A movie about June weddings - why open it in the depths of January? The studio probably hopes that the bloom of New York (actually, Boston) in fair weather would lift moviegoers' hearts. Nothing else in this desperately unfunny farce would do it.
Bride Wars has possibly the worst comedy idea since Springtime for Hitler, with almost no room for redeeming camp. Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway play Liv and Emma, inseparable friends for 20 years who've also fantasized about getting married at the Plaza Hotel for 20 years. When each of their respective beaus finally decides to pop the question in March, they hasten down to the wedding planner (Candice Bergen) - Liv, a high-powered lawyer, with her American Express Gold Card; Emma, a public middle-school teacher, with a check for the bridal egg she's been nesting since she was 16. They both request a marriage and reception at the Plaza in June, but because of scant dates and secretarial incompetence, they wind up with the same day, June 6.
Best buds they may be, but a double wedding is out of the question: Each gal has dreamed of a wedding day that's hers alone. All the rifts between the brash, controlling Liv and the sweet, accommodating Emma come to the fore, culminating in Liv's declaration to Emma, "Your wedding better watch its back!" That's from the last good speech you'll hear for the rest of the movie.
These BFFs devote themselves to sabotaging each other's happiness. With all the heavy lifting it takes to make the premise plausible, the payoff better be dynamite. But it's more like a smoky damp sparkler. The destructive strokes and counterstrokes are numbingly stupid and demeaning, like sending "ex-heifer" Liv various sweets under the name of her betrothed so she will no longer fit into her Vera Wang.
Even if the slapstick were brilliantly choreographed, the movie's view of marriage, women and, for that matter, men would probably sink it to oblivion. It's all so pre-Sex and the City. It brings us back to the time when women obsessed over their shelf life and devoured a quart of ice cream or gulped a handful of pills every time they heard that someone beat them to the altar.
A man, Greg De Paul, is credited with the story, though he and two female writers, Saturday Night Live's Casey Wilson and writing partner June Diane Raphael, came up with the script. They do neither gender any favors. The movie views marriage prep, quite consciously, as a campaign designed to test the mettle of the team. The men here are the vice presidents on the bottom of the marital ticket, and they know their place - when they aren't proving (or disproving) that they have the right stuff, they disappear.
Oh, the filmmakers eventually deliver a fairy-tale ending, all right. But the movie makes such an inept hash of fantasy and reality that nothing goes down easily. Why would Bergen, the queen of chic, hire a homely, sloppy assistant? (Bergen herself, with her rigid, overbearing humor, offers loads of camp, and so does Kristen Johnson as Emma's self-regarding middle-school colleague - but it isn't redeeming.) Why do the circle of friends who say they won't choose sides seem to be supporting Liv?
Gary Winick, the director, shows little of the knack for true emotional detail or rounded fable and none of the talent with performers that he displayed in Tadpole, Charlotte's Web and even 13 Going on 30.
Hudson has a gift for hysteria, but her face seems all closed-up as well as bloated; she's lost some of her emotional transparency. Hathaway still has it, but her essential honesty exposes the superficiality of the material. The movie is about how Liv and Emma's relationship transcends even their marriages.
At the beginning, they share a sweet rapport; Liv unselfconsciously buys gifts for her less-rich friend, and the two are at ease picking out what's best for each other in dresses or men. The movie hinges on how they ultimately learn from each other in combat.
But their shenanigans are too dumb, their lessons too tacked-on. No matter how frantically Winick works his directorial dials, he never gets them on the same wavelength again. Bride Wars is more like a rout. You may never want to see another wedding comedy again.
(20th Century Fox) Starring Kate Hudson, Anne Hathaway, Candice Bergen. Directed by Gary Winick. Rated PG for suggestive content. Time 90 minutes.