Since the beginning of filmed entertainment, 25,367 weddings have been portrayed on the big screen.
OK, I just made that number up; it’s probably way more than that. It seems the only thing people enjoy more than going to a wedding is seeing a wedding on the big screen. At least that’s what the producers of this weekend’s Bride Wars are banking on.
Weddings are a movie staple and as Katrina Onstadt pointed out on cbc.ca, they can define the tone of the whole film. “(A) movie that starts with a wedding will always be gloomier than that which ends with one” she wrote.
It’s an astute observation. Comedies tend to build up to the big ceremony while dramas often use the walk down the aisle as a starting point for conflict. The elaborate wedding sequence that kicks off The Deer Hunter is the opening salvo in a movie Roger Ebert called “a progression from a wedding to a funeral.” Once again, the going gets grim after the I dos.
Probably the most famous wedding in film history, though, is one that never gets to the vows. The wedding scene at the end of The Graduate is a classic but the scenes that make it memorable weren’t shot as originally planned.
Director Mike Nichols originally intended for Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman) to loudly bang on the church windows to disrupt the wedding between his love, Elaine (Katharine Ross), and her intended, but in rehearsal the windows rattled so ominously someone panicked and yelled, “Everybody out!” Hoffman suggested spreading his arms out and cautiously tapping on the glass with open hands. “The clincher,” Hoffman said, “was the reviews all saying this was Benjamin’s Christ moment. It was a fix. That’s all it was.”
In a subtler, but equally memorable, moment, Elaine and Benjamin dash from the church, laughing, fleeing convention toward an unsure future. Then, suddenly, they stop laughing as though the consequences of their actions have just sunk in. It’s a powerful moment that caps a terrific movie, but again it wasn’t planned. As they shot the scene Nichols was so overbearing the two actors instinctively clammed up and sober expressions appeared on their faces. In post-production, Nichols liked their transition from cocky confidence to uncertainty so much he kept it in.
Ironically, when the film opened in Portugal censors felt the ending set a bad example for kids and clipped the last few minutes. That version ended with Elaine obeying her parents and marrying the blonde frat boy. Portuguese audiences may have missed the whole point of the movie, but at least were treated to the thing most paid to see — a big wedding scene.
The only thing more popular than going to a wedding is going to see a wedding on the big screen. My Big Fat Greek Wedding is one of the highest grossing independent films ever and movies like The Wedding Singer, Father of the Bride and Four Weddings and a Funeral have ridden the bridal train all the way to the top of the box office. This weekend 20th Century Fox is hoping that a combination of bridal bouquets and star power will pack ‘em in to see Bride Wars, a new comedy starring Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway.
They play Liv and Emma, childhood friends with the shared fantasy of June weddings at The Plaza Hotel. When it comes time to tie the knot with their respective fiancées it looks as though that dream will finally come true. Dates are booked, dresses are purchased and flowers ordered. Everything is perfect until a scheduling error is discovered—their wedding dates had been booked for the same day—and one of them must change to another venue. When neither is willing to move dirty nuptial tricks ensue and the bride wars begin.
Bride Wars is like an extended episode of Bridezillas with more appealing leads. The old cliché about temperamental brides is amplified by a thousand, pushing the limits of how far brides will go to make sure their perfect days is, in fact perfect.
Even though it is set in a world were being engaged is the most important thing in a woman’s life—just one of many old fashioned ideas wedged into the script—the movie isn’t really about weddings, or the horrible things these two do to one another. It’s actually about friendship and finding a person who will always love you no matter what. It’s a good thing there’s some weightier subtext here because the comedy side of things pretty much falls flat.
Kate Hudson can do this sort of material in her sleep, and brings some energy and charm to the role but little else. Candice Bergen continues her winning ways as a supporting actor who steals every scene she’s in. As in The Women and Sex and the City she provides the film’s best line—it begins with, “A wedding marks the first day of the rest of your life… you have been dead until now…”—and generally shows up the younger actors in every scene.
As for Anne Hathaway, Bride Wars feels like a giant step backward after her delicate and layered performance in Rachel Getting Married. I know girls just wanna have fun, and after serious turns in Rachel and the psychological thriller Passengers she perhaps was looking to hone her comedy chops, but Bride Wars plays along the same lines as a sitcom and we’ve simply come to expect more from her.
There is even some talk in the blogosphere that this stale performance could actually harm her chances with Oscar voters à la the Eddie Murphy Norbit snafu. Many blame his failure to take home an Oscar for his work in Dreamgirls on Norbit, which was released the same weekend that many voters were filling out their ballots. Let’s hope the Academy gets it right this time and chooses to celebrate Hathaway’s star turn in Rachel and not punish her for taking on thoroughly average work like Bride Wars.
Bride Wars marks the beginning of the January doldrums. After an exciting movie season that saw the release of interesting movies like The Wrestler it’s always a bit of a slap in the face when the b-material gets dumped into theatres. Bride Wars is little more than a sitcom premise stretched to feature length.