Friday, January 18, 2008

"27 Dresses" -- * *

I wish I could work up enough passion to truly damn Anne Fletcher's "27 Dresses," I really do. But at the end of the day, it's just such remarkably average chick-baiting fare that I can barely bring myself to have a response to it, let alone a strong one. While it is an achievement in and of itself that the by-the-numbers romantic comedy is surprisingly painless (I never cringed, just blankly stared at the screen), it's difficult to ignore that it's also completely flavorless with nary a single element to make it stand out from the mediocre pack. Those looking for light, fluffy fare as respite from all the serious, thought-provoking films dominating movie theaters throughout December will find it here, but they shouldn't expect anything the least bit original or memorable.

"Dresses" follows Jane (Katherine Heigl), who's played bridesmaid at friend's weddings 27 times while hopelessly fantasizing about her supposedly saintly and attractive boss George (Ed Burns). Always having a desire to please everyone, even if it means sacrificing her own happiness, Jane gets a visit from her younger model sister Tess (Malin Akerman) right when Jane's starting to think about telling George how she feels. Of course, Tess ends up charming the pants off George-- albeit by lying about herself to appeal to his sensibilities-- and Jane has to plan the pair's imminent wedding, while making herself miserable. All the while, Jane is dogged by Kevin (James Marsden), writer for the 'Commitments' section of the 'New York Journal,' who wants to write a story about her. A wedding-hating cynic who's forced to write about them, Kevin slowly ingratiates himself to Jane, and the pair start to fall for each other-- even though it felt to me more like a friendly relationship than a romantic one (the two have no chemistry).

The film is written by Aline Brosh McKenna, who wrote "The Devil Wears Prada," but brandishes none of that movie's wit or clever dialogue in the Streep-Blunt segments, and instead is more reminiscent of the pedestrian Hathaway-Grenier material. The screenplay seems to be literally working off of a checklist and filled with "of course" moments. For instance, when an estrogen-filled comedy introduces a closet full of 27 bridesmaid dresses, you know it's only a matter of time before we get an extended montage of them all being tried on. However, it's ultimately a draw as to which scene is more eye-rolling: said montage, or a corny, entire bar sing-along to "Benny and the Jets." Dress-alternating montages and sing-alongs among strangers are just some of the sequences on display here that are unlikely anyone has ever experienced outside of a romantic comedy; I'm impressed they had the restraint not to include a last-second race to the airport.

Heigl is fine here, but overplays her delivery and doesn't seem to have much sense of comedic timing. She's likable enough, but consistently feels like she knows she's smarter than the material. I've never seen "Grey's Anatomy" so I can't evaluate her work there, but between this and "Knocked Up," I don't know if comedy should be her forte; she seems to be much more convincing in scenes where she's asked to cry or emote. Perhaps she just needs the right role, but I'm not willing quite yet to jump on the Heigl bandwagon. She clearly has some sort of popular pull-- virtually every girl I know wants to see this-- but I don't really get it.

I'd like to believe that I'm not being seduced purely by Marsden's looks, but I can't be certain. The actor is charming as hell here (much as he was in "Hairspray" and the similarly-contrived "Enchanted") and manages to never feel like a stock male love interest. After his mezzo-mezzo turns as Cyclops, he's evolved into an actor I truly like and automatically makes films more watchable just by being in them. I'd like to see him tackle more meaty roles,rather than repeatedly playing variations on Prince Charming, but for now, it'll do.

Burns isn't a bad actor per se, but I always have trouble seeing him as anything other than smug, making his do-gooder schtick here difficult to buy. I think the guy generally radiates cockiness, and it may just be me, but I'm pretty sure he didn't make any facial expressions throughout this entire movie. Then again, maybe he just had trouble working up any discernible interest/enthusiasm now that he's back in Hollywood movies (you can also see him in "One Missed Call"), as it's clearly just a paycheck gig to attempt to make enough money so his directorial efforts don't go straight-to-iTunes anymore.

Akerman was one of the few good things about "The Heartbreak Kid," but while her over-the-top style was perfect for that potentially-breakout role, she really should've been reigned in a bit here. On the other hand, the wonderful Judy Greer makes the stock role of "sassy best friend" funnier and more entertaining than it has any right to be, and I particularly liked the touch of making her aggressively horny, not just cheeky.

I must say, however, and this may be nit-picking, but one of the film's early scenes features some of the worst acting by an extra that I've ever seen. In a scene after Heigl falls and is revived by Marsden, as she's getting up, a female extra is trying way too hard to express for the camera to compensate for her lack of dialogue. From miming drinking a bottle of booze referring to Heigl, to repeatedly clutching her chest and gesturing over, this woman was consistently distracting as she was trying ever so hard to get noticed this, her illustrious screen debut. An extra's job is, by definition, to slip into the background, but in this case, I couldn't keep my eyes on Heigl or Marsden; tell me if any of you find her as distracting as I did.

Never irritating, the direction is pedestrian and occasionally boring but never goes over-the-top or overdoes gags. Fletcher, a former choreography who previously directed "Step Up," does a relatively pedestrian job directing (as she did with that film), but I suppose deserves commendation for not indulging the broad impulses this genre usually has, nor does she overdo the gags. It's never shrill or bland like many rom-coms, just toothless and run of the mill. Within this genre, to surpass the tinges of mediocrity, you need something to compensate, like a charismatic star, great chemistry or sharp dialogue; "Dresses" has the presence of Marsden and Greer but that's not nearly enough. While Heigl publicly decried "Knocked Up"'s supposed sexism after its release, this is exactly the sort of middling romantic comedy that made that one so refreshing. There are a lot worse movies than this guys could be dragged to (e.g.: "P.S. I Love You," "Enchanted") but there's also better ones for ladies to drag them to ("Atonement," "Juno").


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