My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997)

[8.5]

Julia Roberts stars in this devilish romantic comedy from director P.J. Hogan (Muriel’s Wedding) and writer Ronald Bass (Rain Man) about a jealous woman who tries to stop her best friend from marrying another woman. Dermot Mulroney plays the best friend who invites Roberts to be his ‘best man’. She is quickly adored by the fiancée’s entire family, but that doesn’t detract from her ulterior motive — to drive a wedge between Mulroney and his bubbly, effervescent betrothed, played by a daffy but charming Cameron Diaz.

There are few good romantic comedies made after the 1940s. I’ll go out on a limb and say this is one of the best of them. It’s usually a genre that relies on star-power alone, with rote direction and formulaic writing. But P.J. Hogan proves from the film’s start how cinematic the genre can be, with a widescreen title sequence featuring a bride and her bridesmaids lip-synching and dancing balletically against a pink backdrop to Ani DiFranco’s infectious song, “Wishin’ and Hopin'”. The number serves as a fancy invitation to a movie promising to be more than ‘just another rom-com’. Hogan delivers on that promise, with superb casting, incredible locations and art direction, great songs and scoring, and countless beautiful scene stagings and photographic compositions. It’s simply one of the best-directed romantic comedies in decades.

Julia Roberts brings more than just star-power to the proceedings. She gets to sink her teeth into an acting challenge — to play a selfish, scheming saboteur we can root for. She’s excellent at turning insecurity into charm and spinning sadness into comedy. She and Dermot Mulroney have great chemistry together, but her scenes with supporting player Rupert Everett (An Ideal Husband, Cemetery Man) steal the show. Everett plays her witty, well-mannered gay friend who comforts her in times of need, but isn’t afraid to confront her with cold, hard truths. Some of the film’s funniest moments are between these two characters, especially when Roberts pretends to be engaged to Everett to make Mulroney jealous. When Everett finds out he’s being used for nefarious gain, he plays along to embarrass Roberts as much as humanly possible.

Maybe I just prefer my rom-coms with a dark streak, but My Best Friend’s Wedding succeeds for me where other rom-coms fail miserably. It doesn’t try too hard to convince me characters like or love each other — it shows that instead of telling it. The script is refreshing and the actors soar with the material. And P.J. Hogan sends the film over the edge with uncommon skill and style.

With Philip Bosco, Rachel Griffiths, M. Emmet Walsh, and Susan Sullivan.

Oscar Nomination: Best Score (James Newton Howard)