Dir: Gary Winick. US. 2009. 90mins.
A likable bauble that should prove diverting enough to its core audience, Bride Wars boasts star power and an easily marketable premise, but its execution is strictly by the numbers. This comedy about female best friends whose bond is shattered when their weddings fall on the same date occasionally displays a desire to explore the nature of friendship and love, but unfortunately such moments of insight take a backseat to increasingly silly behaviour that reduces Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway’s successful, sophisticated characters into goofy ninnies for the audience’s amusement.
20th Fox opens Bride Wars in the US on January 9 with its main chick-flick competition being another Fox entry, the potent late-December holdover Marley And Me. Hudson and Hathaway are both proven box-office commodities, and with much of the marketplace devoted to serious Oscar fare and family films, Bride Wars could carve out a niche for itself as one of the few light adult entertainments at the multiplex, perhaps hoping to match the grosses of Fox’s similarly-themed wedding film from last January, 27 Dresses ($160m worldwide). Regardless, look for Bride Wars to be a strong date-night rental before becoming a sturdy ancillary performer.
Since childhood, Liv (Hudson) and Emma (Hathaway) have dreamed of getting married at New York’s historic Plaza Hotel. When both of them get engaged, they book their weddings on different Saturdays in June at the Plaza, only to find out that because of a scheduling gaffe, their happy day will be instead happening at the exact same time. Ruling out the possibility of doing a double wedding, both Liv and Emma refuse to change dates, causing a riff in their friendship and inspiring each woman to covertly sabotage the other’s nuptials.
Bride Wars benefits from a very simple concept - best friends turn bitter enemies as they try to wreak havoc on the other woman’s wedding preparations. It’s a breezy, silly premise, and director Gary Winick (13 Going On 30) and cinematographer Frederick Elmes dress the New York locations with the appropriate fairy-tale opulence. In addition, the two actresses are well cast, with Hathaway portraying a people-pleasing, deferential schoolteacher, while Hudson displays more sarcasm and steel as a type-A, shark-like attorney. But as soon as Liv and Emma start locking horns, Bride Wars goes down a fairly predictable - and not consistently funny - path as the plot becomes an escalation of cruel pranks played between the women.
Winick and his three screenwriters try to insert a deeper emotional resonance into their story that, if handled properly, could have helped justify the women’s immature shenanigans. Unfortunately, like many studio comedies aimed at women, Bride Wars introduces its characters as intelligent, mature working professionals before turning them into petty harpies for the sake of laughs.
The film means to show how their weddings expose the cracks in their friendship - specifically, Emma’s resentment at Liv’s material success and assertive personality - but their bond isn’t strongly developed. Likewise, one of the women’s romantic relationship begins to falter as the weddings loom, leading to a tear-jerking third-act twist that feels forced and unearned.
One could argue that Bride Wars is only meant to be frothy fun, but these hints of a more emotionally layered story suggest that the film-makers toyed with the idea of being more ambitious but then experienced some cold feet on their way to the altar.
Fox 2000 Pictures
New Regency/Birdie/Riche Ludwig Production
June Diane Raphael
Susan Littenberg Hagler