Love continues to be exceedingly strange in the romantic comedy “My Best Friend’s Wedding.” Anchored by skilled comedienne Julia Roberts, this skewered variation on jealousy and the wrong woman doing battle in the aisles is a winning balance of the familiar and the novel. Straddling several genres, the film has an underlying veracity that should strike an emotional chord with audiences and ring up one of the better grosses among summer’s non-f/x event movies.
The premise is simple and appealing. Julianne Potter (Roberts), a successful writer of culinary guides, believes that her best friend and former lover, sportswriter Michael O’Neal (Dermot Mulroney), is about to propose marriage, a prospect that fills her with dread. But Michael has no intention of tying the knot … with her. He’s been smitten by heiress Kimmy Wallace (Cameron Diaz) and wants Jules to be part of the wedding party in Chicago. Multiply her earlier anxiety tenfold and you get a fair inkling of the anger and outrage boiling beneath her polite acceptance. She tells her friend and editor George (Rupert Everett) in no uncertain terms that she’s off to break it up by hook or by crook.
Kimmy would appear to be no match for Julianne’s devices. She’s unworldly, vulnerable and sincere. However, as often occurs in the movies, every plot to demean the imminent bride backfires. The tin-ear warbler makes up in pluck what she sorely lacks in timbre when forced to sing at a karaoke bar, and her readiness to confess selfish desires turns sins into assets. That seeming imperviousness to peril pushes Julianne into more fiendish and venal methods of reaching her goal.
As with the recent “Addicted to Love,” pic employs the infamous green-eyed monster to propel the action. The bedrock of base instincts is unsettling but nonetheless holds one’s interest, and Ronald Bass’ script concocts an unusual resolution that’s unexpectedly satisfying.
While the film has its antic moments (and a handful of cleverly integrated musical segs), it’s far more sober-minded than the usual film of this ilk. The characters grapple with their feelings and wrestle with self-centered actions they’ve convinced themselves are meant to benefit others. Without sacrificing the entertainment quotient, “My Best Friend’s Wedding” gets the Psych 101 seal of approval.
One can see the appeal of Julianne for Roberts. The character is commanding yet out of control, funny, mature and everything not generally associated with the actress’s roles. It’s a tasty combo she devours with gusto and artistry. Similar kudos to Diaz, a performer who has a powerful physical presence that runs counter to a chameleon-like emotional range.
Mulroney is good in the thankless role as object of desire. Much more fun is Everett as Roberts’ gay editor, who makes great sport of it when she pretends they’re engaged in order to make Michael jealous. He also gets to be the voice of reason, grasping the obvious when others are over their heads in ardor.
Director P.J. Hogan injects a quality of fun and flash in what might easily have been a by-the-books film. But while the film has a wonderful technical polish, its bright veneer is overpowering when the story downshifts into serious mode.
Ultimately, “My Best Friend’s Wedding” works for some very old-fashioned reasons: It skillfully engages us in the story and its characters. And, for no additional cost, it has something to say about how we live, act, commit and relate.