Because I've been reading Pierre Bayard's How To Talk About Books You Haven't Read, a provocatively perverse book that makes a good case for the idea that you don't have to actually read something to know what it is, I was sorely tempted to blog about this past weekend's romantic comedy debut 27 Dresses without actually having seen it.
And I coulda! As it turns out. Problem is, I had already read the script, so this exercise wouldn't have provided quite the fun challenge it should have. And the other thing is, I don't really want to abuse the trust of anyone who reads me regularly. So I dutifully went to the multiplex and once again took one for the team.
Well, it's not that bad. It's not that great, either. 27 Dresses is not that... much of anything, but chances are good it'll make some good money. It's one of those productions I call an Obligatory Movie: it's a film that sooner or later was bound to get made.
The Obligatory Movie announces itself on the script-reading frontlines when you start seeing a whole lot of specs that are more or less variations on the same concept and story -- a phenomenon that occurs more often than you might think, in the belly of the industry beast. In this case, over a period of two or three years, as studio story analyst and screenwriting instructor, I read half a dozen screenplays that had the same title: Always a Bridesmaid. No plagiarism or imitation involved -- each of the six was simply a disparate writer's take on That Movie.
Weird, eh? But not. Here's the two inescapable factors that both created the glut and got Dresses greenlit. One is the pre-existence of what's become an extremely popular sub-genre: the wedding romantic comedy. From Four Weddings and a Funeral back in 1994 (you can blame Richard Curtis and the then-unknown Hugh Grant for kicking things off) through My Best Friend's Wedding, Runaway Bride, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, The Wedding Singer and more recently, Wedding Crashers, to name but a few more notable successes, romantic comedies that exploit the nuptial milieu have been ringing the bells that go ka-ching!
The second factor is cultural: in real life, weddings as a commercial concern have been booming in the 2000s, with an industry that's flourished on codifying every aspect of this beloved ritual to the point of outre absurdity: the over-the-top floral arrangements, gift registries, and yes -- those bridesmaid dresses. With its penchant for casting lovelorn misfits as empathetic protagonists, it was only a matter of time before the romantic comedy genre zoomed in on the likeliest exploitable victim of modern wedding madness. And thus, the Obligatory Bridesmaid Movie.
Whatever bloggers or legitimate critics or anyone with opinions may have to say about 27 Dresses, The One That Got Made Before the Others, ultimately it doesn't matter -- there will always be an audience for comfort food entertainment. And Dresses delivers exactly what one might expect from the menu.
Funny weddings montage? Right there at the top. The bridesmaid heroine's wise-cracking best friend? On tap. An eminently marry-able but achingly unattainable Mr. Right (check!)... versus an obnoxious seeming-Mr. Wrong who loves to make fun of weddings? You bet. And say, a cutely dated pop tune to be sung karaoke-style by the leads, en route to realizing that he/she's maybe not so bad after all? Yuh-huh. Will there be dress-fittings, registry-shoppings, wedding dinner food-tastings, set in that imaginary Manhattan one only sees in the movies... with an ethnically diverse cast that'll make this hoary, tattered material seem PC contemporary? Whaddya think?!
Nonetheless, given Katherine Heigl's game performance, a few amusing moments and a couple of dramatic confrontations that could've been legitimately poignant had the dialogue not been so wincingly on-the-nose, it makes little sense to get all snarky at a movie that's merely filling, the rom-com equivalent of an average burger and shake.
No, my only issues with mediocre genre entries like this one are: a) they tend to give our hardy but often belittled genre a bad name -- belittled precisely because the less-good rom-coms are so stupefyingly predictable, and b) if they make enough money, they encourage the studios to make more of the same: unchallenging, play-it-safe pap that shelves any and all imaginative possibilities available to the funny love story genre, in the name of giving people only what they (supposedly) want.
Here's a bad sign: One of the trailers that preceded my 27 Dresses showing was for an upcoming romantic comedy with Patrick Dempsey (Grey's Anatomy is now the official breeding pool for rom-com stars) as a guy whose female best friend --whom he's just realized he's in love with -- asks for his help with her wedding. That's right folks -- are you ready for Made of Honor?
Lord, I wish I weren't.