Rearview Mirror: “The Wedding Planner”
Revisiting the rom-com 20 years later, J.Lo playing a full-blooded Italian is far from the only detail we can’t get behind.
Welcome to Rearview Mirror, a monthly movie column in which I re-view and then re-review a movie I have already seen under the new (and improved?) critical lens of 2021. I’m so happy you’re here.
The Wedding Planner falls apart, ironically, the way a wedding without a planner might. The trappings are all there, the beautiful people and the picturesque setting and the intersecting pressures—but things aren’t thought through, no one has taken into consideration the audience’s feelings. Instead, we’ve been sat down and presented with a series of loosely connected gestures at romance and told it adds up to something greater. It doesn’t. But it provides a helpful primer on the “don’ts” of crafting a romantic comedy, a roadmap of what not to do.
The premise seems workable enough, if a bit cookie cutter: Jennifer Lopez plays unmarried Mary, a successful type-A wedding planner looking for the big event that’ll secure her promotion at work. On the streets of San Francisco, she’s saved from being run over by a rogue dumpster speeding downhill by handsome doctor Steve (Matthew McConaughey), who attends to her minor injuries and charms her out of her shell. Sparks fly, but—twist—he’s the groom in the wedding Mary’s just signed onto. You can see how things should go from here: over the course of planning the big day, Mary and Steve will realize that they are meant to be together. The romance of it all, picking the flowers and the music and learning to dance ballroom, will force them to face their feelings, which they have been trying to deny, because they are good people, and he is engaged. If rule number one of a romantic comedy is that the leads “can’t” be together, rule number two is that the audience should really, really want them to. But in The Wedding Planner, there’s nothing to root for, because Steve sucks.
He takes her on a date before he knows that she is his wedding planner. Before she knows that he has a fiancé (though he knows! He frickin’ knows!) they go on an actual nighttime get-dressed-up-and-flirt date. They watch an old movie in the park and eat M&Ms on a tree branch and talk about their families. Actually, they barely eat M&Ms, because Steve has this tic where he only eats the brown ones because, he figures, since chocolate is already brown, the brown ones must have the least artificial coloring. Even a child knows the hard candy coating has nothing to do with the chocolate inside, but Steve throws the majority of his M&Ms on the ground anyway (litterbug). And remember, this man is a doctor. He went to medical school. Where apparently they don’t teach you that taking a woman on a date when you’re not single is bad, unforgivably bad. His excuse is that he likes movies and had the night off and she asked him without first checking to make sure he wasn’t engaged (this logic? Baffling!), and anyway it didn’t mean anything. What a cop-out! What a dick move! What a dick person!
If rule number one of a romantic comedy is that the leads “can’t” be together, rule number two is that the audience should really, really want them to. But in The Wedding Planner, there’s nothing to root for, because Steve sucks.
After that moment and though the final scenes, Mary and Steve’s sexual tension is so juvenile and so un-artfully rendered, I start to wonder if this movie is aimed not at adult women but possibly at stoned teenagers. It doesn’t even get any mileage out of the fact that cheating, while wrong, is undeniably hot, because it won’t go there. Steve and his bride-to-be splitting minutes before they’re supposed to walk down the aisle feels like a sad but inevitable conclusion rather than any kind of triumph of romance over reason. This is another central issue that plagues movies about weddings: for plot reasons, the wedding is usually on some kind of condensed timeline, so that our heroes will be forced to face their feelings when it’s nearly too late to back out (see: My Best Friend’s Wedding, a bizarre fantasy that takes place in an alternate reality where nothing makes sense and everyone is insane). Add to that the fact that someone who has just left a person at the altar is probably not in the right headspace to jump into a good relationship (see: Runaway Bride), and it all adds up to a situation in which even at my most generous, I cannot see these two working out long-term. I don’t buy it; I can’t get on board.
Weddings work well as a rom-com backdrop. When Harry Met Sally, Table 17, Plus One, Palm Springs, and Wedding Crashers (problematic in execution, but on a premise level, fine) all make use of the wedding as milieu without asking us to buy into any “I object!” nonsense. The breakup-at-the-wedding trope is much better on television, where we can watch the resultant awkwardness play out over a few episodes instead of trying to wrap it up in fifteen minutes; Friends, New Girl, and How I Met Your Mother all get away with it by ousting one half of the broken couple from the show. On Happy Endings, the “WTF” of leaving someone at the altar is the show. The only time I’ve seen an end-of-the-aisle dump work in a movie is in The Sweetest Thing, because it’s a heightened, goofy romp that, come to think of it, came out the year after The Wedding Planner and is also set in San Francisco, so maybe watch that instead…
Mary and Steve’s sexual tension is so juvenile and so un-artfully rendered, I start to wonder if this movie is aimed not at adult women but possibly at stoned teenagers.
Enough about the genre, back to the specific failings of The Wedding Planner, a movie I assume (I refuse to do research for a movie such as The Wedding Planner) was taken from idea to “Action!” in about a week and a half. Case in point: Jennifer Lopez plays an Italian. She talks about it at a few different points in the movie. She’s full-blooded Italian, and her very Italian father sets her up with a very Italian boy (Justin Chambers, LOL) she met back in Italy when she visited as a child one summer. Now, is it somehow “bad” to have Jennifer Lopez playing at Italian woman? Not at all. But it’s weird! Why wouldn’t they just…change the dialogue to make her Latina? I can totally imagine the conversation where they decide that it’s better to have J.Lo, famous movie star, in their movie than to find some Italian-American B-lister, but I don’t get why they wouldn’t embrace the biggest thing this flick has going for it, which is that J.Lo is in it. She’s not some chameleon actress the audience can mentally slot into any type of role. People know Jennifer Lopez. Embrace it or gloss over it, but don’t sit there and tell me the woman who played Selena is Mary From The Old Country. It leads me to only one conclusion: this movie is incompetent.
I don’t remember the first time I watched The Wedding Planner. I do remember that as recently as this month, a dude waited too long to tell me he was with someone and it pissed me off. But I still eat every color of M&M, and I still believe in the possibility of love…and in sappy, silly, fun movies. Just not this one. Single folks, don’t settle for The Wedding Planner. Your Maid In Manhattan could be right around the corner! FL