The Wedding Planner begins with footage of a seven-year-old girl performing a matrimonial ceremony with her Barbies, a fitting opening since the movie that ensues almost could be the result of a screenwriter who simply transcribes a playtime scenario enacted by a small child and her dolls. If you were (or are) a child much like this little girl, you're definitely the target audience for the movie. If you're the boyfriend of such a person, your woman is going to owe you big-time after she drags you to this. Think My Best Friend's Wedding, subtract gay best friend, dorky karaoke scene, charm and any hint of malice or conflict, and you've got it.
Jennifer Lopez is Mary (as in "the Virgin "), an obsessive San Francisco wedding planner who treats nuptial ceremonies like battlefield operations, delivering preplanned "from the heart" speeches to nervous brides, using military-style jargon ("F.O.B." is father of the bride, "Dark Tower" a hairdo tall enough to block a video camera), barking orders into a headset and even feeding the best man his "spontaneous" toast via a hidden earpiece. The alleged irony of the film is that while planning the happiness of couples everywhere, Mary hasn't had any kind of love life herself ("Those who can't wed, plan"). That a woman as rich and beautiful as she has no dating prospects is something you just have to accept on faith.
Mary's dating prospects are so bad that her Italian father (Alex Rocco) is trying to arrange a marriage to her old childhood acquaintance Massimo (Justin Chambers), a former mud-eating nerd who now rides a motor scooter, obsesses over his machismo, drinks wine from the bottle and tells Mary how ugly she used to be. He is good-looking, but that's not enough. Despite her father's insistence that real love doesn't just arrive out of the blue, she holds out hope, and this being a movie, she ultimately is proved correct.
One high-heeled shoe caught in a manhole later, Mary is literally swept off her feet by Dr. Steve Edison (Matthew McConaughey), a charming pediatrician with a slow Southern drawl and a laid-back sense of humor. He's the perfect guy, sensitive and masculine. He even has an annoyingly cutesy quirk: buying M&M's and throwing away all the ones with artificial colors and saving the brown ones because they're the color of chocolate. (Hasn't anyone told him that the coloring is actually on the candy shell, which isn't naturally brown oh, never mind.) Anyway, Mary goes to a movie with Steve, dances with him in Golden Gate Park and generally has a great time -- only to discover the next day that Steve's engaged, to her newest, richest client, Fran (Bridgette Wilson-Sampras of Mortal Kombat). Ain't that a kick in the pants?
Perhaps one would expect a little comic mayhem to ensue. But one would be wrong. Mary befriends Fran and decides to be professional about the whole thing. Dorky Massimo shows up periodically to try to add humor, then abruptly transitions from reckless jerk to caring empath. Kevin Pollak appears for a minute or two as Steve's best friend, only to never be seen again. And this being San Francisco, it wouldn't be a movie without at least one prissy gay guy, in this case a dance instructor played by Fred Willard.
Like Save the Last Dance, The Wedding Planner is written and directed by first-timers (director Adam Shankman is a dance choreographer, while the former husband-and-wife writing team of Pamela Falk and Michael Ellis claim this as their only produced screenplay), and it shows: The film is laden with contrivances. To cite a few examples: Why does Mary, when being questioned about her new dream guy (Steve) by Fran, tell her absolutely everything about him except his name, which would eliminate all confusion right away by inadvertently revealing him as Fran's fiancé? Why doesn't Mary speak up when Massimo publicly claims to be engaged to her, thereby saving herself a sizable amount of embarrassment? Why does Massimo suddenly undergo a complete personality change, and why does a hardened and cynical single like Mary instantly believe it? The answer to all of these questions, of course, is that there'd be no movie if these people acted rationally. And while romantic fantasy is frequently unrealistic, it is the duty of the filmmakers to persuade us to believe it, an effect not achieved by making things up as you go along, as these folks seem to have done.
What's more mysterious than the plot manipulations, however, is why McConaughey and Lopez would be attracted to the script in the first place. McConaughey has absorbed his share of knocks for the undeserved hype surrounding his breakthrough in A Time to Kill, but the man is nothing if not natural on camera. He's also about the only thing that saves The Wedding Planner from being instantly forgettable. It takes a good deal of charm to make lines like "What if something I think is great is great, but it's not as great as something greater?" sound plausible, but one can almost believe it comes from his heart as delivered herein. As for Lopez, she undoubtedly wants to craft a leading-lady persona after her butt-kicking roles in the likes of The Cell and Out of Sight, but she's not helping herself by choosing bad scripts like this one, or by singing a horrible pop song for the soundtrack, which also includes the syrupy likes of Olivia Newton-John and John Denver. It's enough to make you wish Lopez's real-life beau, Puff Daddy, would show up and commence to poppin' some caps in some asses.
Get the Film Club Newsletter
Stay up to date on the best new movies with our critics' latest reviews, interviews and trailers for the films coming to a theater near you each week.