and he really did some wonders with purely facial expression to try to persuade us of some sympathetic depth, but there's only so much an actor can do when the words he needs weren't written. (We know from Heights and The Notebook that he's certainly capable of more, if given good material to work with.) Sure, some crazy and inexplicable things are allowed to happen in the world of romantic comedy, but we need the characters to have a certain truth to them in order to draw our sympathy. Willing suspension of disbelief allows us to overlook unrealistic devices (e.g., that some wedding-crazy girl devotes a closet in her Manhattan apartment to bridesmaid dresses), and to forgive pesky continuity details (so those dresses show up in the final scene even though we saw her put them in the trash just a few scenes earlier). But the main characters, and their trajectory, have got to be believable.

[Mild spoilers ahead… in case you're worried that you won't guess how the story turns out, skip this next paragraph...]

Jane's 11th hour switch of affections comes from what, exactly? Fond memories of a drunk one-night stand? And Kevin -- who knows whether he truly is a sweet romantic guy hiding behind a mask of obnoxious cockiness, or is he really a cynic spinning sentimental crap? He doesn't know himself, neither do we, so how is Jane supposed to figure it out? Was Kevin smitten with Jane from first sight, or was he initially out to exploit her and then had a change of heart? (And if a change of heart, when, how, and why?)

The problem is that the writer just didn't think this character through coherently, so that Kevin's apparent motivations spin like a weathervane from scene to scene, with no explication except that he does what is needed to propel the plot. There are a few hints of dimension (that he was left at the altar in the past, that he did once cry at a wedding), which are just teases at how much more compellingly this character could have been written if given his due complexity. (And the ironic potential of a wedding-cynical reporter assigned to the wedding beat is missed, serving only as a bare plot contrivance.) What meagre crumbs of complexity Kevin has are tossed away by the director, whose lack of romantic vision didn't help. Perhaps director Anne Fletcher is guilty of what Kevin accuses Jane of: she doesn't want a relationship so much as she wants a wedding. But much as it pains me, I blame writer Aline Brosh McKenna for this film not living up to its full potential. This was especially surprising as she had written the screenplay for The Devil Wears Prada (as the 27 Dresses promotion machine constantly reminded us), where she did a stellar job, that very rare achievement where the screenplay actually improved on a great book (and the improvement came from deepening the characters). Based on Prada, I'd be willing to give McKenna another shot in the future. And I'd love to see Heigl and Marsden in a better story. They were like vintage burgundy and black truffles used to make meatloaf. Mind you, meatloaf's fine for a weekday meal. So if you go with appropriate expectations -- just wanting to be entertained rather than inspired, looking for something amusing for an evening rather than memorable for a lifetime -- 27 Dresses is good cute fun.

1 comment:

schwul-und-liberal said...

I wished to see James Marsden in a Scorsese-movie as Frank Sinatra!