May 1, 2008

Romantic comedy retread deserves no honors

What happens when you’re still single, approaching (gasp) 30, and your best friend gets engaged? If you’re the lead in a romantic comedy, the engagement must be to a physically flawless, über-wealthy, and unrelentingly charming blond, and you’ll be tapped to be the maid of honor. So, immediately after realizing that you’re in love with your now-unavailable best friend, you’ll accept a key role in the wedding and pull out all the stops in self-abasement to prove that, despite all those years of platonic friendship, you are really the one for her, engagement be damned. And, that, in a nutshell, is Made of Honor, with Patrick Dempsey as the maid in question, Michelle Monahan as the soon-to-be betrothed, and Kevin McKidd as the hunky best-friend stealer.

If you feel like you’ve seen this scenario played out before, it’s probably because you have. In 1997’s charming but hardly memorable My Best Friend’s Wedding, Julia Roberts lied, cried, and generally humiliated herself in a desperate attempt to win back her best friend from the gorgeous and utterly nice Cameron Diaz. But several years after metrosexuality’s coming into vogue, men have become well versed in calorie counts, mani-pedis, and man-purses. So it was only a matter of time before Hollywood took notice and started giving us romantic comedies from men’s perspectives.

Arguably, this is the brilliance of Judd Apatow, whose romantic comedies show real men—of the farting, pot-smoking, actually-wanting-to-get-laid variety—being surprisingly sappy. Perhaps it was the rise of this vein of male-dominated chick flick that inspired the creators of Made of Honor to send Patrick Dempsey where Julia Roberts has gone before.

But although the actor otherwise known as McDreamy proves himself surprisingly adept at smirking and pratfalling his way into our hearts, the film remains staunchly entrenched in chick flick territory. It peddles the same brand of fairy-tale romance that Apatow has made his name avoiding. “Of course your hot but seemingly incorrigibly caddish guy-pal will wake up one day and realize he’s not only in love with you, but ready to commit,” these film seems to say. “Of course, after years of singledom, you’ll find yourself torn between two dashing suitors, one of whom will be royalty.”

In recasting the friend-wants–just-engaged-friend story to make it guy-wants-girl, Made of Honor might even be more awful for the psyches and expectations of female moviegoers than other similarly themed chick flicks. That is, if moviegoers are gullible enough to believe for one minute in Dempsey’s sudden transformation from lifelong man-whore to goggle-eyed romantic.

From the start, Dempsey’s Tom seems irredeemable, albeit charmingly so. In a cute nod to recent history, we first meet Tom at a college Halloween party, to which he’s come donning a Bill Clinton mask. After flirting his way through a sea of Monicas, he drunkenly stumbles into the dorm room of one, whom he plans to meet for some post-party fun. He flops into bed with her, only to discover that he’s not in bed with his hook-up buddy, but with her shocked roommate, nerdy but nonetheless stunning Hannah. After the initial confusion, she makes him coffee, they banter a bit, and a lifelong friendship begins.

Years later, we find Tom and Hannah remarkably unchanged. They both live in Manhattan, Tom still sleeps with every hot chick that comes his way—and many do—and Hannah has made the post-collegiate shift from nerdy to quirky and unique. The two are also best friends, and get together every Sunday to banter, wander the most romantic stretches of Central Park, and show just how adorably perfect in every way they unknowingly are for each other—if only Tom weren’t such a skeeze.

This all changes when Hannah travels to Scotland for a long business trip. Bereft of his Sunday companion, Tom realizes—during a game of pick-up basketball, in a remarkably unbelievable moment—that, by golly, all this meaningless sex with incredibly gorgeous women is so very meaningless, since all this time Hannah is the woman he really wants. Hannah, meanwhile, has fallen in love with a handsome, spectacularly wealthy, and—as insinuated by another very awkward basketball scene—extremely well endowed Scotsman Collin who just happens to be Scottish royalty.

And here the fun begins, at least in theory. Accepting Hannah’s request that he be her maid of honor, Tom sets out to prove to her that his is reliable, mature, and worthier of her love than Collin. Unfortunately for Patrick Dempsey and moviegoers alike, sleazy-but-lovable suits him much better than doggedly sweet. Michelle Monahan likewise runs into problems—there’s no question, she does doe eyes beautifully. But worn for the entire second half of the film, the besotted expression becomes somewhat creepy, if not downright cloying.

Well before the movie ends, it’s pretty obvious whether or not Tom gets the girl. What’s unclear though is why, without adding any particular zest, spark, new Rupert Everett song, or even an iota of insight into a realistic male psyche, anyone felt the need to remake My Best Friend’s Wedding.