My Best Friend's Wedding (1997)

D: P.J. Hogan
S: Julia Roberts, Dermot Mulroney, Cameron Diaz

Australian director Hogan (Muriel's Wedding) comes to Hollywood fairly well intact with a notably non-formulaic romantic comedy which nonetheless seems to have given Julia Roberts' career a substantial shot in the arm. The latter plays a strong, independent minded food critic who finds herself thrown into a state of panic at the thought that her long-time best friend (and former lover) Mulroney might be about to propose marriage to her (curiously, though the sequences which establish this were shown in the trailer, they do not appear in the Irish release print of the feature). But she is then thrown into an even greater state of unease when she discovers that he is about to marry someone else entirely (perky blonde Diaz). Spurred on by a combination of motives (power, jealousy, love) she attempts to break up the wedding and steal back 'her' man.

From its opening musical number to the hilarious scenes with Rupert Everett as Roberts' homosexual editor posing as her boyfriend, this film achieves a rhythm and tone quite different to many Hollywood films of its ilk. While it never even attempts to recapture the surprising darkness of Muriel's Wedding, it is far from vacuous. And while it provides expected moments of emotional comedy and a tear-jerking finale, one never gets the feeling that it is working to a strict set of industrial guidelines. The establishing scenes rely less on the smooth exposition of narrative than on capturing what Roberts' character is feeling, and the musical interludes (another flashback to Muriel's Wedding) which puncture the narrative are often quite charming and spontaneous (in a manner that Woody Allen failed to attain in Everyone Says I Love You).

Roberts is better than she has been in a long time, easily slipping back into the genre which has always served her best, but with a strength of performance which comes from her growing experience. She comes across as both winning and believable, and is complemented by good performances from Mulroney and Everett. Diaz is not really given a complete character to play, but she manages well with what she has and has one or two priceless scenes.

The film has an almost surreal sense of time and place, with mobile phones bringing characters together from New York to Chicago, character vignettes which come out of nowhere and return there soon afterwards, and a story which seems less concerned with the mechanics of the plot than getting to the emotions involved. It sustains a fairly unique atmosphere for an American film, even though the familiar ingredients of the wedding movie are present and generally accounted for.

It does tend to move slowly purely because of this style, and many people may not take to it, sensing that there is something just not quite right here. But that is the real strength of the film for those who can tune in, and while it's not so radical or revisionist as might seriously disturb general audiences (who, for the most part, seem to have flocked to it), it may provide moments of unexpected pleasure for jaded viewers expecting another run of the mill Hollywood romance.

Review by Harvey O'Brien copyright 1997.