Sunday, February 1, 2015

MY BEST FRIEND'S WEDDING: Blu-ray (TriStar Pictures 1997) Sony Home Entertainment

Wedding-themed movies are big business. Whatever the year, it seems we’re all suckers for the proverbial big and boisterous, unabashedly sentimental ‘here comes the bride’ tear jerker/comedy. And make no mistake, P.J. Hogan’s My Best Friend’s Wedding is just such a ‘feel good’ mega hit that had audiences R.S.V.P-ing around the world in 1997. Understandable, given the movie’s infectious and marginally mechanical plot, everything was salvaged by the casting of then infectiously smart and sexy Julia Roberts to headline the cast.  Herein, Roberts is big-haired food critic, Julianne Potter; a relatively enterprising ‘best friend’, out to ruin her own best friend and sports writer, Michael O’Neal’s (Dermott Mulroney) nuptials to wealthy heiress, Kimberly Wallace (Cameron Diaz). Kimmy is a sugary sweet, too innocent for virginity ingénue/sex bomb who is as intent on making Julianne her new best friend and maid of honor. Unknown to Michael and ‘Kimmy’ – Jules is on the make. In fact, she’s all but told her gay best friend, George Downes (Rupert Everett) she’s determined to split the pair up and win back Michael’s affections. Once upon a time, Michael and Jules were a hot little item; too hot to last, it seems, and, much too quick to cool before Julianne was ready to let go. Now, Michael’s late night phone call makes it appear as though the years have made him think better on their separation. But no – wait for it, Mike’s moved on with Kim and his career, causing Julianne’s little green monster to rear its ugly head.
Such are the moderate complications in Ronald Bass’ pedestrian screenplay. Refreshingly, particularly given Julia Robert’s million kilowatt star power at the box office throughout the ‘90’s, Julianne doesn’t get her guy in the end of this heartbreaker of a romantic comedy, suggesting – at least in hindsight – that perhaps Cameron Diaz was already being groomed as a valiant successor to inherit Roberts’ mantle and take over as the casting director’s go-to gal for such syrupy treacle. Alas, this too was not to be; Diaz sinking into the mire of predictable roles shortly thereafter, while Julia Roberts would go on to diversify her acting portfolio with such great movies as her Oscar-winning turn in Erin Brokovich (2002) and Charlie Wilson’s War (2007). My Best Friend’s Wedding comes at the tail end of Roberts swift rise in Hollywood as the amiable girl next door. It’s a predictable comedy – occasionally to a glaring fault, but it treads lightly on the formulaic conventions of its cliché-driven, wedding-themed romantic farce. Not every movie has to be a Citizen Kane, and My Best Friend’s Wedding, while obvious and marginally cloying, while nowhere near the top, nevertheless achieves its primary objectives to entertain and mildly amuse.  It ought to be noted Julia Roberts’ career was made on such movies; starting with great promise in 1988’s Mystic Pizza, but ending with a decided thud in 2001’s Mona Lisa Smile. After a decade’s worth of more commendable work, Roberts tried to come back to this métier in 2010 with the turgidly scripted melodrama, Eat, Pray, Love – unsympathetically tinged with elements of the silly love story. Bad idea. Terrible movie.
My Best Friend’s Wedding is never as disastrous, perhaps because it managed to whet the audience’s unquenchable thirst for wedding pictures, kicked off with gusto in 1991 with the superb remake of Father of the Bride, starring Steve Martin.  Coincidentally, Robert had made her own stunner of a sleeper hit for Touchstone one year earlier; the modestly budgeted, but big time performer, Pretty Woman; a memorable tale about a corporate raider’s week long tryst with a Hollywood Blvd. streetwalker. She gives him sex – but more importantly, sex appeal, and he elevates her innate qualities as the proverbial good girl who just made a wrong turn in her life, herein purified by his wealth. Only a hooker, dressed to look like a supermodel, could arguably be, as Joan Crawford once astutely described, the perfect woman: a lady in the parlor and a total whore in the bedroom. Mercifully, there was no Cirque du Soliel acrobatics going on in this bedroom comedy. No ‘basic instincts’ either. And thus, what emerged from the film is a regurgitation of the time-honored Cinderella story, only this time with our slut-for-rent in lieu of the virginal princess, and a real heartless bastard in place of the proverbial Prince Charming. Pretty Woman’s syndrome, as well as its dynamic box office success, surprised everyone. Hot stuff, effortlessly plied to sell tickets.
My Best Friend’s Wedding doesn’t really have the impetus of this predecessor. Our Julianne isn’t a prostitute, although she lowers to prostituting herself in a ridiculous scheme to steal back the heart of the man she willingly chucked into the single’s meat market nearly five years earlier. But Michael is so utterly naïve in his friendship with Jules he cannot fathom how deep these still waters run. Mike’s rather ridiculous naiveté is eclipsed by our first introduction to Kimberly Wallace; so obviously the froufrou and chichi Suzie cream cheese of this frothy confection. Can she really be this dumb; prone to fits of whacky laughter as she practically squeezes the air out of Julianne during their first embrace at the airport, and then, dangerously oblivious to traffic, cuts across a congested four lane highway to make her cutoff into the heart of downtown Chicago?
This leaves the one intelligent part in the picture to Rupert Everett; a delicious scamp who cuts through all the subterfuge to crystalize the general scheme of things for our Julianne. After Kimberly has caught Michael and Julianne locked in a passionate kiss Julianne instigates in the eleventh hour of her awkwardly planned seduction, George astutely inquires who is chasing who. Kimberly has made a sprint down the front lawn of her family’s posh estate to drown her pitiful tears. Michael is chasing after her and Julianne is bringing up the rear in hot pursuit of him. “Who’s chasing you?” asks George. The answer, of course, is no one. “Get it?” George cruelly inquires. But, of course, Julianne refuses to acknowledge the obvious. She is not about to give up on Michael. Not yet. Or rather, not altogether.
The best bits in Ronald Bass’ screenplay are devoted to Everett’s cynical George who, after being put upon by Julianne to play the part of her very reluctant fiancée (presumably to make Michael jealous even though Michael has already rightly assumed George is gay), wastes no time transforming a simple pre-wedding luncheon at a popular eatery into his own pulpit to humiliate Julianne at her own game of make believe, concocting a very flamboyant story about how they ‘presumably’ first met and fell in love while visiting friends in prison. George breaks into a verse and chorus of Dion Warwick’s Say A Little Prayer for You. The whole restaurant gets in on the act and Julianne is chagrined – but good. Just not enough to dissuade her from getting Michael back.
It’s a little tough to swallow Kimmy’s outright forgiveness towards Julianne, made affectingly inside a woman’s public restroom after Julianne confesses her truer intentions and plotting before a packed audience of opinionated ladies come to use the facilities. Julianne also concedes defeat to Kimberly. But the truth of the matter is that Julianne is damaged goods; having pursued Michael on her own terms and then tossed him back to the wolves; making her career a top priority at the expense of her personal life. Like Bette Davis’ Margo Channing in All About Eve (1950), this decision comes back to haunt her and Julianne suddenly realizes that without Michael lying next to her in bed she’s not felt like a woman for a very long time. Setting aside what feminist scholarship might presume about such simplistic feminine desires for any woman in her mid-thirties, in the mid-1990’s to be loved just as they are by the guy du jour of their own choosing, My Best Friend’s Wedding narrowly skirts the issue of gender inequality while remaining fairly aggressive in its sexual stereotyping.
Julia Roberts is rounding third base as the backstabbing cougar of the piece. Meanwhile, Cameron Diaz is the wide-eyed doe with her eyes caught in the headlamps of this oncoming train wreck, destined to assume the mantle as Michael’s happily-ever-after trophy. Kimmy’s two ‘experienced’ cousins, Samantha (Rachel Griffiths) and Amanda Newhouse (Carrie Preston) are the proverbial tarts of this piece; a wickedly playful pair. Will we never tire of the amusement factor American cinema affords promiscuous women? Susan Sullivan is the matronly, Isabelle Wallace; refreshingly neither forthcoming with marital platitudes or advice to give her bubble-headed daughter, simply contented to view this debacle from the sidelines. She is her husband, Walter’s (Philp Bosco) trophy wife. When Isabelle and her small gathering of ladies who lunch quietly observe Kimberly’s frantic dash across the front lawn, immediately followed by Michael, everyone breathes a collective heavy sigh. They must truly be in love. Then, Julianne appears, even more desperately crying out after Michael. “That’s our maid of honor,” Isabelle politely explains to all those eyebrows raised in curiosity, adding “…she’s from New York.” Naturally, that makes everything okay.
My Best Friend’s Wedding opens with an uncharacteristic musical number that has absolutely nothing to do with the central plot; a virginal, though inappropriately named ‘Raci’ Alexander, dressed in hopeful white and lip-syncing to Ani Difranco’s Wishin’ and Hopin’, accompanied by a trio of adoring, pastel-clad bridesmaids (Kelleia Sheeran, Jennifer Garrett, Bree Turner).  It’s an interesting introduction, adorable unto itself, but utterly deceiving about where the film’s plot is headed. We segue to a crowded kitchen at a fashionable New York restaurant, all of the backroom pandemonium over the preparation of an entrée destined to make it into Julianne’s latest critical review as ‘inventive’.  The clout she wields over these hapless minions desperate for her approval in print doesn’t impress George. He’s an independently wealthy man of the world and Jules’ best friend. She tells him of a midnight phone message she received from Michael, imploring her to call him back.
It isn’t wasted on Julianne that once, a long while ago, she and Michael made a pact that if both were unmarried by the time they turned thirty-five they would marry each other, simply to satisfy the biological itch. Gee, it must have been love. Now, it’s crunch time. And Julianne has already begun sizing her finger for the ring and picking out her wedding china when Michael telephones to drop the real bomb. He’s already engaged, to a sweet thing from Chicago whose father runs a prominent newspaper and is all set to put Michael on the payroll as his new son-in-law. Feigning congratulations, Jules immediately telephones George for some badly needed advice. Then and there, she elects to thwart the marriage by flying to Chicago on the pretext she has come to wish the couple her best. Upon arriving at the airport, however, Julianne immediately realizes it isn’t going to be so easy to hate Kimberly Wallace. She’s well-bred, with a sunny disposition and a cheery outlook on life. Moreover, she’s in a bind after her cousin has bailed on a promise to be her maid of honor. Owing to Michael’s glowing affection for his best friend, Kimberly has decided to make Julianne her new maid of honor.
Reluctantly, Julianne accepts and is immediately whisked away to a private fitting for the stunning lavender frock she is expected to wear in the bridal party. Julianne attempts to feel out Kimberly’s weaknesses while the fitting ensues. Alas, she soon discovers this is really a great girl with few transparent cracks in her personality. Michael really has chosen well for himself. Julianne questions Kimberly about her father’s plans for Michael, to immediately ensconce him in a high-powered position as sports editor for his newspaper.  Michael is fairly reluctant to commit to this post and Julianne seizes upon his apprehensions to question what it will mean for his own personal freedom once the ring is on both their fingers. It’s a weak argument at best, one Julianne feebly compounds by exposing Kimberly’s obvious shortcomings as a singer at a karaoke bar. Horribly mangling Burt Bacharach’s classic pop/rock ballad, ‘I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself’, Kimberly nevertheless receives an ‘A’ for effort, the bar crowd empathetic and applauding her resolve to stick with it until the last painful note is squeezed out.
That evening, Julianne telephones George for some badly needed advice. She pleads for him to come to Chicago for moral support. However, when George arrives, he quickly discovers he is part of Julianne’s even more devious plot to pawn him off as her fiancée to make Michael jealous, but moreover, to set Kimberly’s mind at ease while Julianne further plots how to undo their marital knot behind her back. Pressed by Isabelle to explain how he and Julianne first met, George indulges in a wicked satire; concocting a story about he and Dion Warwick attending a prisoner on visitor’s day and he becoming instantly star-struck by a vision from across the hall, none other than Julianne, come to visit an incarcerated friend. Breaking into Warwick’s ‘Say a Little Prayer’, George manages to stir not only the wedding party, but all of the casual restaurant patrons to follow his lead; everyone serenading Julianne. 
A short while later, George informs Julianne he will not be a party to her scheme. They part as friends, but Julianne is now more determined than ever to wreck the wedding. She sneaks into Michael’s office and attempts, with varying degrees of hilarity, to send an incriminating email from his computer, suggesting he has no intention of accepting Walter’s job offer. It’s all camouflage, further complicated when Michael confides in Julianne he is having genuine – if momentary – doubts about the wedding himself. Pre-wedding jitters and Julianne’s enterprising ways conspire to isolate Michael on a gazebo, where she confesses not only her sins to him but equally professes an undying love with a passionate kiss. Witnessed at a distance by Kimberly, Michael realizes too late it appears as though he has decided to throw Kimberly over for his old flame. A tear-stained Kimberly flees the house in her car, pursued by Michael in his, and Julianne, carjacking a bakery truck while telephoning George on her cell to get some level-headed advice. “It’s over,” George coolly tells her, and in her own heart Julianne knows this to be true.
Confronting Kimberly, who is hiding in a public bathroom stall, with her genuine affections for Michael, Julianne is surprised when Kimberly emerges not with tears streaming down her cheeks, but a warrior-like stance, prepared to do battle for the man she so obviously loves. The rest of the women attempting to use the facilities are swept up in the drama and side with Kimberly. But when Julianne confesses Michael does not love her after all, she is forgiven her trespasses by Kimberly, who agrees to retain her as the maid of honor. Flash ahead to the blessed day - a sumptuous affair with a now tearful, though confident Julianne looking on as the happy couple is wed. Later, at the tented reception, Julianne declares “things are just as they should be for my best friend”, releasing Michael from any residual guilt by giving the newlyweds ‘Jerome Kern’s immortal, ‘The Way You Look Tonight’;  the song that used to mean so much to Julianne when she was with Michael.
Afterward, Kimberly tosses the bouquet and Julianne, who narrowly misses retrieving it, is comforted by a very brief, but heartfelt ‘Goodbye’ from Michael. As the couple’s chauffeur-driven limousine drives off, surrounded by a blistering display of fireworks, Julianne sits alone at her table. Her cell phone rings. It’s George. However, as Julianne continues to listen she becomes acutely aware George is not in New York but actually somewhere in the room.  And although, he quite honestly explains that ‘sex’ will not be part of the equation for this evening, he passionately declares “By God, they’ll be dancing!” before taking an ebullient Julianne in his arms for a spin around the dance floor.
The ending to My Best Friend’s Wedding is awkward at best, in that it provides no closure for Roberts’ wanting and lonely young miss. She’s done her good deed and it’s been acknowledge as such, but that is all. She’s lost the one man that ought to have been hers for the asking. And although she can take some comfort in the knowledge she has been true to Michael’s best interests, such solace will likely prove a very cold comfort in her empty bed on the next Saturday night. In retrospect, My Best Friend’s Wedding is a more amusingly mature romantic comedy than most; faithful to the imperfectability of life, and certainly, of romance itself. We don’t always get who we want. Nor are we generally satisfied by the choices we make in the long run. How will it all play out in long shot? Arguably, not well for all concerned. Once the bloom of honeymoon bliss has worn off, what exactly is there to keep Michael and Kimmy happy together? What, in fact, was it that drew them so closely together in the first place? As delineated by Cameron Diaz, Kimberly Wallace is a fairly superficial and very green girl, wholly dependent on her father’s money to satisfy her needs. Michael has no money but what he’s made with his own two hands. As a sports writer, this arguably hasn’t been much. Certainly, it in no way rivals daddy’s cash flow. Nor is Michael’s nomadic existence, travelling from town to town to cover various sporting events for his magazine, a particularly comforting prospect to Kimberly. Michael lives out of his suitcase; she would prefer to live fashionably from a penthouse view on Park Ave. Fundamentally, Julianne and Michael are two of a kind. One can see this from the outset. They just click in a way that always leaves Kimberly the outsider.
My Best Friend’s Wedding is immeasurably blessed to have László Kovács as its cinematographer; also James Newton Howard to compose the orchestral underscore. Kovács’ visuals are brightly lit and sumptuous; always providing us with interesting visual counterpoints to admire, particularly when the plot frequently devolves to banal and featherweight fluff of the most predictable kind. Howard’s score carries a ballast of poignancy and perspective; reflected more astutely in chords than as delivered by any of the actors’ performances within this puff piece. My Best Friend’s Wedding rather neatly plucks at the heartstrings, in part because the audience has a built-in radar and level of blind expectation already anticipated. Curiously, the impact from the proverbial happy ending is marginally blunted by Julianne’s inability to reenter the life she once shared with Michael. He’s moved on. She hasn’t.  And we damn well know she probably won’t be able to for quite some time.  Nevertheless, using Rupert Everett’s gay sidekick as the soul of brevity and wit proves a rather diverting entrée to this undernourished main course. When the central love interest implodes, it’s enough to know Julianne will have a warm shoulder to cry on with no strings attached.
Ronald Bass’ screenplay gives ample space for the irresistible hearty laugh and good cry always irresistible to audiences. It never fails. Make a movie about a wedding and you're half way home at the box office. Shot on location in some of Chicago’s most posh and instantly identifiable settings – including The Drake and Hilton Hotels, Comiskey Park, Union Station, Chicago’s Fourth Presbyterian Church and Cueno Estates and Gardens – the film is a travelogue as well as a potpourri for the eyes and heart; an unapologetically sentimental bon-bon brimming with laughter and tears; in short, something for everyone. Reportedly, executive producer, Jerry Zucker first learned of the property from his wife. Once Julia Roberts committed to the project, she proved immeasurably influential; a helpful asset on set – reshaping her character and many of the script’s scenarios to her strengths as an actress. Interestingly, the scene where George chagrins Julianne with his serenade was shot at Barry and Cudas Crab Shack – a Chicago restaurant already closed before production began.
Along the way, the script changed, particularly the ending of the movie. Columbia had imposed a finale on director, P.J. Hogan, whereby Julianne’s scheming results in her being left alone and isolated from the rest of the wedding reception when an unknown handsome guest suddenly appears to offer his hand to her for a dance. At preview, this ending was sneered at by audiences, who found it contrived and predictable. As such, Hogan was allowed to reassemble his cast and crew and re-shoot the ending as it exists today. In the final analysis, My Best Friend’s Wedding proved a colossal success, earning $120 million in its initial release. It remains a perennial favorite and, arguably, one of the best ‘wedding-themed’ comedies of all time.
Sony Home Entertainment has rectified its glaring oversight by re-issuing this Blu-ray in North America. Previously, it was available only in Europe – actually, Germany – as a region free offering, playable from anywhere in the world. Is it just me, or do such exclusions simply seem like silliness and bad marketing run amuck? I mean, if you can play the damn disc from anywhere in the world, why should only a certain part of the world be privileged to carry and sell it? We won’t poo-poo it any further. This is the self-same 1080p transfer that has been available overseas for more than four years, looking phenomenal and utterly ravishing in hi-def. Prepare to be thoroughly pleased with the results. They’re reference quality, with fully saturated colors and natural looking flesh tones. Contrast is bang on perfect and film grain looks as it should. There’s not a blemish to detract. At times, the image yields exceptional depth and clarity. You are going to love this disc.
The audio is 5.1 DTS audio and a minor revelation; effects, underscore and dialogue conspiring to provide a truly immersive sonic experience. Extras are ported over from Sony’s old anniversary DVD and include a trio of engaging vintage featurettes and an audio commentary. Alas, no deleted scenes or outtakes of that alternate ending that didn’t work for preview audiences. Bottom line: the film works and will satisfy the hopeless romantics more than the ardent romantic cynics. This 1080p transfer will please all. Highly recommended.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)


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