Liv (Kate Hudson) and Emma (Anne Hathaway) have been close friends since childhood and have shared their innermost secrets. Liv is now an ambitious, driven lawyer working in Manhattan, and Emma is an accomplished professional teacher. They have talked about becoming engaged at the same time and have dreamt since childhood of the perfect wedding that has to be in the month of June and at New York’s famous Plaza Hotel. They both hire the same wedding planner (Candice Bergen) and find themselves, through a clerical mishap, accidentally being married on the same day at the same place. Friendship turns to war as neither of them wants to change anything that has been arranged or anticipated in any way at all. This is a comedy that stars two popular actresses and they work together reasonably well. Candice Bergen brings a certain amount of measured sophistication to the role of the narrative story-teller, and she acts as the catalyst for the comic storm between the two would-be brides.
The comedy is obvious and hard-edged at times, but frothy enough to have appeal, especially to those who enjoy reading Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Cosmopolitan, or My Perfect Wedding Planner; and it picks up the competitive marriage culture in the US market-place that typifies the lure of these kinds of magazines. The two Brides are at war with each other, and try to spoil everything for the other. Wrong videos are planted, weight-producing snacks are delivered to make sure that wedding dresses don’t fit, and hair colour and skin tone are sabotaged to spoil the occasion for the other. In the end, however, it is the friendship between them that overcomes the traumas of the wedding, but not without the casualty of one of the husbands-to-be.
What might have been an intelligent exercise in criticising the values of consumerism and materialism that too often permeate modern marriage planning, at the expense of values that really count, becomes in the final part of this movie a lesson in finding true friendship. The result of it all is a rather smaltzy, sugary movie but enjoyable, despite what it aims to be. Hudson (who co-produced the movie) and Hathaway play off each other, but nothing too substantial is needed to make their roles work, and the film’s scripting leaves the comic possibilities for them fairly vacuous. Hudson brings a tougher, more brittle edge to her portrayal of Liv, while Hathaway maintains a lingering sweetness beneath Emma’s frustrations. There is, however, a great over-the-top comedy performance by Emma’s colleague, an alcoholic teacher (played by Kristen Johnson), who Emma chooses out of sheer desperation to be her maid-of-honour. Johnson brings comedy force to her role that lights up the screen whenever she appears.
The men in the film are cardboard cut-outs and they are there simply to provide a foil to the fight between the two women going on around them. And if it is a movie that is intended to project modern principles of feminism, it does a terribly bad job. The movie could be said to parody what the wedding market has become, but also it tugs away at the same time by pulling sentimentally on the heart strings at every opportunity. It is surprising that the movie delivers its message about Brides in so stereotyped a fashion, when two of the film’s three writers are women.
This is a movie that one should not expect too much from. Its values relating to marriage are entirely consumer-predictable and there is no great drama to finding, when it is all over, that the friendship between Liv and Emma is what is meant to last. Overall, the movie is a light, enjoyable experience that could have been a lot better than it is, and both Hudson and Hathaway have made better movies in the past. “The Devil Wears Prada” and “Rachel Getting Married” (soon to be released) are much better vehicles for Hathaway to show off her very considerable acting talents.
20th Century Fox Out January 15
Peter W Sheehan is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.