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Bridled Emotions
'Wedding Planner' Makes a Muddle of the Marriage Business

By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 26, 2001

"The Wedding Planner" is one of the first big studio releases of the post-Clinton era, but it feels like a pure Clintonian artifact. It seems written and directed by a savvy Washington PR firm: It's mostly spin in which people do terrible things to other people but it's never their fault, and they never have to face any consequences.

Jennifer Lopez plays Mary, a highly talented wedding planner whom the movie seems to admire profusely, as it introduces her talking a terrified bride through a severe case of nerves. That characterizes Mary as a caring, feeling, compassionate woman; only later do we learn that her pep talk was shtick for such situations.

It soon develops that this woman, who supervises weddings two or three at a time with a headset mike over a video setup, goes home to an empty apartment where she nukes gourmet takeout while roasting in tube glare. Quel irony! A marriage professional with no love life at all!

However, after snagging the particularly big Donolly wedding (and using it to extort her boss into giving her a partnership in the firm, which the movie seems to think just fine), she cute-meets a handsome fella, Dr. Steve, who's even a pediatrician, the No. 2 chick career preference (after architect, for some reason). A spunky colleague (played by spunky Judy Greer, the movie's best thing) maneuvers the two into a date, and it's like the moment when Maria and Tony run into each other at the dance in "West Side Story."

All right, so Dr. Steve is only a doctor for about three minutes and never again mentions his medical practice, and so he's played by Matthew McConaughey, the world's most repulsive narcissist. I cannot explain his being cast, except to say that possibly someone somewhere thinks this fellow is attractive, even if no life form I've ever encountered does, including my kidnappers from another galaxy. In fact, they wanted to destroy Earth because of him, but I talked them out of it.

Well, you can see where this picture is going. It turns out that Dr. Steve is the affianced of the beautiful plastic mannequin Fran Donolly (played by the beautiful plastic mannequin Bridgette Wilson); Mary the noble is actually tempted to plot against poor dim Fran.

The film might have succeeded if it had given itself over to that dark side; it didn't work for "My Best Friend's Wedding," but think what cosmopolitan cynics like Ernst Lubitsch or Billy Wilder might have done with such a premise. There's even some evidence that such a path was considered. Quite recent Web sites list among the featured players that fast-talking, ever-conniving Kevin Pollak -- a sure sign that mischief was afoot -- but he's nowhere to be seen in the finished product.

Instead, the nonentity director Adam Shankman steers the movie relentlessly toward sugary romantic fantasy. It's as if the tone is at war with the content. Bright and bubbly, it endlessly chronicles bad behavior spun toward the positive. Dr. Steve, for example, is never judged for cheating on Fran by going out with Mary, and he never even has to 'fess up. Not even Jesse Jackson got off that easy. Twice, brides and grooms are dumped at the altar, but the movie labors to convince you that it's not the fault of the dumpers, who are somehow portrayed as victims, and that it was in everybody's best interest. A father whose $600,000 wedding investment is trashed doesn't even get any screen time to lament his fate.

Worst of all, Mary continues in a professional situation that is clearly unethical and doomed to fail, yet the movie insists she's some kind of heroine. When she flees a professional responsibility, leaving a clearly incompetent assistant in charge, that's offered as still more evidence of the purity of her heart.

Lopez is okay, and the movie's tone is at least a refreshing change and presumable career-lube after her last movie, that descent into slime called "The Cell." McConaughey is McConaughey. Poor Bridgette Wilson: with that almost immobile but beautifully designed face, she seems destined always to play the blond WASP idiot-bitch; if she has any talent, she'll never show it in roles like this, but then, who's going to cast her as Medea?

The Wedding Planner (105 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for sexual innuendo but has no nudity.

© 2001 The Washington Post Company