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Bride wars


Do Hollywood studio executives think that women have a gene for tulle? Neural receptors just for Vera Wang? I wondered this as I was watching “Bride Wars,” a dopey if largely painless romantic comedy with Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway as best friends forever who turn into best enemies forever because of a wedding day glitch. Since childhood, the two have dreamed of getting married at the Plaza (alas, not to each other), a reverie that turns into a manufactured nightmare when their respective nuptials are scheduled for the same day in June.

A reasonable person might suggest a double wedding, as one of the male characters does. As far as I can tell, however, both Liv (Ms. Hudson) and Emma (Ms. Hathaway) are deeply unreasonable because they are female stereotypes: unreasonableness is built into their character arcs. After the scheduling botch and after dismissing the idea of a double wedding, they go to war. Petty and cutesy pathological behavior ensues: Liv replaces Emma’s spray-on-tan formula with an angry orange that brings to mind deep-fried Donatella Versace. Emma tampers with Liv’s hair dye, recoloring her honeyed locks a streaky blue and white that simultaneously invokes fairground cotton candy, leaky Bic pens and Courtney Love.

But before these BFF’s turn into BEFs, they shop. They shop for stationery, they shop for cakes, flowers, rings and of course satiny swaths of designer white that will, if only for a single dreamy day, transform these putatively sharp, savvy, seemingly capable modern women into fairy tale princesses. The overworked schoolteacher, Emma, and the high-flying, hardball lawyer, Liv, will slough off their everyday cares, clothes and carnal histories (both live with their dreary boyfriends) and assume the mantle of symbolic purity. Re-virginized, in a manner of speaking, they will become the center of attention not only in their lives but also in the movies, which these days have an otherwise difficult time making this much room for women.

Hence the wedding, which lately seems to offer one of the few story lines that afford American actresses shots at serious screen time. I’m exaggerating, of course, though to judge from a clutch of recent titles — “License to Wed,” “Margot at the Wedding,” “Evening,” “Enchanted,” “The Heartbreak Kid,” “Sex and the City,” “Mamma Mia!,” “27 Dresses” and “Made of Honor” — the walk down the aisle has picked up increasing speed. Weddings are big business, and now so too are movies involving comically tragic, tragically comic ceremonies that range from the low-end vulgar (“What Happens in Vegas”) to the high-end touchy-feely (“Rachel Getting Married”) and generally have less to do with the world we live in than Adam Sandler’s cheeky (straight) buddy comedy, “I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry.”

But reality doesn’t seem the point of most wedding movies, which may explain their appeal, at least to risk-averse studios. Though it has a patina of realism, “Bride Wars” often seems as much a fairy tale as “Enchanted,” the 2007 Disney movie with Amy Adams in which a would-be cartoon bride evolves into a live-action careerist.

Directed by Gary Winick, “Bride Wars” takes place in a shiny New York fantasia where a teacher like Emma could, after a decade of penny pinching and Chinese takeout, afford the services of an exclusive wedding planner (a humorous, stiff-lipped Candice Bergen) and a Plaza blowout. Emma even eyeballs a Vera Wang (on her Web site the designer returns the favor with a sizable ad for the movie).

It’s only fitting, then, that Mr. Winick, a Sundance alumnus turned Hollywood hire, has made New York look as pretty as a tourist postcard. That’s par for the mainstream course, but it’s too bad that he doesn’t (or can’t) venture down the more interesting avenues opened up in the screenplay, which is credited to Greg DePaul (who came up with the story) and the writing team of Casey Wilson and June Diane Raphael, who both have small parts in the movie. The opener — a gauzy scene from childhood that finds Liv and Emma, dressed as a bride and groom, tenderly dancing with each other — and an adult catfight, which looks like a prelude to a kiss, suggest that there may be more to this friendship (and the fury underlying its rupture) than either the women or the movie can admit.

But then this is a Kate Hudson flick, after all (she was also one of the producers), and often as inconsequential as almost every other Kate Hudson movie of the last decade. Happily it’s also something of an Anne Hathaway movie, which means that there’s a little acting in it, along with a few human emotions and two wide-pooling eyes that invite you to get lost in them. You don’t — there’s no getting lost in a movie like “Bride Wars” — but it’s nice to pretend that they might lead somewhere else, say to San Francisco, where once upon another time two female movie characters, inspired by Harvey Milk (or maybe just Sean Penn), will take on the gay-marriage ban and say “I do, I do” to something more than shopping. Die, Bridezilla, die!
Date Added: 10/28/2012 by Margo
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