Sometimes you just need a good popcorn flick. Or any popcorn flick. Even the guilty pleasure variety. For me, one of those guilty pleasures is 2001’s The Wedding Planner, a movie in which the titular character has always been outside looking in at happy endings.
For those who aren’t familiar with the plot, it’s this: Mary Fiore (Jennifer Lopez) is the best wedding planner in the Bay Area. Her life is so precisely ordered and she knows her business really, really well. She can talk anyone out of their wedding jitters, often with the aid of smelling salts and other accoutrements she carries around her waist like a utility belt. She can predict how long a couple will last based on what color the bridesmaid dresses are or what wedding song they pick.
Everyone thinks that Mary’s life must be so romantic and wonderful, but every night she goes home to her apartment, spoons some fancy takeout onto good china, pours a glass of wine, and watches Antiques Roadshow while eating off a TV tray. She plays in Scrabble tournaments with her dad, Salvatore (Alex Rocco) and friends, Burt (Lou Myers) and Dottie (Frances Bay), and she avoids the dating scene like the plague.
Mary’s assistant Penny (Judy Greer) keeps sending guys her way because Mary hasn’t had a date in six years. Salvatore agrees, and tries to set Mary up with a cute Italian guy named Massimo (Justin Chambers) that she knew as a kid. It’s a no-go for Mary, who got burned by her fiancee and doesn’t trust anyone. She’s all about work, and she’s got her eyes on the prestigious Donnolly wedding that’s coming up in June. The Donnollys are formerly a working-class family who now own a large specialty foods conglomerate. “They want their new money to be taken very seriously,” Mary tells her boss, Geri (Kathy Najimy). If Mary nails the account, she’ll make partner in Geri’s firm.
The Donnellys are an interesting bunch. Mrs. Donnolly (Joanna Gleason) is a winey and wannabe singer. Mr. Donnolly (Charlie Kimbrough) is a grazer who almost always seems to be chewing on something. Their daughter, Fran (Bridgette Wilson-Sampras) is probably the most down to earth of any of them, and she has very definite ideas as to what she wants out of life. Mary wows them with her initial vision for their wedding (night, botanical gardens, Gatsby vibe) and she’s got the gig.
Destiny keeps the ball rolling, and when Mary gets her Gucci heel stuck in a manhole cover later that day, she’s saved from a rogue dumpster by the handsome and intriguing Dr. Steve Edison (Matthew McConaghey). After a romantic dance under the stars in Golden Gate Park, Mary is smitten.
Too bad Steve is really Eddie, Fran’s fiancee.
Mary’s got this. She’s a professional. She and Steve get thrown together a lot, but after a stormy tango, a wild ride on a horse, and a mishap with a statue’s man parts (more on that in a minute) they sort of patch things up. Just in time for an even more awkward meeting at the flower market with Keith (Greg Lauren), Mary’s slimedog of an ex and his model-ready wife, Wendy (Magali Amadei). Mary’s skeletons get yanked out of the proverbial closet with a vengeance. Oh, and let’s not forget Massimo, who keeps hanging around Mary like an eager Italian puppy.
Oh golly, this movie. Some parts are cringe and other parts are desperately “Awww,” with the ratio very much subjective.
The first thing I always notice when I watch The Wedding Planner is how clean San Francisco is. It’s pristine, really. Not even a cigarette butt on the ground. The only trash we see is that rogue dumpster in the beginning, but that’s it. Funny how times have changed.
The next things that I always notice are the phoned-in accents–these actors look as if they’re calling for help without calling for help. Alex Rocco was an excellent actor, but I think he should have just skipped the accent in this case. It doesn’t come off well. He wags his head back and forth whenever he tries to make his accent thicker.
Same thing with Justin Chambers, who I’m sure is nice, but he had no choice about his accent, seeing as his character was fresh off the boat, and he’s adorably pathetic throughout the movie. The corners of Chambers’ mouth are turned down most of the time, so chances are he knew he was in over his head here. Greater actors than him have refused to put on accents and this poor guy was thrust into it, so kudos for bravery and a game effort, at least.
Speaking of game efforts, the casting in the film is pretty poor. Everyone tries, but chemistry is minimal at best. It feels like they’re all waiting for their paychecks. Jennifer Lopez is cute and funny in a mediocre way. Matthew McConaughey is cute and way too good for this movie. They’re just not that cute together. They’re not even in frame together all that often. The only time mismatching works to the movie’s advantage is Steve and Fran’s relationship, for reasons I will not reveal here. The Wedding Planner might be a twenty-year old film, but I’m going to give it at least that much dignity.
And the movie needs all the dignity it can get. There’s one very long, drawn out scene in which Steve and Mary pick out a statue for the ceremony, and Steve accidentally knocks over one of them. I don’t know if it’s supposed to be Perseus or Mercury the Thief, but anyway, the statue’s man parts are somehow broken off. Then Steve’s hand gets stuck when he and Mary try to stick it back on with Super Glue and a security guard catches them. This scene somehow ends with Mary keeping the broken member as a souvenir. It’s truly cringeworthy, which is probably why I don’t watch The Wedding Planner more often than I do.
Plus the movie’s metaphors are weird, and Fran gets stuck with most of them. She doesn’t like her Yahoo! magazine cover shot because she looked like a “psychotic poodle.” She doesn’t dance because she looks like a “retarded string bean.” Really? I’m sorry, but that’s awful writing. Mary’s halfhearted chuckles say it all. Fran kind of gets a raw deal here as it is, because the story keeps finding ways to eject her from any meaningful interactions, such as bad cell reception or a last-minute business trip across the country.
Things aren’t all bad, though. The part where Mary and Steve meet up with Keith (Greg Lauren) and Wendy (Magali Amadei) is an underrated moment because it allows Mary to face down the people who put her off dating, especially Keith, whose cheekbones are so perfectly angled he could open letters with them. He might be a heel, but at least he has enough of a conscience to look guilty. While it’s more uncomfortable than cathartic for Mary, who buys a six-pack of Heineken and gets drunk later, it does fill out her character.
And I like the look of the movie–the fashions are so typical of the early twenty-first century, especially Mary’s makeup. She uses a Stila lip gloss that I wish they still made (I had a drugstore version by Street Wear), but times change. Plus I got married a couple of years after The Wedding Planner came out, so it captures the feels that way as well.
The Wedding Planner was and still is universally panned by critics. It has an embarrassingly low 17% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which I get. It’s not groundbreaking. There are better rom coms out there. However, it’s worth a watch sometimes, not just for its nostalgic glimpse of a clean San Francisco from twenty years ago, but for its simplicity and good-heartedness.
Got a little announcement coming up tomorrow. Hope to see you all then, and thanks for reading…
The Wedding Planner is available on DVD from Amazon.
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