The Wedding Date

February, 2005, Comedy

Directed by:Clare Kilner

Starring:Debra Messing, Dermot Mulroney, Amy Adams, Jack Davenport, Peter Egan, and Holland Taylor

What’s happened to romantic comedies on the big screen? Where are smart & attractive screen lovers like Tracey, Hepburn, Gable, Harlow, Grant and Colbert to be found? Why can’t Hollywood seem to develop contemporary directors that can match the sophistication of Stanley Donen, Lewis Milstone, George Cukor and Billy Wilder? If Joseph Mankiewicz could take dramatic actors like Henry Fonda and Barbara Stanwyck and fashion the deliriously funny and pungently observed All About Eve, why can’t today’s gifted directors do the same?

Much of the blame can be placed on the astounding success of the television situation comedy series; the last 30 years have witnessed some truly wonderful romantic/comedic successes on the tube and television audiences appear to have an almost insatiable appetite for seeing their favorite characters develop over many seasons. In that medium, the romantic comedy is still very much alive. But does television success carry over to today’s films?

 The latest effort in that regard is this semi-Brit effort starring Debra Messing, who’s made such a name for herself in the hit T.V. series, “Will and Grace”. In the present instance, Messing plays Kat Ellis, a Gotham-based career woman summoned to England for the marriage of her younger sister Amy, (Amy Adams). But there’s the inevitable problem; Amy’s intended has chosen as his best man a guy Kat dated for years--before he unceremoniously dumped her. Kat’s still carrying a torch and doesn’t want it to show, so she invades her I.R.A. account and hires male escort Nick Mercer, (Dermot Mulroney) to accompany her across the Atlantic and squire her through the 4-day event that constitutes Amy’s nuptial weekend. 

Things don’t go smoothly, of course; secrets will out, intentions will be misconstrued, innocent circumstances will be harvested for their more prurient implications—but in the end, the hired hand falls for his employer and she celebrates the ghastly overdone union of her sister by finally falling in love with the right guy.

All this is accompanied with workman-like technical skills, a sound-track of recognizable pop tunes and a supporting cast which doesn’t have to work too hard because they’re given rather little to do, with the result that Wedding Date goes down like passable Chinese food—you leave the theater not feeling terribly full, and in 30 minutes or so, you’ll be hungry all over again. Why does this one join so many other mediocre recent entries in this genre? There are three reasons I think: (1) lack of chemistry, (2) poor scripts and (3) a general failure on the part of screenwriters to create female leads that radiate intelligence along with their good looks. 

Actors that are individually attractive frequently don’t register with the members of the opposite sex with whom they’re paired. Pierce Brosnan and Hugh Grant for example, have amply demonstrated the charm which underscores their star appeal, but when playing opposite Julianne Moore and Sandra Bullock, (in Laws of Attraction & Two Weeks Notice respectively) they don’t generate enough electricity to operate a night light; sparks simply do not fly. Select a dozen movies of this type you’ve seen in the last couple of years and examine the fit of the leads; far too often, there’s just no zing.

The writing in romantic comedies has to navigate a fine line between foolish behaviors in general and what an otherwise rational person will do when falling in love; if the plot’s various situations don’t contain that magic mixture of pratfall and sexiness, the whole enterprise flounders. What sustains Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby for example, or Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert in It Happened One Night? In great screen romantic comedy, great dialogue permits both leads to make fools of themselves, (and frequently each other) while simultaneously demonstrating how utterly attractive they are. Patting your head while rubbing your stomach is a lot tougher than it looks; doing it for a couple of hours while navigating through dozens of plot twists is well nigh impossible without slickly tailored lines to accompany the action.

In this post-feminist era however, the greatest mystery about romantic comedy lies in the absence of female leads who are not only lovely to look at, but who demonstrate the charm and vivacity that can only come from a woman whose smarts compare favorably with her appearance. Think of Rosalind Russell’s pizzazz in His Girl Friday; her wisecracks play off Cary Grant’s self confidence so well it’s no wonder he’ll anything to get her back. In All About Eve, Barbara Stanwyck’s repartee has stuffy Henry Fonda so tied up in knots the audience never doubts the extraordinary hoops she’s able to get him to jump through. She did the same thing to Gary Cooper in Ball of Fire, thanks to the appealing charm given her by Billy Wilder’s brilliantly- crafted screenplay. What makes Hepburn so delightful in her many films opposite Spencer Tracy? She’s his equal in every way, unselfconsciously confident of herself and able to demonstrate that in scene after scene of carefully constructed comedic nonsense. 

The leading ladies in today’s romantic comedies are comely but rarely intriguing, beautiful to look at but not terribly interesting to listen to. In recent films, only Diane Keaton’s performance in Something’s Got To Give comes anywhere close to matching the kind of bewitching attractiveness found in the films mentioned above. Without it, the genre is seems fated, like Douglas McArthur, to slowly fade away….

 

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