In the AFI Romance's montage, the image of a smiling Julia Roberts running in the airport was inserted in the 'climactic races' part, when you know it was only to meet her friend, you have an idea of how misleading the image was (although that was quite a bump when they 'met'). That's the best thing about P.J. Hogan's "My Best Friend's Wedding", it toys with all the expectations and actually delivers a story where you never exactly know what will happen till the end.
That it stars Julia Roberts could be seen as its best asset, but even in her finest romantic comedies, say "Pretty Woman" or "Notting Hill", let's not kid ourselves, we knew exactly how they would end. In "My Best Friend's Wedding", we sort of figure out that she's not going to win, but the certitude doesn't come up immediately and still, there's the whole mystery about how the revelations will all unfold and the hurts be done with each characters' arc closing in a satisfying way. This is a love triangle and a school case of intelligent screen writing. The credit goes to Ronald Bass and I'm pretty sure a few more one-liners would have sealed its chances for an Oscar nomination.
Now, take the set-up, we all know it but it's a delightful one. Food critic Julianne Potter (Roberts) gets a phone call from her best friend Michael O'Neal (Dermot Mulroney). Together they forged a pact that if no one found true love at 28, they were going to marry each other, the call almost rings like a proposal, except that the proposal was done and Michael is getting married with Kimmy Wallace (Camerone Diaz) a 20-year dizzy girl from a very wealthy Chicago family. Julianne is flabbergasted, her poor Michael has obviously fallen in a trap, or is just too blind to realize he's doing the blunder of his life. Naturally, she decides to sabotage the wedding.
Once the pieces of the game are placed, you've got to wonder who's got the most thankless role. Is it Julia Roberts because she's the closest to an unsung villain and there's never a moment where we empathize with her or accept any of her plans to ruin the idyll between the couple to be. Or is it Cameron Diaz whose performance as Kimmy resembles her smiling and overly naive Mary in the Farrelly Brothers' film and she looks like the eternal victim too dumb (or enamored) to realize that she just asked her worst enemy to be her maid of honor. Or is it Michael who doesn't see what's going on and has literally jeopardized his happiness without realizing it? In a lesser script, the film would have been cringe-worthy or mean-spirited.
But this is a quality screenplay. As a matter of fact, none of these characters have a thankless role, Julianne is given her moments of redemption, but they're never played as "what have I done?" but rather "what am I doing?" she does question herself but it strikes that she genuinely loves Michael and she's acting out of selfishness more than meanness. I liked that she really sticks to her original plans until she realizes it's definitely over. Michael isn't just the good looking playboy playing hide-and-seek with his feelings, Mulroney plays him as a rather articulate man who's also unsure about his feelings and do have a few demons to get rid of, with both Julianne or Kimmy. In a way, even Julianne's plans allows him to settle some records.
As for Kimmy, she may not be the brightest bulb but she's given her finest moment at the climactic confrontation and again, the film doesn't go for the cheap, easy and spectacular way. In another movie (Anne 'cough' Hatthaway, Kate 'cough, cough' Hudson), there would have been a big cat-fight with parts of the wedding cake being thrown at the guests, but this film plays in another league, the whole thing is dealt in an adult, and funny way that makes us reconsider our initial anticipations. That's how a film should work, surprising, heart-warming and fun. Ronald Bass' screenplay made me realize why I disliked screwball movies like "His Girl Friday" or "The Philadelphia Story", if "My Best Friend's Wedding" was a George Cukor's film, it would have probably ended with Julia Robert's plans working all the way.
But it's played perfectly in the film, because the characters are all three-dimensional and sympathetic. But if none of them have thankless roles, the juiciest role belongs to the scene-stealing Rupert Everett who plays Robert's gay friend, George Downes, an editor who knows what to say, who handles his identity with very good charm and spirit and who's responsible for possibly the three best parts of the film. His unforgettable introduction to Kimmy with all the frenetic laughs and one hilarious slap in the butt that I suspect was unscripted, the signature scene where everyone sings "A Little Prayer for You" and naturally, the ending, you can't make a good romantic comedy without a nice ending. And I couldn't think of a better way to close it.
Speaking of Rupert Everett, this was an Oscar nomination performance because that's exactly what supporting performances are supposed to be, they enhance the appeal of the film with a limited screen presence, it's a role that plays like a Greek chorus, a comic relief and a voice of wisdom all in once. And it's not every guy who can't take pride from stealing the thunder of Miss Julie Roberts herself...
So, "My Best Friend's Wedding" is one of these experiences that slowly grows on you and you end up realizing twenty years after that there have been a very few romantic comedies as good or better as "My Best Friend's Wedding". Julia Roberts will turn 50 soon and the film reminds us what a gem for romantic comedies (or so-called chick flicks) she was.