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'Wedding': No Bliss

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
June 20, 1997

After moping about in the drab British dramas, "Michael Collins" and "Mary Reilly," Julia Roberts comes back home to romantic comedy. Unfortunately, her extravagant good looks and screen-swallowing charisma are somewhat wasted on "My Best Friendís Wedding," a misbegotten attempt to update the genre that only proves the enduring -- if not downright inviolable -- appeal of the boy-meets-girl scenario.

Director P.J. Hoganís follow-up to the offbeat, Australian, ABBA-scored "Murielís Wedding," this mainstream American variation is also wildly unromantic and sappy with silly í70s love songs. Hoganís instincts are right: The genre has grown stale in this more sexually permissive, more socially fluid age. But his execution begs the question: Why get engaged in the first place?

Scripted by "Waiting to Exhale" writer Ron Bass, the story revolves around the wicked machinations of Julianne Potter (Roberts), a feisty food critic determined to stop an old flameís marriage. Thus, she hatches any number of dastardly schemes, most of which backfire, in a cruel, largely humorless campaign to wreck her "best friendís" future happiness.

While itís easy to forgive the Pretty Woman anything, her chicanery would make much more sense if the milquetoast Michael OíNeal (Dermot Mulroney) were worth the fuss. Allís fair in love, so they say, only what Michael and Julianne share is not romantic passion or even real kinship, but a neurotic attachment. Though they made a transition from lovers to just friends nine years earlier, Michael still carries a torch for Julianne. Unable to make long-term commitments, she has been wholly content with the arrangement. Her complacency is shattered, however, when Michael announces his upcoming marriage to Kimmie (Cameron Diaz), a beautiful billionaireís daughter who innocently and affably thwarts all Julianneís bitchy plans.

Diaz can be dazzling in her own right, but sheís made to play the mud hen opposite Roberts, an overwhelming explosion of big hair, bigger teeth and lens-shattering effervescence. Alas, the story isnít bright enough or grand enough to contain all of Robertsís star power.

While Mulroney fades into his thankless role, Rupert Everett proves the better match for the feisty heroine as George, her dapper editor and spiritual soul mate. When Julianne pretends they are engaged to make Michael jealous, Everett is hilariously obliging. And if this were a vintage screwball comedy, she would have walked off happily ever after on Georgeís exquisitely tailored arm. Alas, as George points out and knows only too well, "All the best men are gay."

Hmmm. Doesnít exactly leave you walking on air.

MY BEST FRIENDíS WEDDING (PG-13) ó Contains naughty language.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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