Movie Review: The Wedding Planner (2001)

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When starting this blog about bad chick flick movies, I knew I wanted to start it with something memorable. Perhaps it’s not the most memorable bad movie for everyone, but for me it’s pretty historic. When I was in high school, in homeroom we almost always watched some sort of romantic comedy or chick flick throughout all four years. I’m not sure who picked the movies, or why this kept happening, nevertheless we watched them. While there were plenty of bad movies we watched, the one that stuck out and stuck with me was the 2001 Jennifer Lopez vehicle, The Wedding Planner. Since this is arguably the start of my long love-hate relationship with bad romantic comedies (with emphasis on the hate here), I thought it only fitting to be my first entry on this blog.

Plot Summary (courtesy of Neflix): Wedding Planner Mary Fiore is saved from an accident by the man of her dreams — only to discover that he happens to be her latest client’s fiance.

Main Character: Jennifer Lopez is Mary Fiore, a wedding planner. First off, I don’t think this is a bad start for a romantic comedy lead – the idea of “Oh she helps others find love but she can’t find love of her own” is a bit trite, but it could work.

However, this movie treats her job like it’s some simultaneously mystical and romantic job. Throughout the movie, Mary (get it, because she helps people get married?!) mentions how she can tell when people are going to get divorced or split up after getting married. They also have her twice give a speech to a woman who seems to be having serious doubts about getting married to the man they’re marrying, and giving them a pep talk to fix everything.

She’s even treated like she’s some mystical being – “look, there’s the wedding planner,” a wedding guest loudly stage whispers during the wedding ceremony. “She must lead such a romantic life,” says another guest, as they look away from the ceremony to gawk at the wedding planner. Does anyone assume that to be the case about a wedding planner? I’m sure they have many unique skills to be good at their job, but at the end of the day she’s a specialized event planner.

The film also shows her as being, shocker, SINGLE, with a short montage of scenes that are supposed to make the audience feel very sad for her when it looks like she has a lovely life. She goes to her apartment (She’s ALONE), gets her dinner and her wine (she doesn’t even cook??), and she eats while she watches Antiques Roadshow on TV in her lovely, sizable apartment for living in San Francisco.

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While she’s given a sob story later in the movie (Mary was cheated on by HER fiance), nothing about Mary’s life seems particularly sad for the most part. She’s succeeding at the career she’s wanted since she was a child, she has a lovely apartment and seems to be leading a good life. But oh no, she plays scrabble with her father, she needs a MAN.

Who are we supposed to be attracted to?: Matthew McConaughey as Dr. Steven James ‘Steve/Eddie’ Edison. The reason he has so many names here is so that we can have the situation unfold, because obviously there aren’t two men in San Francisco named something like Steve – so he introduces himself as Steve and his fiancee Fran calls him Eddie, because if she called him Steve then Mary would go “wait a minute, that’s the man I met!”

A lot of Steve/Eddie’s characterization is supposed to make him seem not creepy, like he’s not a man emotionally cheating on his fiancee. So situations become exaggerated – look, he saved Mary’s life – twice! Look, he’s a pediatrician, can a pediatrician REALLY be a bad guy? Steve/Eddie’s fiancee explains “He doesn’t leave people behind” and that he always does the right thing. If that means emotionally cheating on his fiancee then he’s way ahead of her.

Watching the movie: What a slog this was – it felt like every single element of this movie was trying to make up for the issues inherent in the premise, rather than crafting a predictable, solid romance.

The whole concept of the movie makes sense – wedding planner falls for a guy but oh no, he’s her client’s fiance. It’s sketchy but it works. But in execution, it’s desperately trying to make everyone look good when it doesn’t work at all. Two of the times Mary and Steve are alone happen because he literally saves Mary’s life. It’s also an excuse to have the two of them pressed up against each other. But it doesn’t particularly work.

The tone of the movie is all over the place. While having movies do both comedy and a more serious romance can work if done effectively, neither work particularly well here. The comedy is based on stereotypes, unimpressive hijinks (oh, she’s crawling under a table, how funny?) and a couple of unimpressive gags. The comedy setpiece of the movie (and honestly the only thing I really remembered from my high school viewing) is when they are looking at statues, one accidentally falls over, they try to get the statue back into place, the statue’s genitals pop off, and they try to glue it back on when, oh no, the statue’s penis is glued to his hand? This also leads into what’s supposed to be one of their biggest bonding moments as a couple. Not even kidding.

This tone problem is all exacerbated by the loud and sometimes overbearing music throughout. If hijinks are happening, do we really need loud, wacky music, every time? Does every montage need a late 90s /early 2000s r&b track crooning at us just minutes after the wacky music?

The movie also seems inherently uninterested in either of their jobs – Steve being a pediatrician only gets a brief mention, and while Mary being a wedding planner ostensibly has more of a point to the movie, the movie forgets the actual work of being a wedding planner and instead brings this point to outings that don’t seem to influence any actual planning. Early on, the boss at Mary’s wedding planning company decides that Mary can become partner (is this a law firm??) if Mary plans Steve’s wedding. Yet, what could presumably be some work vs love tension just ends up going nowhere.

All of this could be assuaged if Mary and Steve had any discernible chemistry. While I don’t think either are particularly bad (though neither are really any good in this), there is a very palpable lack of chemistry between them. Throughout most of the movie they seem to actively dislike each other. This doesn’t need to be a problem, many romances do the hate to love thing well, but even their romantic scenes don’t do much for me.

Problematic elements: It’s kind of amazing, but I haven’t yet mentioned Massimo, the Italian stereotype (who grew up with Mary but is inexplicably very stereotypically Italian) who exists to be a stereotype and to follow Mary around because her father is trying to get them to get married. It’s not good. None of this is good.

There are also some pretty standard rom-com gender roles (Mary seems less invested in her own life than in making sure her shoes are OK), the fact that Jennifer Lopez inexplicably can’t be portrayed as being Latina in a romantic comedy, and a throwaway transphobic joke that wasn’t great. I was surprised at how few individual scenes I found to be offensively dated, but I realized that’Es after I got past the initial plot of the movie and the Italian stereotype.

How convoluted is the plot?: You know, the basic idea of The Wedding Planner isn’t THAT convoluted. A Wedding Planner falls for one of her clients? It seems like something that could plausibly happen. However, every plot element feels convoluted in its own way. The scene where Steve and Mary meet, she’s walking down the street and her shoe gets stuck in a manhole cover. Simultaneously, a man is driving and distracted… because he’s eating an ice cream cone. He then hits a dumpster, and the dumpster goes down the street towards Mary, who is then saved by Steve. It feels like a giant set of dominoes that are overly complicated for no reason.

Steve and his fiancee inexplicably want their wedding in a few months, which speeds up timelines, but then his fiancee has to go away on a business trip for a week, also because reasons. The setup of this movie should be super easy and yet every scene feels more complicated than it has to be.

Who deserves better? Judy Greer. And honestly, every time I cover a movie here it’s probably going to be Judy Greer.

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She is given such a nothing role (the kind of neurotic coworker of Mary who pushes her into her date with Steve) and yet is memorable and the most lively person there. She easily has a more interesting chemistry with all the characters than either Mary or Steve. Even though her dialogue isn’t particularly better than anyone else’s, she actually seems to be trying here.

Could it be fixed? Maybe. This is a big maybe. There are a couple of scenes in this movie that are halfway decent. There is a scene about 3/4 though the movie where Steve tells Mary that their movie date at the beginning of the movie (before she knew he was engaged) was the best day of his life. Which seems really sad, but it was a pretty sweet moment and the only time I really felt any sort of spark.

The scene near the end is pretty decent too where Steve and his fiancee break up, both realizing they’re not emotionally attached. It’s a weirdly mature moment for the movie.

I think if they focused more on Jennifer Lopez’s Mary as a character it could have worked better – focused on the idea that her fiance cheated on her, and use that more as an issue with her relationship (as they are now in the same cheating boat) rather than just the reason why she’s single. They also could have used the job promotion as a bigger part of the story – would she push Steve and his fiancee closer together if it means getting the job promotion? The “can a woman have a job AND romance?” angle is old, though, but I’m genuinely surprised this didn’t play a bigger role.

Ultimately, the lack of any discernible chemistry or spark between Jennifer Lopez and Matthew McConaughey is the biggest issue here. A romantic comedy can escape hackneyed situations and characters if the leads are likable enough. Neither of them is here.

Is this fun to watch? Not in the slightest. It’s not a good movie nor is it a good-bad movie – its ineptitude is more frustrating than funny. Aside from a few moments of absurdity it’s pretty tame, and all of its quirks as a story aren’t particularly interesting as a bad movie watcher. If you’re looking for a fun bad romantic comedy to watch, look elsewhere.

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