My Best Friend's Wedding
directed by P.J. Hogan
(TriStar, 1998)

Some films set their cameras low and their sights high, attempting to bring you the realism of life in the streets. Other films are artifices from the word go, like My Best Friend's Wedding.

The artifice is obvious from the opening titles, which are superimposed over a bevy of bridesmaids and the bride singing the '50s classic "Wishin' and A-Hopin'."

And it continues in the opening scene, as food critic Julianne Potter (Julia Roberts) gets ready to pronounce sentence on the dessert at a five-star restaurant. The scene is handled more like a dance than a dinner, with the camera swishing in and out of the kitchen along with the staff, and the music rising in anticipation of Potter's climactic ruling.

Yet for all its artifice, My Best Friend's Wedding is able to convince viewers to suspend their credibility and join in the on-screen fun of what now passes for screwball comedy.

The plot is simple, if the plottings are not.

Potter gets a phone call from her best friend, sportswriter Michael O'Neal, a college beau with whom she had a pact: if neither was married by the time they turned 28, they'd wed each other.

Now Michael (Dermot Mulroney) has spoiled everything by deciding to marry a walk-on, Kimmy Wallace (Cameron Diaz), on the eve of Potter's 28th birthday.

What follows is a kind of '90s reworking of 1940's The Philadelphia Story, complete with '60s music performed by people who came of age in the '70s, all done at breakneck speed: Potter only has four days to break up the wedding.

It's a motley blend, but it works, in part because it's slickly made, in part because it features convincing performances by all of its leads.

Roberts is in unusually good form as Potter, the woman who will resort to anything but the truth to save her long-distance romance with her best friend. And Diaz matches her stroke for stroke as the perennially perky society girl who's determined to marry Michael even if it kills all three of them.

But the top honors go to Potter's gay editor, George Downes (Rupert Everett), who flies in to save Potter at the last minute -- even to the point of pretending to be Potter's fiance. Everett dominates every scene he's in, and brings a few back from the edge of death, with a deadpan delivery and flair for dramatic irony that's often lost in light comedy.

My Best Friend's Wedding is far from perfect. Its odd mix includes some stuff that's pretty contrived -- Potter's e-mail plot to get Michael fired -- and some that's just plain old: Potter getting the wedding ring stuck on her own finger.

But the laughs are never far between and Roberts is oddly fetching in her bad-girl role. And who knows but that Everett may have launched himself a new career as the first lady of screen comedy.

It's Everett, in fact, who gets to sum it all up: "Oh the misery," he tells Potter, "the exquisite tragedy, the Susan Hayward of it all."

Susan Hayward couldn't have said it better.

[ by Miles O'Dometer ]

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