Instead of updating the screwball comedy genre for the anything-goes 1990s, screenwriter Ronald Bass and director P.J. Hogan have merely added a few contemporary flourishes to a story that would not be out of place in the 1950s. Here women have two options: they are either tragically lonely, die-hard careerists or altar-bound support mechanisms whose lives revolve around the needs of their men.
Julianne (Julia Roberts) is the former, Kimmy (Cameron Diaz) the latter. The man they have in common is the bland but demanding Michael (Dermot Mulroney), who's blissfully unaware of the hornet's net he stirs up by inviting his long-standing best friend Julianne to his lavish, traditional wedding to the perky, perfect and very wealthy Kimmy. But even though he's there physically, Michael seems less corporeal than something created in the minds and hearts of the two women who love him, not unlike the absent, godlike "him" of the title song, "Wishin' and Hopin'."
So Julianne and Kimmy, who don't seem to have any female friends, are thrown together as competitors from the get-go. Not surprisingly, the increasingly shrill Julianne tries to derail the wedding using manipulation and subterfuge, mostly ignoring the advice of her gay confidante, George (Rupert Everett), whom at one point she even enlists as a faux fiancé.
Director Hogan -- who scored big with Muriel's Wedding (1994), a nasty bit of misogyny masked as candy-colored fluff -- has a keen ability to pour the old wine of rigid female stereotypes into appealing new bottles.
While Roberts displays the same charm that made the claptrap of Pretty Woman (1990) go down easier, Diaz once again manages to enliven and give some dignity to a cardboard cut-out, male-fantasy role.
But the film really belongs to the sly, charismatic Rupert Everett, who adds both spark and good sense whenever he appears onscreen.
His performance and the musical set pieces which wonderfully incorporate several Burt Bacharach-Hal David songs into the action (Hogan's real forte) make My Best Friend's Wedding appear to be more distinctive than it really is.
Serena Donadoni writes about film for the Metro Times. E-mail her at [email protected].