The Wedding Planner
The Wedding Planner (100 minutes) Rated PG-13/2001 – starring Jennifer Lopez, Matthew McConaughey, Bridgette Wilson-Sampras, Justin Chambers, Judy Greer, Alex Rocco, Joanna Gleason, Charles Kimbrough, Fred Willard, Kathy Najimy, and Kevin Pollak. Directed by Adam Shankman. Now in theaters and distributed by Columbia Pictures.
As a website devoted to music and the personalities that make those notes come alive, it’s fair to say that when we review a movie around here, we’re not only checking out the acting, the story, and the photography, but also the soundtrack. Music, of course, is used for character definition, pacing, and can signal an underlying mood in support, or counterpoint, to the story unfolding on the screen. Unless it’s used during a moment devoid of dialogue, a film’s soundtrack should be subtle and masterfully subordinate or complementary to the scene at hand. Someone tell Mervyn Warren this. He’s the overbearing composer of “The Wedding Planner.”
If you haven’t seen this film but intend to, listen up to the score. I don’t think you’ll have much of a choice not to ignore it. This is how not to score a film. Every comic “gesture,” however lame it is, is given a kooky musical “stab” for emphasis. Even those moments when one character simply gives a “look” at another is nudged with cutesy notes. Lines that fall flat in wit are unmercifully “pumped up” with a jolly orchestral titter. And scenes that are just plain ordinary (fer cryin’ out loud!), are given such a goofy, giddy goose under the musical direction of Warren that the tone of “The Wedding Planner” rockets far past the insipid, groan-inducing merriment of a Dean Jones-Sandy Duncan matinee.
The film’s achievement in mediocrity shouldn’t be laid completely at the feet of its composer, however. The two writers who share screenplay credit must have never collaborated on the final draft because the movie feels as if one script was stitched onto the other halfway through the storyline. When the film begins, unhitched wedding guide Jennifer Lopez, a woman who is so anal she alphabetizes her credit cards, meets “cute” with the glazed charm of Matthew McConaughey, after he rescues her from a runaway dumpster. The two connect romantically on a date before Lopez learns that the drawling Don Juan is due to marry a socialite and poor Jennifer is in charge of the wedding details. What unfolds for the next 45 minutes are “comedic” vignettes so uninspired and contrived that more originality seemed to ooze from the red-lit EXIT sign next to the theater’s screen.
Watch how the duo dance a synchronized tango together at a ballroom dance class, all the while arguing with each other! See Matthew overreacting to a comment Jennifer makes to his fiancee by swerving into oncoming traffic! Bust a gut over Mr. McConaughey inexplicably being drawn into competing with an Italian admirer of Jennifer’s as the two men lift weights and wrestle each other! All of these stock “comedy” scenes might have risen above their banal execution if any one character in this film had the slightest connection to a human being. Jennifer and Matthew elicit no initial chemistry together. Their supposed romantic “connection” turning point, at an outdoor date in a San Francisco Park (actually shot at LA’s Veteran’s Administration Hospital), is absolutely barren of scintillating dialogue or genuine feeling. The story demands that these two get together, but outside the confines of the flickering frame, you’d never buy in real life that these characters “instantly” cared for each other.
Lopez, who’s feisty work in “Out of Sight” and “U-Turn” showed a woman who can bring spark and depth to a role, has absolutely nothing to play with here. First off, we’re supposed to swallow the fact that her wedding planner hasn’t had a date in two years, as a fallout result of a broken-heart. That leaves Jennifer with nothing to do but basically be a gorgeous wallflower with a winning smile. Not entirely believable. The man she does fall for is not very charming. Oh sure, the screenwriters have painted the “by-the-numbers” wacky scenarios mentioned above for McConaughey to force the audience to accept his veneer of charm. But since his fiancee, played by the wonderfully-grounded Bridgitte Wilson-Sampras, is portrayed as a delightful companion in her own right, and Matthew’s time is simply spent skulking about, almost creepily, pursuing Lopez, his character comes across as not very genuine and worse yet, a bit of a cad.
When the script switches tone jarringly halfway through the movie, the two leads suddenly become different characters. They instantly are given a semblance of maturity, as they take long moments to discuss their conflicts and feelings. Jennifer’s only standout performance in the film occurs during this second half, when she gets inebriated and mumbles her lines with abandon. For once, the director allows the “situation” and Lopez’ acting chops to calmly exhibit the comedy element to a scene instead of bombastically goosing it with overuse of smarmy looks or that horrid music score. Speaking of which, Mervyn Warren finally takes a brief moment to layer on the romantic strings with an appropriate cue during Lopez’ drunken scene before going over-the-top nutty at the end.
Believability, a romantic bond and comedic balance are all we ask out of a decent lighthearted tale of the heart. “The Wedding Planner” unfortunately had a flat tire while delivering these elements to the chapel of love.
© 2001 Ned Truslow