Kat (Debra Messing) is whiny sister to a bride-to-be. Not only is Kat depressed that her younger, pale blond slip of a sibling Amy (Amy Adams) is getting married first, but she’s also marrying Eddie (Jack Davenport), best friend to Kat’s very own ex, a self-important type named Jeffrey (Jeremy Sheffield) for whom she’s vaguely pining and painfully obsessing. And so Kat packs what look like 12 bags for her flight to London (site of the upcoming nuptials) and hires an escort, Nick (Dermot Mulroney), in order to make Jeffrey jealous and appease her pathologically censorious mother, Bunny (Holland Taylor).
This summary makes the film sound complicated, with all the characters and all the connections to be sorted out. But it’s not. In fact, The Wedding Date is simple and tiresome, as well as unoriginal, borrowing bits from any number of like-minded movies (Philadelphia Story, Pretty Woman, My Best Friend’s Wedding [in which Mulroney played a similarly monotonous character, object of Julia Roberts and Cameron Diaz’s desires), Four Weddings and a Funeral — really, any Julia Roberts or Hugh Grant rom-com you can think of) in order to land nowhere new. Kat appears to be some kind of airline customer service whiz (as her cohorts feel panicky when she leaves for a few days), which suggests she’ll have something in common with her date. She’s also insecure but really shouldn’t be, in the way that romantic comedy protagonists tend to be.
Also a familiar character, Nick describes himself as a “hooker,” but is really just a nice (if utterly bland) guy with an incredible “way with women,” sensitive, educated, intuitive, charming — in other words, a great catch waiting to find his match. When they meet, Kat is suitably impressed by his superficial elegance, but also finds “the idea of sex for money morally repugnant.” Yes, she’s being hypocritical (she’s paid this fellow $6000 for his weekend’s worth of work), and yes, she will learn this lesson and then some.
Their first function in London, a cocktail party, features crowds of fancy-dress extras and finger sandwiches floating through the ballroom on trays held by faceless wait-staffers. That is, the scene allows Nick to observe and judge the bad behavior of Kat’s family (save for her British stepfather [Peter Egan], who seems sensible enough that you wonder why he’s part of this emotional morass), shoot Kat encouraging glances, and serve as the butt of Jeffrey’s anti-yank commentary. When the preternaturally acute Nick sees that Kat is in trouble, he comes over and drapes his arm over her shoulder and nuzzles her affectionately. He teaches her how to pretend confidence (“Look people in the eye. They’ll never know what you’re wearing”), and he appreciates her childhood affection for Air Supply ballads. More unnerving, he treats her to a front-and-center look at his penis, fresh out of the shower. Apparently, all this nurturing support works instant wonders, for Kat is soon quite in love with her escort, which means the film has rather run out of plot.
And yet it persists, inserting wholly uninteresting subplots that have to do with long-ago deceptions as well as familial competitions. When Amy announces that Nick is “hunky dunky,” Kat is visibly anxious; when Jeffrey is on the opposing side in cricket, Kat wants to throw the match, but Nick wins it soundly, achieving the end she wants, Jeffrey’s ostensible interest. As she comes to find Nick more gallant and generous and less deceptive and smug than Jeffrey, Kat’s desire-targeting device shifts direction, and she’s honed in on the man she’s meant to love, the hooker, er, the nice guy who knows what she really wants, perhaps that penis he showed her, or perhaps the gentle manner with which he sweeps her off her flat feet.
For all The Wedding Date‘s predictable schmaltziness and Messing’s variable charms (while Grace has gone through some changes, this character is quite stuck in one-note range), it still manages to be less bearable than most of its generic fellows. In part this is a function of its banal themes (romance trumps family, girls have nights out, men-who-are-not-Nick are louts). Worse, however, is the sheer ineptitude of the film’s construction, quite literally. As director Clare Kilner’s previous film, How to Deal (2003) suggested something of a light comedic touch and grasp of complicated romance and family nuances, the sheer clunkiness of this movie — in ham-handed music selections as and lawnmower-style editing, such that scenes actually seem cut off and transitions between locations are unaccounted for — is striking.
Pretty much lost amid this sloppy assembly is Kat’s jaunty British cousin TJ (Sarah Parish) (just how relatives are U.K. or U.S. is not quite explained). Introduced as a canny savior sort (she calls out Jeffrey as an “asshole” and won’t allow Kat to spend any more small-talk time with him). She’s butch and smart and loud, seeming quite the antidote to the skimpy-dressed, squealy other girls gathered for the event (the Casting 101 Wedding Party Girls). You might imagine that TJ had some other dialogue, some other function, in another version of this movie, but as it comes to theaters, she’s left to joyously gallumphy dance moves designed to solicit audience laughter. She’s paired off with a male bartender by film’s end, but really, she seems the girl who might make Kat feel pretty.