A film review by Craig J. Koban
2008, PG-13, 107 mins.
2008, PG-13, 107 mins.
Katherine Heigl: Jane / James Marsden: Kevin / Malin Akerman: Tess
Greer: Casey / Edward Burns: George
27 DRESSES feels like it was written with one hand on the keyboard and the other hand flipping through "WRITING CLICHÉ-RIDDEN SCREENPLAYS FOR DUMMIES."
The film is a testament to how you can take limitlessly appealing and attractive performers and have them slum through a script that revels in one monotonously dull, contrived, and routine plot development after another. 27 DRESSES is not so much a bad film as it is a mechanical and perfunctory one, which makes it hard to invest in and care about. Whether it be with warmed-over characters, cookie-cutter dialogue, and a woefully predicable plot that goes from point a to b and finally to c with stunning inevitability, this film is a trite borefest. I must have checked my watch 27 times while watching 27 DRESSES.
Now, before you label me as a cinematic grouch, I will go on record to say that I like romantic comedies and have responded favorably to many romantic comedies in the past. The genre, by its very nature, is fairly preordained with its characters and story that propels two lovers to overcome all obstacles and differences to discover their inseparability. 27 DRESSES has the obligatory and predictable elements, but what perhaps makes it even more dull to sit through is the fact that it possesses such an unrelentingly, paint-by-numbers, formulaic pacing to the proceedings. You don’t need a road map to plot yourself through 27 DRESSES, to be sure, but there is such a lazy, and lethargic nonchalance to the film that you never really feel truly engaged.
What’s even sadder is the fact that the film’s star - the luminous and comedically gifted Katherine Heigl - gives a fairly funny and emotionally grounded performance that kind of rises far above the mediocrity and blandness of the script. She was certainly memorable in one of 2007's best comedies - and films - in KNOCKED UP and her follow-up work here in 27 DRESSES also reinforces her gifts: being spectacularly cute, affable, spunky, and wry. However, the story her character populates is so universally stale and has such painfully obvious story developments that you are kind of left wondering why her talent was wasted here. Heigl is so unattainably likeable, but the problem is that she populates a story that implodes very fast from the weight of its own saccharine frivolity.
27 DRESSES starts promising enough, but rarely have I seen a romantic comedy come crashing down as it progresses as much as this one does. We meet Jane (Heigl, as cute as ever), who has a day job working in an advertising firm, but after hours she’s a Jane of All-Trades when it comes to weddings. Seeing two people exchange nuptials are her crack cocaine: it’s an addiction that vicariously fills her heart with the type of emotions that she hopes to one day have when she too exchanges vows. As a result, she helps just about everyone and anyone that she knows with planning their own weddings, right down to every minute detail. And I do mean that she’ll do just about anything to help, whether it be actually doing the brides’ dress shopping or assisting her as she goes to the bathroom on her big day. Of course, as the film’s title implies, she has been a bridesmaid 27 times, which must be some kind of Guinness Book record. This also means we will have an MTV-style musical interlude with her showcasing all of her 27 outfits.
Alas, not worry, but the hopeless romantic in Jane is in love, but with the wrong man. Her boss, George (Edward Burns, looking bored and stiff) is everything she has ever wanted in a man and she is passionately in love with him. Everyone sees this, except George (funny, but if Katherine Heigl was making advances on you, it would be damn hard not to notice) and Jane just can’t bring herself to admit that she wants to spend the rest of her life with him. So, she curls up in a tightly wound ball of inner torment and keeps all of those feelings inside, much to the dismay and annoyance of her BBF, played by Judy Greer with a level of funny, dead panned cynicism that this film needed in higher dosages.
Jane does reach a point when she does decide to let George know how she feels. Unfortunately, things get a bit complicated when her baby sister, Tess (the film’s other irreproachably gorgeous star, Malin Akerman) comes in for visit and - in a perfectly timed and a convenient twist - she hooks up with George, who is instantly smitten with her (can you blame him?).
Things get worse for Jane. It soon becomes clear that George is seriously starting to fall for her sister and then - horror! - he proposes to her and then - gasp! - she asks Jane to help plan their wedding. Of course, this is emotional torture for the hapless Jane, but she continues to begrudgingly help out the pair for their big day. Meanwhile, a hunky newspaper reporter named Kevin (James Marsdan, exuding the obligatory charm and low key charisma needed here) enters Jane’s life. He is reporter that writes all of those wedding announcements for the New York Journal and when he discovers that Jane has been a bridesmaid more times that the Yankees have won the world series, he becomes intrigued and fascinated. Her story could be front page material, and he decides to write a story about her, indirectly without her knowledge. She secretly admires his writing, but she is not initially aware of the fact that he writes them. They are polar opposites: she’s a hopeless opportunist where he is a bit more or a cynical slacker.
Hmmmm...will these two hook up?
Gee...you may be wondering where the film goes from from here? Will Tess go from a nice and affectionate sister to a bitch in heels that lies and manipulates her way into George’s heart? If this happens, will it eat away at Jane? Will Jane and Kevin grow closer, despite their obvious differences? Will they have one of those wonderfully laid out scenes where they reveal all of their hidden feelings and insecurities, maybe during a night of drinking that culminates with them engaging in an inebriated dance on a bar singing 'Benny and the Jets'? Furthermore, will Jane eventually expose Tess for the conveying floosey that she is to everyone, including George, but then realize how badly she has hurt her sister? Will Kevin re-think publishing his story on Jane, only to have it secretly published, behind his back, which leads to Jane's hatred of Kevin? Finally, will Jane realize that her love for George is just a lustful crush and that she really loves the sardonic reporter, despite the fact that she feels betrayed by his news story?
This film made me bored. It contains such annoying story contrivances that would not have made the final script re-writes of a bad sitcom. It’s the kind of comedy that makes you dizzy just thinking about the story alternatives. Consider Jane’s sister, who comes across as charming and instantly likable, and then the screenplay maliciously transforms her into a selfish, deceitful, and pig-headed monstrosity, all for the sake of providing our overly simplistic hatred of her and to further allow Jane’s ease of tearing her and George apart from one another. By comparison, Akerman’s transformation in another comedy, THE HEARTBREAK KID (where she went from a nice and virtuous girl into a sex-addicted, foul-mouthed, hot-tempered lunatic) felt more realistic there than here. There is no real plausible motivation here to make her quickly morph into a spiteful creation other than story convenience, which further reveals the script’s sluggish flaccidity. A more daring choice would have been to make her amiable figure, which would have made Jane’s conundrum a bit more complicated.
Then there’s the character of George, who is such a one-dimensional drone and is played by Ed Burns with as limited of a range of emotions to suggest a character. He’s less a flesh and blood creation as he is a facilitator to the mechanical nature of the story. Why not invest more in George to make us care about Jane’s turmoil and pain of seeing the man she loves marrying her sister? He also occupies a shamefully banal and all-too-expedient scene which laughably allows Jane to see how she really loves the reporter. Kevin also leaves a lot to be desired, who is one of those characters that turns up to be with Jane when the screenplay deems it necessary. Their courtship follows a painfully pedestrian course, with the usual roadblocks along the way to happiness. You just know that the "article" he is writing will come off the wrong way, which will provide the film with the moment where they painfully break apart, only to be brought back together for the pre-end credit revelation of mutual love.
Again, 27 DRESSES is not a wretched film-going experience, per se. It has attractive actors who do garner some semblance of chemistry and some of the dialogue exchanges are sharp and sardonic. Yet, I have always maintained that the best romantic comedies are ones where you like the would-be lovers involved and develop a rooting interest in seeing them fall into each others arms in the final act. On a level of liking the characters and performers, 27 DRESSES hits the status quo, but it’s the build up of the film’s lackluster and methodically prosaic screenplay that makes it hard to care one way or another. The film is a relative smorgasbord of romantic comedy clichés and conventions and its overall tone and approach is too overwhelmingly obvious, ditsy, and tiresome. Hopeless romantics with a taste for this material will eat it up, but for the rest of us out their with more refined tastes, 27 DRESSES is a film on auto-pilot that’s agonizingly transparent and lifeless from the get-go. And the talented and easy-on-the-eyes Heigl deserves better.