27 Dresses (2008) / Comedy-Romance
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for language, some innuendo and sexuality
Running Time: 107 min.
Cast: Katherine Heigl, James Marsden, Malin Akerman, Edward Burns, Judy Greer, Maulik Pancholy, Melora Hardin
Director: Anne Fletcher
Screenplay: Aline Brosh McKenna
Review published January 30, 2008
There are crowd-pleasing elements in most romantic comedies, some which come off successful and some not. In many such films in the genre, you'll find two people who, for whatever reason, can't quite seem to be together, and then through a series of circumstances in which they must embarrass themselves in front of many people, they find value in each other. You can add plenty of music, dancing to some catchy tune, singing to some catchy tune, a series of misunderstandings, quirky best friends, cute dogs and/or cats, a variety of colorful outfits, and a big chase scene at the end where one would-be lover must proceed at breakneck speed to catch the other before they are out of their lives forever. 27 Dresses has every one of these things, as it adheres completely to convention without pretense. It is also one of the more enjoyable recent formula romantic comedies, a hit with the mostly female crowd that eats them up with relish.
The film starts by showing us Jane (Heigl, Knocked Up), an attractive and competent assistant to her hunky, successful, and all-around great boss, George (Burns, The Holiday). Jane has carried the burden of a crush on George for years, and keeps thinking he is finally taking a notice of her, but time and again, he reveals nothing more than strong appreciation for all she does for him as an employee. In one fell swoop, her heart gets broken when her bratty, promiscuous younger sister Tess (Akerman, The Heartbreak Kid) catches his eye, and the two hit it off, despite the fact that Tess habitually lies to George in order to get him to think she has everything he is looking for in a woman. Being her sister, Jane stagnates between whether or not to tell George he's being lied to, because she doesn't think it is right to ruin her sister's chance at happiness, but she also doesn't want George to be ultimately unhappy that he has gotten serious with a woman who is nothing like what he thinks she is.
While all of this is in play, Jane is befriended, almost stalkerish-ly, by a young writer named Kevin (Marsden, Enchanted), who she keeps running into at the various weddings she is a bridesmaid in. At every wedding, she goes out of her way to accommodate the bride, which illustrates that Jane is someone who gives so much to so many people, but can't seem to ever get what she wants or deserves. Kevin keeps injecting himself into her life, but his constant popping of her balloon when it comes to marriage (he detests the notion of it -- a form of slavery in his eyes) turns her off to the prospect of being with him whenever they seem to be clicking. The problem is that Kevin is also hiding part of himself to Jane by not revealing that he is a writer of her favorite column in the local paper on weddings, and he is in fact writing a story on her, getting her to reveal her secondary life of forever being a bridesmaid (27 times and counting).
What makes 27 Dresses successful isn't anything different from others to achieve success in the genre. First, we have a very likeable and appealing actress in the starring role in Heigl, who, like Meg Ryan, Julia Roberts, Sandra Bullock and Reese Witherspoon before her, is attractive without losing any of that girl-next-door appeal that has women rooting for her and relationship-minded men wishing they could have a girlfriend just like that. She handles comedy, romance and even the serious moments with skill, and one can envision that she could be the next one to take up the rom-com queen mantle, if she decided to crank one out every other film.
Music selection is also key, and director Anne Fletcher (Step Up) knows it, providing us a contrived (but still fun) synchronized dance sequence to a Michael Jackson classic ("Don't Stop til You Get Enough"), reminiscent of how Jacko's "Thriller" peppered up 13 Going on 30. Late in the film, an obviously drunk Jane and Kevin sing a twisted rendition of Elton John's "Benny and the Jets", which also comes with little surprise when it happens, but the actors sell it, and the ditty even works later in the film when it recurs to remind us that these two awkward and unattached people have too much fun together to see them not end up together. The editing to go along with these scenes is equally effortless, and the music montage to newspaper articles during the closing credits is the perfect way to leave audiences headed out the door with a smile.
The parts that don't work involve the "downer" plot elements we've seen too many times to really get into. There will inevitably be a point where both less-than-truthful lovers, Tess and Kevin, are revealed to their potential mates that they aren't who they say they are, and in both cases, these scenes are overly dramatic and hard to digest. The "outing" of the bad sister scene is farfetched, and by all accounts, cruel to the point where we think Jane might not be such the deserving person we thought she might be. In another stretch, the entire angle of Kevin's work life, including dealing with his shrewish boss (Hardin, The Comebacks), is superfluous, and makes him somewhat unlikeable. It would have been far more logical to just have him show up at Jane's weddings because he finds her appointment book and uses it as a chance to get to know her because he likes her. Aline Brosh McKenna, who wrote similar stuff in The Devil Wears Prada and The Laws of Attraction, likes her narrative shortcuts, but labors too much in overdoing such character confrontations to the point where they can't be taken as real people anymore
27 Dresses plays like a mish-mash of scenes you've seen before in more successful and memorable romantic comedies, but in its favor, at least they are the good scenes. It never branches out to give us anything new, and it does strive too often for cheap laughs and cheesy sentimentality to proclaim it a truly good film, but for viewers coming into the movie expecting nothing more than familiar comforts, done with cuteness and amusement, it works well enough.
©2008 Vince Leo