© 2009 Ray Wong
I can just hear the pitch for Bride Wars now: It's My Best Friend's Wedding meets The Wedding Planner meets War of the Roses. It does sound like fun in an estrogenic way.
Liv (Kate Hudson) and Emma (Anne Hathaway) have been best friends since childhood, and they made a pact with each other to be each other's Maid of Honor when they get married, and preferably in June at the Plaza Hotel.
Their dreams come true when their respective boyfriends Daniel (Steve Howey) and Fletcher (Chris Platt) propose. Just their luck, their dream wedding planner Marion St. Claire (Candice Bergen) is available and best of all, there are three time slots open in June at the Plaza. All is well until a mistake is made, and both Liv and Emma are booked on the same date, and the other bride would not change her date.
At first, the two brides-to-be try to work things out; then everything comes to a head when both realize the other is not giving in. Their envy and insecurity escalate into an out-and-out war, completely with one-upmanship and childish behaviors. Their friendship is put on ice when they both vie to be "the" bride of the day.
Kate Hudson (Fool's Gold) and Anne Hathaway (Rachel Getting Married) are both engaging in their respective roles, sharing a good on-screen chemistry. Hudson is particular funny as the assertive, bossy Liv; her comic timing reminds us of her famous comedian mother. Her character is more brash, loud and outrageous but she also gets to show some emotional depth at certain key scenes. Hathaway, on the other hand, has the more difficult task of portraying a wallflower who learns to unleash her obnoxious, nasty inner self. Her character comes off as more sympathetic but also less consistent. Hathaway is at her best during some of the more introspective moments.
The supporting cast is mostly peripheral in this two-women show. As their respective beaus, Chris Pratt (Wanted) and Steve Howey (DOA: Dead or Alive) are amiable but also as bland and generic as pastel wall papers. In fact, they're so similar that I have a hard time telling them apart sometimes. Candice Bergen (The Women) is utterly wasted as the famed wedding planner. She could have had so much fun with the role who is pretty much at the center of this "war." And Kristen Johnston (Music and Lyrics) is relegated to a caricature, although she does it so well.
The script by Greg DePaul (Saving Silverman), Cacey Wilson (Creature Comforts) and June Diane Raphael (Creature Comforts) is surprisingly solid, at least in the first half. The writers have made a good decision focusing on the relationship between Emma and Liv and give the story a strong focus. The downside is it leaves no room for anything else. The beaus, for example, are reduced to window dressings, and the weddings seem to be afterthoughts. Still, the relationship between the two women is central to the story, and it is good enough to hold the movie together.
There are plenty of cliches to go around, of course. And the jokes seem rather tired sometimes, and the behaviors of the two characters become more and more sophomoric and childish. Still, it works in the context, and serves as a social commentary on everything from friendship (especially among women -- for example, their friends would not take sides, or they're happy for their friends while being resentful about their own failed relationships) to our society's ridiculous pressure and emphasis on weddings and being a perfect bride. In fact, Kristen Johnston's character, despite being a pig, offers one of the film's most astute and true commentary.
That said, the second half falls apart as the two women try to reconcile their friendship. Something doesn't jell there. Their behaviors are so outlandish that it seems awkwardly inconsistent for them to feel sorry for the other. Emma's "transformation" is especially unconvincing, and the ending is forced and manipulative and predictable, and totally out of character for Emma. Of the two characters, Emma seems to be the most sympathetic one but at the same time, also the most unconvincing and inconsistent. Not to mention there are plot holes and frustrating illogic. For example, they mean to tell us that Emma and Liv don't have any friends of family members outside of their mutual circle? And if St. Claire messes up their dates, don't you think it's her legal and moral obligation to fix it for them? Things like that may seem trivial, but they bug me nonetheless because they're only there for the sake of the plot.
Director Gary Winick (13 Going on 30) is actually very good. The direction is well-paced, sharp and focused. The camerawork is smooth and the production doesn't distract from the story. Winick is able to keep the plot level and let Hathaway and Hudson do their own things. Still, there is nothing noteworthy here -- the film is well-produced and executed in a workmanlike manner.
Bride Wars is a cute, at-times funny, and entertaining buddy movie for women, in the same vein of Sex and the City. It's also smart enough not to alienate the male audiences by keeping the mood light and the pranks funny but clean. One does wonder what the film would look like if Judd Apatow had written and directed this. The final verdict is that Bride Wars is not as bad as I've thought, but it's only good enough as a bridesmaid, missing the altar by a final act.
Stars: Kate Hudson, Anne Hathaway, Bryan Greenberg, Chris Pratt, Steve Howey, Candice Bergen, Kristen Johnston, Michael Arden
Director: Gary Winick
Writers: Greg DePaul, Casey Wilson, June Diane Raphael
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
MPAA Rating: PG for suggestive content, language, and some rude behaviors
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Script – 6
Performance – 7
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 7
Editing – 8
Production – 7
Total – 6.8 out of 10