Published January 1, 2001
One tries to be fair, of course. I admit up front that I don’t much like either Matthew McConaughey or Jennifer Lopez, and I acknowledge that it is very likely that my dislike is what accounts for what seems to me the total lack of “chemistry” between the two of them in Adam Shankman’s The Wedding Planner. On the other hand, one might have expected the fact that they seem to deserve each other to have generated some heat. Anyway, I will be generous and assume that I am prejudiced against the stars of this movie, which others not so prejudiced will probably like better than I did. But I find it hard to believe that many even of the fans of Mr M and Miss L will be able to enjoy what is essentially an incoherent script.
Here are just a few of its incoherences. Mary, Miss Lopez’s character, is a wedding planner who is seen to be a “control freak” — the sort of person who alphabetizes her credit cards — because once she had a fiancé who was unfaithful to her. Obviously, falling in love is supposed to cure her of this tendency. Yet she is, so far as we can tell, as much a control freak at the end of the movie as she was at the beginning. Her romance with the unavailable Dr Steve Edison (Mr McConaughey), the groom in one of the weddings she is planning, is also supposed to teach her that “love isn’t an enchanted evening.” That is what she tells her father (Alex Rocco) when she decides at the last minute not to marry another whom she had tried to persuade herself she loved in deference to his wishes. Yet the love born of an enchanted evening is what she immediately returns to, as the film repeats the evening on which she and Dr. Steve fell in love.
Most strikingly, the film builds up our belief in the genuine devotion of Mary’s other suitor, the Sicilian Massimo (Justin Chambers). But just as he and Mary step to the altar together we are meant to understand that everybody, including her father and the devoted groom himself is meant simultaneously to realize that the two of them are not right for each other. We must simply accept on trust that this is obvious to the wedding party, as it is very far from being obvious to us — except, indeed, insofar as we know in advance that in this kind of movie it has to be Mr. McConaughey and Miss Lopez who end up together. But that the ultimately happy couple are inexorably drawn to each other is also something that we simply have to take on trust.
Of course, the romantic comedy is, if any place is, the place where cliché is forgivable. What could be more familiar than falling hopelessly in love with a stranger, glimpsed across a crowded room (there’s your “enchanted evening”) or rescuing you, as here, from a runaway dumpster? And yet we never get tired of such stories, at least if they are tastefully and inventively done. But Mr Shankman and his screenwriters, Pamela Falk and Michael Ellis, abuse their cliché license in all kinds of ways. Most unforgivable is their abuse of the old, old movie device of having the bride, or the groom, decide on her, or his, wedding day that she, or he, is really in love with somebody else and calling the whole thing off at the last minute with obvious comic consequences.
The reason that this familiar trope works so well is that it points up the tension in every wedding between its public and private aspects. That we have weddings at all is a result of our desire to register publicly the validity of powerful private feelings, and in one way the threat that those feelings might break out to destroy the decorum of the public occasion is something that adds piquancy to every wedding. Not to the knuckleheads who made The Wedding Planner, however. These geniuses think, if it works once, why not use the device twice in the same film? So both Mary and Dr. Steve desert their respective spouses on their wedding day, which is conveniently the same day, and run to each other. This is just silly, frankly and unashamedly unbelievable and way over the top. Like so much of the rest of the film, it is an example of going through the motions of romantic comedy.