The first time I sat down to watch the wedding-themed rom-com 27 Dresses (2008) on TV a few months ago, I had to turn it off after the first half-hour because I found the characters so irritating and unlikable, I didn’t really care who they hooked up with. But this time around I decided to grit my teeth and see it through to the end…
For those who don’t know, this movie stars Katherine Heigl as ‘Jane Nichols’, a romantically-inclined young woman who has selflessly served as a bridesmaid for twenty-seven weddings, while dreaming of her own special day. In the opening scene we learn that Jane was only eight years old when she realised that she was “in love with weddings”, and that it was her calling in life to ensure that a bride’s special day went without a hitch… although it’s never actually explained why someone who see themselves as a nuptial prodigy would wind up working as a PA at a rugged outdoor-goods business, rather than becoming a full-time wedding planner who could then get paid for doing the one thing that gives their life meaning and joy… but, yeah, whatever. One night she rather foolishly double-books herself, and has to hire a taxi to drive her back and forth across the city, from one wedding ceremony to another, while she repeatedly changes outfits in the back of the cab… which is the sort of ridiculous plot contrivance/joke that face-palms were invented for, really. But her frantic coming and going (not to mention the way she keeps impatiently looking at her watch during each of the ceremonies, despite being clearly visible to everyone in the room, as part of the official wedding party) catches the eye of an obnoxious young reporter for the “commitments” section of a local newspaper, played by James Marsden… who then proceeds to stalk and torment her until she falls in “love” with him. Meh. Meanwhile, Jane’s spoiled younger sister ‘Tess’ (Malin Åkerman) flounces into town, lies her way into the heart of Jane’s bland, do-gooder boss (and secret crush), ‘George’, and callously steals the dream wedding that her elder sister had been planning for herself ever since they were children. Boo!
27 Dresses received a pretty lukewarm reception from the critics, but it quickly turned a profit at the box office, and I’ve seen multiple copies of the DVD in every damn shop I’ve been in this week… so clearly it’s popular with someone out there… but I just couldn’t see the appeal myself. Hating on Heigl has become quite a popular pastime in recent years, and I’ve read a couple of columnists opining on the subject, but none of them really seem to get to the heart of my own antipathy. For instance, Sarah Ball of The Daily Beast, claims that “part of it is pure sexism. Every decade has a Most Annoying Actress, never an actor, and it’s a distinction doled out via a caveman’s principles. Heigl violates every archaic, unspoken rule of being America’s box-office sweetheart. A lot of actors smoke, curse, drink, and mouth off, but she gets the most grief for it.” But this explanation doesn’t work for me, because there are plenty of male actors I have identified as intensely irritating in the past… Ewan McGregor, Chris Addison and Mark Benton being the first that spring to mind (and Jamie Oliver is a strong contender for Most Irritating Man of the Decade, although obviously he isn’t an actor). Likewise, there are plenty of actresses and female musicians who I admire specifically because they “smoke, curse, drink, and mouth off”! No, my aversion to Heigl is based purely on the way she comes across on-screen, in character… there always seems to be this aura of brittle contempt emanating from her, when she isn’t actively striving to seem charming. It’s hard to explain really… but a while ago they showed My Father the Hero (1994) on TV, which marked her debut as a lead actress, and she had exactly the same dismissive manner as a teenager too! For all I know she could be a total saint/sweetheart in real-life, but that’s irrelevant to this discussion… I’m talking about how the chilly undercurrent she brings to her performances constantly undermines the supposedly sympathetic characters she’s playing.
But it isn’t fair to bundle all of the blame on Heigl’s shoulders here, because there isn’t a single character in this movie I could give a shit about… not even Judy Greer’s boozy best friend, or Krysten Ritter’s Goth receptionist! Normally those two actresses/characters would be a reliable source of fun for me, but here they’re tainted with the same off-putting acridity that infects the entire imbroglio. The whole thing plays out like a cash-in rom-com written to a formula by a detached misanthrope, rather than a labour of love, invested with genuine affection, insight and humanity. I mean, when the “grand gesture” your Romeo makes to win back his Juliet is to buy her an electronic organiser and say how pumped he is that she humiliated her sister and boss in front of all their friends and relatives… well, maybe you’re in the wrong line of business, s’all I’m saying.