On a superficial level, I can respect the ambition of My Best Friend’s Wedding. After all, it was a daring move to take Julia Roberts, one of cinema’s most likable rom-com heroines, and turn her into a backstabbing villain. Date movies had settled and become stale by the late 90s, and this was a clear attempt to shake up the snow globe. Now that I’ve paid my compliment, let me say it: This film has always irked me. It irked me when I first saw it as a teenager, and it irks me even more now. Give me a few paragraphs, and I’ll spell out the reasons.
For those few who haven’t come across this movie, I’ll give you the Reader’s Digest summary. Jules (Julia Roberts) is a fast-rising food critic in New York City. She leads a charmed life with George (Rupert Everett), her gay BFF. All that changes when Jules gets a surprise phone call from Michael (Dermot Mulroney), her straight BFF. Turns out, Jules and Michael once had a torrid fling, only to settle in as lifelong besties. Somewhere in their platonic shenanigans, they made a solemn pact: If both were still single at 28, they would just marry each other. Jules has quietly pined for Michael, and she’s about to turn 28. When he rings her up, she feels a secret rush of giddiness.
Psyche! Once Michael finally gets a hold of Jules, he drops a hydrogen bomb: He can’t honor their pact, because he’s marrying someone else! Even worse, Michael wants Jules to meet his fiancée and give the engagement her stamp of approval. Jules vows to bust up this wedding, at all costs.
The ethics of this plan get muddy on two fronts: First, when we meet Kimmy (Cameron Diaz), she’s an endearing, good-hearted person, and worthy of Michael’s love. Second, Kimmy makes a shrewd maneuver by asking Jules to be her Maid of Honor. This could be an act of genuine sweetness, or a Godfather move to keep a potential enemy close. Only time will tell. In either case, Jules begins feel the gnawing pangs of guilt.
Of course, that doesn’t keep her from deploying her evil plans. Along Michael and Kimmy’s whirlwind engagement, Jules resorts to potentially sabotaging Michael’s career, humiliating Kimmy at karaoke, and making up a fiancé to provoke Michael’s jealousy. These horrible deeds blow up in her face, but they also cause a lot of collateral damage to people she supposedly cares about.
This is a good spot for me to rant. I get that Jules is supposed to be the heel in this plot. Michael and Kimmy are the good guys. But for Jules to work as the film’s primary focus, I have to root for her, at least a little bit. And I don’t. At all. I love Roberts as an actress, but Jules is selfish, spoiled, and cruel. When the going gets tough, her character gets uglier and uglier.
If Kimmy were a nasty, toxic individual, that’d be one thing. Jules could save Michael from a disastrous relationship, have her wedding cake and eat it, too. But the filmmakers go out of their way to make Kimmy a really good person. She’s kind, thoughtful, and admits when she’s wrong. That means Jules is just trying to smash up a good thing. She’s a homewrecker.
The key moment in the entire movie occurs toward the end. (Spoiler alert, obviously.) Jules finally confesses her love to Michael and wraps him up in a kiss. In true sitcom fashion, Kimmy catches them in the act. Hijinks ensue, wherein Michael chases Kimmy and Jules chases Michael. They end up at Chicago Union Station, and Jules tearfully lays out all her terrible schemes.
As I watched this scene after all these years, it dawned on me: Jules isn’t coming clean because of her remorse. She’s coming clean because she got caught. That’s a huge difference. If Michael had returned her kiss, Jules would’ve lassoed him away and that would be it. Kimmy’s life would’ve been ruined. And after seeing Jules in action, Michael’s life probably would’ve been ruined, as well. Jules is a bad person when the movie begins, and she’s arguably even worse when it ends.
Wedding‘s ugly dark side gets brightened by a sunny, cheerful production. Director P.J. Hogan stages big musical numbers around Hal David/Burt Bacharach standards. The most notable is “I Say a Little Prayer,” staged as a restaurant singalong. These little moments help distract from just how unappealing this movie is. Unfortunately, they don’t do enough. I know a lot of people adore this flick, and it’s not my aim to throw a wet blanket on their love. At the same time, My Best Friend’s Wedding got under my skin, more than any other we’ve rewatched for the podcast.
104 min. PG-13. Hulu.