The nicest thing I can think of to say about The Bachelor (1999) is that Renée Zellweger looks especially lovely with curly hair… so snaps to her stylist on that score… but everything else about this rom-com is resolutely blah. It may seem a little sexist and obnoxious in places, but I don’t think it’s offensively awful… just really, really dumb. The only time I actually laughed was during Sarah Silverman’s 30-second cameo as a ranty post-graduate student named ‘Carolyn’, loudly declaiming the institution of marriage in a library… but that has nothing to do with the dialogue itself, I’m just a “Big S” fanboy, who finds pretty much everything she does on-screen inherently hilarious.
For those who don’t know, this is a remake of the 1925 film Seven Chances, which swaps comedy legend Buster Keaton out for former “boy wonder” Chris O’Donnell, as ‘Jimmie Shannon’, a “toxic bachelor” who finds himself in the unenviable position of having to marry a suitable mate within 24 hours, in order to inherit $100 million from his eccentric Grandfather’s estate, and save the family business. So far, so stupid, right? Well, even more problematic is the fact that prior to learning of these ridiculous conditions, Jimmie had already driven away the love of his life, ‘Anne Arden’ (Zellweger), with a half-hearted and begrudging proposal… so with her out of the picture, he’s forced to schlep his way down memory lane, revisiting a string of cartoonishly stereotyped exes, in the hope that one of them will want to make “genetically verifiable” babies with him. When that doesn’t work, his idiotic friend places a “personal ad” in the local newspaper, politely inquiring if there are any single ladies in the area, who might fancy hooking up with a handsome young millionaire… leading to hundreds of eager wannabe-brides chasing him through the streets of San Francisco, demanding to know what his “criteria” are. For me, the true nadir of this sequence is the moment when a veiled ‘Muslim Bride’ asks him if religion is a factor, and he answers “No”, even though they’re stood in a church at the time, and he has a Catholic priest waiting in the wings to perform the ceremony. Oy! Basically, this is one of those “comedies” where everyone behaves in the most idiotic and illogical way possible in order to further the “plot” and the “jokes”… so it’s kinda hard to care what happens to them one way or the other. I also find it hard to understand why a man who was in a long-term, monogamous relationship with a fabulous woman would be so panicky about losing his supposed “freedom” by making their existing union legal anyway. What a spoiled, ungrateful a-hole he is! To quote the Chick Flick book: “This movie has very few either romantic or amusing moments… which is something of a drawback for a romantic comedy.” (p. 14) Word.
Still, even the negative reviews have plenty of complimentary things to say about Zellweger’s typically adorable performance (and appearance) here… with several critics suggesting that they’d rather have spent more time with Annie and her sparky, supportive sister, ‘Natalie Arden’, than Jimmie and his blundering buds. And I’d have to agree, since Natalie was played by Marley Shelton (of Planet Terror fame), who manages to transcend the restrictions of her underwritten role, and still give an entertaining performance here. Besides her iconic turn as ‘Dr. Dakota Block’, Shelton has also appeared in such cult classics as Sin City, Sugar & Spice and Pleasantville. Fun fact: She was originally cast in the role of ‘Annabeth Schott’ on The West Wing, but got gazumped by Kristin Chenoweth! Meanwhile, there were a number of other notable actresses filling out the cast, including Brooke Shields as ‘Buckley Hale-Windsor’, a rather staid and dismissive ex of Jessie’s, who almost manages to hypnotise herself into marrying him by making “one hundred million dollars” her mantra, and chanting it under her breath during the ceremony… but begs off when she finds out about the baby-making clause. I tend to think of Shields as “the woman from Suddenly Susan”, but since then she’s also starred in Lipstick Jungle, had a minor recurring role in That ’70s Show, and played ‘Miley’s Mom’ in a couple of episodes of the inexplicably popular (and unnecessarily shouty) kids show Hannah Montana. Back in the day, she also appeared in oddball indie flicks like Freeway and Freaked.
Jennifer Esposito seems slightly miscast as ‘Daphne’, a tough talking, rough-and-tumble cop, who refuses Jimmie’s proposal on the grounds that she still believes in true love, and doesn’t want to settle for a marriage of convenience. Again, I tend to remember Esposito for her sitcom work, in shows like Spin City and Samantha Who?, but she’s also appeared in more serious projects like Summer of Sam and Crash. For better or worse, this movie also marked the professional acting debut of Mariah Carey, as ‘Ilana’, an opera singer who’s too busy hitting the high notes to even really recognise/remember Jimmie when he proposes to her. Carey doesn’t actually do a bad job here, but that’s not really saying much considering how short her scene is. Just before Jimmie has his rather implausible “meet-cute” with Anne, we witness him dumping a girl called ‘Monique’ for no good reason… although he later derides her as “boring”, simply because she’s a professional chef who tends to talk about food! Whu? Anyhoo, she’s played by Katharine Towne, who’s been in a ton of fun movies, including Go, She’s All That, But I’m a Cheerleader, Mulholland Drive and Blades of Glory. But the role for which I’ll always remember her is ‘Sunday’, the snarky campus-raiding vampire who destroyed Buffy’s “Class Protector” award… because I still haven’t forgiven the show’s writers for taking one of the sweetest moments from the previous season, and stomping all over it with such callous disregard. She’s very cute here though, and very endearing… which makes it even harder to understand why the boneheaded protag is so mean to/about her. Tch! And in the thankless role of ‘African-American Bride’ is Niecy Nash… best known for playing ‘Deputy Raineesha Williams’ on Reno 911!, as well as minor recurring roles on The Bernie Mac Show, and American Dad! Apparently she’s also the spokesperson of M.A.V.I.S. (Mothers Against Violence In Schools), an organisation founded by her mother, to inform the public of the violence children encounter on school campuses.
[Note: I watched this movie on TV rather than DVD, so I’ve had to make do with whatever photos I could find online… under normal circumstances there’s no way in heck that Carey would have trumped Silverman!]