You’d think Love, Wedding, Marriage director Dermot Mulroney would know a thing or two about romantic comedies. After all, he starred in My Best Friend’s Wedding and The Wedding Date, two other wedding-related rom-coms. Instead, his directorial debut—which premiered on Video On Demand before a brief theatrical run, followed by this mercifully featureless DVD release—shows he picked up all of the genre’s bad habits without learning what might be appealing about the rest of it.
The film follows Ava (Mandy Moore), a 28-year-old marriage counselor and newlywed—one of those perky romantic-comedy heroines who appears to have an ideal life, complete with the perfect amount of quirks. (Ava compulsively consults her horoscope.) Her life is upended when her parents (played by Jane Seymour and James Brolin) announce their separation.
This development turns Ava into, for lack of a better phrase, an utter crazy person. You see, she’s an idealist, an optimist, and a hopeless romantic. “Rhett Butler’s never going to stick around,” her father tells her with respect to her compulsive repeat viewings of Gone with the Wind. “They were just working at cross purposes,” Ava replies with a sigh.
Even though she’s PhD-educated and probably sees the dissolving of marriages constantly at her job—no therapist has a 100 percent success rate—and even after acknowledging that she shouldn’t try and treat her family, Ava goes into frantic meddling overdrive. She devises schemes to get her parents together that would put The Parent Trap to shame. As her actions become more and more desperate, she finds herself alienating her new husband, Charlie (Kellan Lutz).
Yet it’s not the premise to Love, Wedding, Marriage—and its strict romantic view that equates divorce with failure—that is the movie’s biggest flaw. Instead, it’s the way the film uses its premise to indulge the worst romantic-comedy tropes, scenes featuring zany speed-dating, bad karaoke, soap-opera-style revelations, a fake suicide attempt, schmaltzy third-act toasts, multiple uses of the phrase “once upon a time”, dramatic revelations, and wacky marriage therapies, plural. Did I mention that Ava has a three-week deadline to save her parents marriage before their big, surprise 30th anniversary party that she refuses to cancel?
Love, Wedding, Marriage goes for broad, just-shy-of-slapstick humor. Only Mulroney doesn’t have a feel for the right tone, rhythm, or look of a romantic comedy. In one scene, the marriage therapist that Ava sends her parents to—played by Christopher Lloyd in the most disappointing cameo of his ever put to film—has them run through some pre-therapy exercises that includes them hopping around and snorting air through their noses. Surely, this was supposed to be played for comedy.
In reality, there’s nothing really all that funny about watching Jane Seymour and James Brolin flopping around on screen. It’s almost more sad than funny. When Mulroney tries for some more directorial flourishes, he favors the more dramatic series of extreme close-ups, lingering ponderously on Mandy Moore’s face.
Then again, there isn’t much in the material to elevate with better direction. Much of the dialogue, written by Anouska Chydzik and Caprice Crane of the recent 90210 and Melrose Place reboots, is therapy-speak. People often say exactly what they feel. They talk about fulfillment, prioritizing, and validation. If there is a single least-funny word in the English language, it just might be “prioritizing”.
If there’s one saving grace to the movie, it’s that for once someone acknowledges that the main character is acting deranged—something that doesn’t happen as often as it should in these kinds of movies. Unfortunately, there isn’t much else going on with Charlie to make him a suitable enough oasis from the rest of the movie. You’d think that Mulroney, having been the man-candy in other romantic comedies, would want to make his leading man somewhat well-rounded. Instead, Charlie is all surface attributes with no depth. He’s a vintner who also paints—or is it that’s he’s a painter who has a day job at a vineyard?—and he’s not above taking his shirt off for a few scenes.
It’s a relief that his wounded brooding is (mostly) quiet to balance out the rest of the film’s mania, but it’s not enough to save the film. Charlie gets the faintest of help from bad-girl Shelby (Jessica Szohr) and offbeat-best-friend Gerber (Michael Weston), the only two who manage to wring actual chuckles out of the script.
It’s not clear why Mulroney decided that this was the story he wanted to tell with his directorial debut, or why he thought he was the best one to tell it. And, absent a commentary (or any other special feature besides a trailer), we get no insight. We can only recommend therapy.