© 2005 Ray Wong
Valentine’s Day is upon us. THE WEDDING DATE is getting a head start, before HITCH (with Will Smith) and BRIDE AND PREJUDICE hit theaters next week. It may prove to be a good move.
Kat Ellis (Messing) is a single career woman living in New York, recently dumped by her fiancé after a seven-year relationship. All hopes were on her to get hitched, so she feels like a big disappointment. The bad news is her younger sister Amy (Adams) is now getting married in London. The worse news is her ex-fiancé Jeffrey (Sheffield) is the best man. Desperate to appear normal and happily involved (to irk Jeffrey), Kat tracks down a sought-after escort, Nick Mercer (Mulroney), offers him a first class plane ticket, and pays him $6000 out of her 401(k) to pose as her new beau for the weekend.
When Nick shows up, he’s everything she’s hoped for: handsome, suave, sophisticated, soft-spoken, and romantic. Compared to him, Kat is a wreck (a lovely one, however). She’s tense and clumsy, too self-aware to have a good time. At the family estate in London, everyone goes gaga over Kat’s new boyfriend. The girls are jealous of Kat, and the boys are envious of Nick. Jeffrey, in particular, seems to be jealous and remorseful. Kat’s plan is working. Thanks to Nick, she’s getting back at Jeffrey. She becomes the center of attention, stealing thunder from Amy. And she finds herself falling for the American gigolo. Little does she know things will soon get out of hand, and secrets will surface, threatening to destroy every bit of happiness she’s just starting to find.
As Messing’s (ALONG CAME POLLY) first leading film role, Kat Ellis is almost exactly the same as Grace Adler on WILL & GRACE. It’s perfect casting and Messing has the self-doubting, flustered, neurotic girl down pat (just hope she’s not typecast forever). She’s gorgeous and fun and sexy and self-deprecating. Mulconey (ABOUT SCHMIDT), in comparison, is cool and suave and thoughtful. He exudes incredible confidence as the high-priced object of lust and affection, but I think he’s a little too restrained; too debonair, if you ask me. Granted, Mulconey is perfect as the perfectly pretty boy, but one longs for his more nuanced, wacky performances like the way he played Randall in ABOUT SCHMIDT.
Adams (CATCH ME IF YOU CAN) is good as the bride with a secret, what with her rudeness, self-absorption and a touch of vulnerability. Her character is one of the few three-dimensional ones in the film. Davenport (PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN) is delightful as the devoted, straight-laced, clueless groom. Parish (REVERSALS) does the job as the token wildcard, crazy cousin. Taylor (SPY KID) also phones in her performance, playing once again the ditzy, embarrassing mother. Egan (THE I INSIDE) adds a dash of warmth and dignity as Kat’s loving stepfather. The only oddity is Sheffield (CREEP): he’s the token “bad guy” but we really don’t get a good sense of what his character is about. It’s really not Sheffield’s fault – he’s a charming fellow with good skills. His character is simply the least developed, that’s all.
First-time screenwriter Fox gives us a tongue-in-cheek romantic comedy that is part screwball and part touchy-feely. The premise is a bit far-fetched. I mean, why does a woman like Kat need to risk being exposed (not to mention a big chunk of her savings) to hire a hooker, especially sight unseen? Despite that initial flaw, THE WEDDING DATE has a light and fluffy feel to it. Fox borrows everything from her arsenal, from PRETTY WOMAN to MY BEST FRIEND’S WEDDING to FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL (or any romantic comedies that have to do with weddings and hookers). While the story is as fresh as a two-days-old bloom, it’s interesting to observe the reversal of gender roles. Here, the men are the sex objects, the romantics, or the voices of reason. It’s a film in which the men don’t have to play victim to feminism a la Hollywood style.
It’s not the say the story is as tight as it should be. The plot is rather thin, the dialogue rather banal at places. There are plenty of holes to pick apart. For example, one can only ask, aside from the money ($6000 for a weekend is not chump change), what prompts a guy like Nick to prostitute himself. He’s simply “too good to be true.” We learn quite a lot about Kat, but we know almost nothing about Nick. The audience are required to love and trust and root for Nick based on faith. Luckily Mulroney is a charming enough actor to pull that off.
Kilner’s (HOW TO DEAL) direction is slack and uninspiring. There are scenes that drag and make you want to scream “C’mon, let’s move.” There are scenes so choppy that we can’t help but think how much was left on the cutting floor, or whether the director and editor have a bad day. The editing and pacing need a lot of fine tuning. At 90 minutes, the film actually feels long. To her credit (or cinematographer Oliver Curtis), however, the sceneries of English towns and countryside and the cities of New York and London are serene and pleasant to look at.
One of the good things about THE WEDDING DATE is that it’s pure fluff, and it’s not embarrassed to tell us so. There’s no false advertising and it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Unfortunately, neither will the audience. If we can leave our high expectations at home, it’s really not a bad date movie to behold.
Stars: Debra Messing, Dermot Mulroney, Amy Adams, Jack Davenport, Sarah Parish, Jeremy Sheffield, Peter Egan, Holland Taylor
Director: Clare Kilner
Writer: Dana Fox
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual content, language, brief nudity
Running time: 90 minutes
Script – 6
Performance – 7
Direction – 5
Cinematography – 7
Editing – 6
Production – 7
Total Score – 6.2 of 10