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'Wedding': Belles From Hell

By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
June 20, 1997

Hmmm, let me see if I get this straight. In "My Best Friend's Wedding," Julia Roberts plays . . . the smart one?

And Dermot Mulroney, he's . . . the hot one?

And Cameron Diaz, she's . . . the goofy one?

Those casting blunders go a long way toward explaining why the film just doesn't work. A romantic comedy conspicuously lacking either romance or comedy, it follows a highly accomplished young writer, Julianne Potter (Roberts), as she learns that her longtime best friend, Michael O'Neal (Mulroney), is about to marry and realizes that she really loves him. In spite of herself, she sets out to prevent the marriage.

The Aussie director P.J. Hogan brought a similar tart cynicism to "Muriel's Wedding" but used authentic actors in it. No such luck this time.

Poor Roberts, pretty and perky as the day is long, hasn't a hoot in hell of bringing Julianne off. She's simply not actress enough, she doesn't have that suppleness that would enable her to sell the complexity of emotion, the jealousy, the irrationality, the meanness and the intelligence. She never really seems smart enough to dream all this stuff up, and she never seems complicated enough to get away with it. As a consequence, we can't accept her various parts: We just don't believe it.

And as the love object of all this Sturm und Drang, Mulroney is hopelessly at sea. Who voted this guy a movie star? Did you people? Shame on you. Mulroney, like Roberts, lacks the ability to project complexity or duality. There's no light of thought in his eyes and no spontaneity to his presence. He's supposedly a sportswriter, but not one thing he says suggests he's capable of slinging a cliche, much less getting a score right.

Of the principals, only one really delivers. No, it's not Diaz, who spends most of her screen time bawling annoyingly as a little rich girl who nevertheless deserves to be happy. The most attractive character is Rupert Everett, the British actor with a variety of experience, from antic comedy to the most refined Merchant-Ivory, behind him. He has exactly what the others lack: talent. Well, that's too cruel: Let's just say he has the talent to suggest two states at once, or the complexity of a personality deployed to comic ends.

As Roberts's gay editor, he comes to her aid and pretends to be her fiance. Gay Englishman in nouveau riche Chicagoland pretending to be straight for the booboisie of the Windy City, while at the same glorious time kidding notions of straightness and gayness. He hits the sucker out of the park: wonderful, lively, spontaneous, brilliantly timed stuff. You're thinking: Why isn't this movie about him? He's so interesting.

After his 20-minute mid-picture spin, he's gone until the end, and his sudden absence empties out the movie. It becomes loveless, mechanical farce, lots of running and jumping, as Roberts does one nasty thing after another, convincing neither herself nor us. Ouch.

A last note: terrible clothes. Uniformly, the cast is dressed as if by an idiot. Mulroney's crinkly little T-shirt peeks over his polyester sport shirts -- not even sportswriters dress that badly -- and poor Diaz is wrapped in a green bandage that makes her as wan as a denested baby wren. But it's Roberts who is the most betrayed. She is finally poured into a pair of black jeans that are set off by a skimpy, midriff-baring shirt. It makes her seem quite unsubstantial above, quite substantial below.

My Best Friend's Wedding is rated PG-13 for profanity and mild sexual innuendo.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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