Dir: Anne Fletcher. US, 2008. 111mins
Well cast, slickly produced and performed with enough spirit to counterbalance its frequently stupendous lack of originality and plausibility, 27 Dresses pulls all the right levers for (mostly female) diehard romantic comedy audiences looking for just a pinch of wistfulness to go alongsidestray wish-fulfillment scenarios.
Having successfully transitioned from television to the big screen with last summer's hit comedy Knocked Up, Grey's Anatomy star Katherine Heigl tries on a more tailor-fitted form of movie stardom with this glossy, undemanding tale of romantic angst. Aimed firmly at the same white-collar femalemarket that helped 2001's Bridget Jones's Diary and its 2004 sequel earn a combined $520 million worldwide, 27 Dresses taps into the same sort of ticking-clock anxiety associated with unrequited workplace crushes and dreaded 'singledom' while approaching 30 years old.
While lacking the 'chick lit' source material pedigree that helped make The Devil Wears Prada a huge hit ($125 million domestically, $202 million abroad) in the summer of 2006, 27 Dresses shares that film's screenwriter, as well as its some of its flashes of self-effacing wit, and for these reasons should find a reasonably welcome mainstream commercial reception both Stateside and internationally, where its chief conceit easily translates. Repeat-play value for its wheelhouse demographic, meanwhile, will help make the movie a very solid earner in the DVD and pay-cable marketplaces.
Young, New York City professional Jane Nichols (Katherine Heigl) has always been good at taking care of others, as an opening flashback to 1986 shows us, with little Jane saving the day for a distraught bride. Her adult life has followed suit. Jane has a job at Urban Everest, a thinly defined outerwear company and 'eco-friendly philanthropic business' headed up by her boss, George Casey (Edward Burns), on whom she nurses a not-so-secret crush to which he is naturally oblivious. She also has a closet full of 27 bridesmaid dresses of rather dubious fashion sense.
Jane's problems boil down to the fact that she can't say no, and that she always subjugates her own feelings and wishes to make others happy. Her unerring attention to detail, though, makes her the perfect person to plan bridal showers and all the other attendant details leading up to a wedding. One memorable evening, she even shuttles back and forth between two receptions, a feat witnessed by Kevin Doyle (James Marsden), a New York Journal reporter who realizes that a story about this wedding junkie might be his ticket off the newspaper's bridal beat.
After he finds her meticulously annotated planner, Kevin doggedly ingratiates himself into Jane's life, and the two lock horns in jesting fashion, exchanging repartee on love and marriage. Jane also finds her world further turned upside down when her blithely self-centered younger sister, Tess (Malin Ackerman), comes for a visit and immediately captures George's heart. One quickie proposal later, Jane suddenly finds herself having to help plan Tess' wedding to the guy she thinks is the perfect man for her.
Choreographer turned director Anne Fletcher (Step Up) elicits engaging performances from her actors, and generally keeps things moving at a nice pace. Leaning heavily on close-ups of Heigl, Fletcher and cinematographer Peter James come up with a fairly bright look for the movie, but the damning tradeoff is that at no point does 27 Dresses remotely capture any sense of big city verve or energy on par with The Devil Wears Prada or The Nanny Diaries. Taking scarcely any advantage of outdoor locations, this is a film set in New York City entirely incidentally. It feels boxed in and small.
Aline Brosh McKenna's screenplay is comprised of plenty of cutesy contrivances (needing to get certain characters together, Jane is somehow left to register gifts for Tess, as well as attend a tasting alone with George), but does offer up some nice dialogue, chiefly in the form of banter between Jane and Kevin, and also benefits from having just a bit of real bite, in two arguments between Jane and Tess. If the too-tidy ending puts a bow on things and resolves matters in overly simplistic, conciliatory fashion, one finds it hard to hold too much of a lasting grudge since the film makes clear from frame one that, narratively speaking, feel-good familiarity will trump innovation.
Heigl's more dramatic small screen work on Grey's Anatomy helps give Jane a certain rootedness. In small, cut glances and swallowed sighs, one feels the palpable melancholy of her over-accommodating nature without it ever detracting from the movie's generally peppy tone.
The comedically gifted Judy Greer gives the movie some welcome sass in her too-small role as Jane's best friend, while Ackerman delivers a less extreme version of her nutty, newly betrothed character from this past autumn's The Heartbreak Kid. Each of their characters are broadly drawn, though, and mostly serve as functionaries for Jane.
Somewhat similarly, Marsden is given a rather falsely cynical character, so it's to his credit that he abandons any shades of grey and merely plays Kevin as smiling, flippant and glib. After spending the X-Man films largely sentenced to life behind the visor of his character, Cyclops, it's pleasantly surprising to see Marsden get a chance to cut loose with lighter characters, as in Enchanted and here.
Fox 2000 (US)
Spyglass Entertainment (US)
Dune Entertainment (US)
20th Century Fox
20th Century Fox
Becki Cross Trujillo
Aline Brosh McKenna
Priscilla Nedd Friendly
Catherine Marie Thomas