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"THE WEDDING PLANNER"
(2001) (Jennifer Lopez, Matthew McConaughey) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Romantic Comedy: A professional wedding planner finds that she's fallen for the groom of one of her client pairings and must then deal with his attraction to her while continuing to plan the wedding.
PLOT:
Mary Fiore (JENNIFER LOPEZ) is a busy, professional wedding planner who, despite her success at her occupation, has never been married herself. That's concerned her widowed father, Salvatore (ALEX ROCCO), who's decided to fix her up with Massimo (JUSTIN CHAMBERS), a childhood Italian acquaintance of hers who's best remembered for eating mud as a boy. Pleasant, but seemingly somewhat dimwitted, Massimo mistakenly believes that he's now engaged to Mary who obviously wants nothing to do with him.

Besides, she has bigger fish to fry, especially when she hears that ultra successful Internet entrepreneur Fran Donolly (BRIDGETTE WILSON-SAMPRAS) has announced her recent engagement. Knowing she brings in more money than the rest of her firm's planners, Mary convinces her boss, Geri (KATHY NAJIMY), to promote her to partner if she successfully plans and executes Fran's wedding.

To top it off, a charming and handsome pediatrician has just saved her life, and the romantic sparks immediately fly between them, resulting in a near kiss on a subsequent, unofficial date. Things couldn't seem to be any better until she realizes that the doctor is Steve Edison (MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY), Fran's fiancÚ. Although she doesn't let the bride to be in on this startling revelation, Mary is furious with Steve, but realizes she must play it cool and keep the wedding on track so that she can get her promotion.

As the three of them plan the wedding along with her assistant, Penny (JUDY GREER) and Fran's parents (JOANNA GLEASON and CHARLES KIMBROUGH), Mary must sort out her feelings for Steve while he does the same regarding her and his pending marriage to Fran.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
Of all the things a person can go through in life, one of the more nerve-wracking is getting married. While it's supposed to be a joyous celebration - and usually is - there's so much pressure, anticipation and high expectations, not to mention time, money and out of town relatives, that the event often becomes like a three-ring circus precariously perched atop a house of cards. With one mishap or misstep, the whole thing can come crashing down.

That's why many people hire wedding planners, consultants or coordinators to act like the coach, conductor and battlefield general rolled into one to make sure things work right. Ours was self-nicknamed "The Wedding Bitch," but not as a derogatory slap or indication of her demeanor. Rather, the moniker was for the aggressive, take-charge attitude she had to don to make sure things went smoothly. Besides, it was an interesting, oxymoronic title that people found amusing, and so it stuck.

Making a movie is somewhat like scheduling and coordinating a massive wedding except that it repeatedly takes place day after day and week after week and considerably costs a great deal more. While the producer is usually the one given the duty of keeping things flowing as smoothly as possible, perhaps the novice filmmakers responsible for "The Wedding Planner" needed a more aggressive, take charge coordinator.

That's because while they might have had the right intentions - just like any new bridal couple - the results of their efforts aren't as picture perfect as they and the viewers of this film probably expected and hoped. In fact, and despite a handful of decent scenes, at times the picture is downright ugly and/or disastrous, although clearly not from a visual or casting standpoint.

Instead, it's just that first time director Adam Shankman (the choreographer for films such as "Blast From the Past" and "Boogie Nights") and freshmen screenwriters Pamela Falk and Michael Ellis (whose own relationship reportedly fluttered and died during the writing process) have fashioned a contrived throwback to the romantic comedies of yesteryear from the likes of Howard Hawks and George Cukor. While their intent is admirable, the execution here is often sloppy and occasionally embarrassing.

The basic premise - namely that a single wedding planner falls for one of her clients before she knows he's just that - has potential, but most of that and the decent performances from the two leads are mostly squandered.

Part of that's due to the script that never manages to take the basic idea anywhere or turn it into something interesting. Instead, a whole series of lame and often idiotic vignettes and subplots occur that are supposed to be cute and charming, but will simply have viewers scratching their heads, wondering why certain events transpire and characters behave as they do.

For instance, we never quite know why Mary doesn't set the matter straight about her not really being engaged to Massimo. It's as contrived and maybe even worse than what you'd expect from a TV sitcom, and anything - such as Mary having laryngitis and thus not being able to explain the situation - would have been better than what's presented here. Of course, all of that's done in a hopeful effort to pave the way for more "hilarious" wackiness and shenanigans further down the pike, but such a setup is pitiful and obviously leads to subsequent moments that are just as bad.

The filmmakers also don't fully explore the protagonist's contradictory goals. She's obviously attracted to the groom, but finds herself taken aback when she learns who he really is. Then there's the whole bit about her needing to make the wedding work so that she can get a promotion to be a partner in the firm. While that conflict is mostly implied, it could have come more into play during the story and added some funny and/or even poignant moments.

Not helping matters are the poorly written and played supporting characters, as well as a lame and horribly executed subplot involving Mary's father's attempts at getting her hitched to Massimo, a childhood acquaintance. Played in too much of a broad and farcical approach, none of that subplot works from a romantic, dramatic or comedic standpoint. As such, instead of complementing the main story or even coming off as charming or amusing standalone bits, such moments will more likely irritate viewers.

Showing his lack of faith in the material, director Shankman also includes a plethora of pop tunes to fill in the gaps and/or drive home the point of various scenes either through their lyrics or musical style. While this isn't the first or last time that will ever be done, and such songs are obviously also present in hopes of selling the companion soundtrack, such usage is too obvious here and simply makes the production reek even more of amateurism.

What the film does have going for it, however, is the presence of Jennifer Lopez and Matthew McConaughey as the "will they or won't they" couple. Beyond being blessed with the right combination of good genes, the two are talented performers. Most have probably forgotten that about Lopez, what with her recording career and rightly or wrongly justified diva status and reputation. Once upon a time, and before she seemingly got too big for her britches and oversexed in her music videos, she was terrific in films such as "Selena" and "Out of Sight."

She certainly seems well suited for romantic comedies, and the genre fits her well. Even so, it's doubtful she'll give the reigning queens - Julia Roberts and Meg Ryan - a run for their money and it's too bad she was accompanied by a better script and direction in her initial foray into the genre.

Fairing somewhat better is Matthew McConaughey ("U-571," "Amistad") simply because he's just so good looking and disarmingly charming. He's also good in the role, despite being hampered by two problems. Just like most of the film, his character flip-flops and lacks a credible focus. Worse yet, the fact that he's presented as somewhat of a cad at one point (despite later explanations regarding his behavior) prevents the audience from ever completely seeing him as a sympathetic character and thus truly getting behind him.

As far as the supporting performances, they're rather bad from both a conceptual and realized standpoint. They certainly won't be the highlight - one can only hope - of any of the actors or actresses' careers. Although he makes the most of a poorly written character, Justin Chambers ("Liberty Heights") can't do anything with his lame suitor in waiting role, and his Italian accent is just as bad as that voiced by Alex Rocco ("Dudley Do-Right," "That Thing You Do") as Mary's father. Judy Greer ("What Women Want," "What Planet Are You From?") tries to do the manic, Joan Cusack bit as her stressed assistant, but strains and overacts so much that I kept expecting her to fall to the floor from an aneurysm.

Joanna Gleason ("Boogie Nights") and Charles Kimbrough (TV's "Murphy Brown") are wasted as the rich parents of the bride to be played by Bridgette Wilson-Sampras ("House on Haunted Hill," "Love Stinks") who's yet to prove if she really has any talent beyond looking ravishingly gorgeous (which she does rather well). Finally, Kevin Pollak ("The Whole Nine Yards," "Deterrence") briefly shows up as Steve's buddy/business associate in a role that must have otherwise been left on the cutting room floor since he never appears again.

Simply put, beyond a great looking cast and an occasional decent laugh or two, the film squanders its premise and turns into a contrived and messy state of affairs. Nowhere near as charming, amusing or romantic - let alone well written -- as the romantic comedies of yesteryear that it tries to emulate, "The Wedding Planner" isn't a match made in Heaven and thus rates as just a 4 out of 10.




Reviewed January 23, 2001 / Posted January 26, 2001


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