27 Dresses

2008-01-18 (General release)

Sweet and nurturing and passive-aggressive, Jane (Katherine Heigl) is yet another movie girl in need of rescue. Ho hum.

27 Dresses begins with a dreary overview of exactly how she’s arranged her life in order to feel virtuous and long for something more at the same time. Having planned cross-town weddings for two friends — one more or less U.S. traditional, with white gown and satin pumps, the other Hindu, with flower garlands and saris — she also agrees to oversee them on the same day. This means she rides back and forth in a cab, paying the driver extra not to watch her change her bridesmaid dress repeatedly in the back seat (and so allowing for cheap titters). The brink-of-chaos craziness is summed up when Jane is advised to remove her bindi at the white wedding by her best friend from work, Casey (Judy Greer, who should be starring in her own movie already, preferably one less trifling than this one). Oh my god! What if someone had seen her!

Jane’s desire to please is on equal display during her regular workaday life. An assistant at an outdoor-equipment company, she’s in love with her boss George (Ed Burns), who barely notices she’s alive — except when he needs her to pick up his dry cleaning. Jane’s more or less fine with this arrangement, dreaming that someday he’s realize he loves her too and pop the question, at which point she will no longer be wearing the inevitably hideous bridesmaid’s costume, but instead, the scrumptious bridal gown. Until then, she puts off Casey’s suggestions that George isn’t worth all her mooning, though it should be said that Casey, along with every other woman who speaks in the film, appears to believe that marriage is the proper ambition for girls.

Jane’s saga is not quite complicated when her sister Tess (Malin Akerman) returns home from Europe, where she’s been doing something in the fashion industry. Pretty and alternately vacuous and scheming, Tess is the notorious object of many men’s affection, which makes Jane jealous, if only because she had to take care of Tess when they were children following their mother’s earl demise. So much for deep psychological background: the sisters have issues, exacerbated when Tess sets her sights on George and he reciprocates, believing her when she declares her earnest and long-term veganism, as well as her love of hiking. As neither is remotely true, Jane is suddenly stuck: wanting to look after her little sister still, she’s also wanting to protect George from such manipulations. What to do? What to do!?

Jane takes the silly road, and agrees to plan their wedding.

Enter Kevin (James Marsden, once again willing a cardboard part into multiple dimensions). He’s the weddings columnist at the local paper, whose descriptions have been so moving to Jane that she keeps clippings in a box, so she can read them again and again. The film inserts a pseudo-complication in putting Jane and Kevin together without hr knowing he’s the writer she so admires, and so the scene is set for misidentifications and rom-commy disorders. Not only does Jane not know what Kevin does for a living; she also doesn’t know that he’s not a true believer like herself, and instead sees his columns as a means to an end, a features gig. He decides her story, as the perpetual bridesmaid, is the ideal stepping stone, convinces his editor to let him run around interviewing Jane and her sister and George for a few weeks. You can’t actually imagine how dull this gets.

Though Kevin shows early signs of bucking formula, he is, in fact, the precise embodiment of same, resisting like Cary Grant or even Hugh Grant is wont to do, and at last giving in to the dictates of genre. He spends the predictable sort of time with Jane, including an afternoon’s montage sequence where he photographs her trying on all her 27 bridesmaids’ dresses, as well as a night when they’re stranded due to ridiculous weather and driving circumstances, and — guess what? — end up drunk and entangled.

Though the movie pretends to be about Jane reshaping her relationships with Tess and George (exactly the sort of Clueless Male Lead who gives romantic comedies a bad name), it’s less about her evolving independence than her learning her proper generic place. And for all his considerable charm and seeming resistance to expectations, Kevin is just the man to deliver such excruciating sentiment: for all her seeming empathy and strength, he says, Jane really needs someone to take care of her. Urgh.

RATING 3 / 10