27 DRESSES (Anne Fletcher, 2008)
Like the bumbling leading man in a romantic comedy, the movies have been looking for America's next sweetheart but haven't found her yet. For a time Reese Witherspoon appeared to be first in line as Julia Roberts' successor. Despite expectations, she never seemed to aspire to the title. Rachel McAdams was also poised to step into Roberts' shoes, but she has been absent from movie theaters for more than two years, an eternity in today's star-making machine.
So the role of the nation's favorite leading lady remains up for grabs. Katherine Heigl's delightful performance in 27 DRESSES indicates that it's hers for the taking if she wants it.
Heigl's Jane is the perpetual bridesmaid to friends, co-workers, and, as the 27 dresses in her closet suggest, any acquaintances who ask her. She accepts the attendant responsibilities with genuine happiness and interest, but one can sense that just once she would like to be the center of attention than in the supporting cast.
Jane's wedding day is anything but imminent, though. Every page of her Filofax is filled with bridesmaid duties that keep her busy and and unable to work on her personal life. A hopeless crush on her saintly and oblivious boss George (Edward Burns) is the extent of her romantic prospects, and even that infatuation evaporates when her younger sister Tess (Malin Akerman) snags the bland bachelor.
New York Journal society writer Kevin (James Marsden) spots Jane taxiing between two weddings on the same night. Upon finding her Dagwood-like planner, he becomes more intrigued in her dedication to the nuptials of others. In her Kevin sees a story that can release him from the drudgery of covering the weddings of the wealthy.
You can probably guess where 27 DRESSES is headed, and you'd be right. By their nature, romantic comedies are highly predictable because they provide the rush of discovering love that audiences seek. The characters may be prettier and richer versions of ourselves, but they share our foibles and fumblings and overcome them, as we hope will happen in real life.
Jane is the viewer's stand-in, so it's silly to criticize the film for acting as though men wouldn't be knocking down her door. The character proves to be a kind, confident woman with more heartache than she'd like but an optimistic attitude nevertheless. (Lest her perfection become overbearing, she's paired with a wonderfully snarky Judy Greer in the thankless best friend part.) Heigl smashes this softball of a role out of the park. How could she not endear herself to the audience?
Aline Brosh McKenna's screenplay constructs 27 DRESSES as more of a character piece, which offsets a good deal of the story's predictability. The indicators of a boilerplate romantic comedy are visible, but they aren't given much significance. For that matter, Jane's inevitable romance with Kevin seems almost an afterthought, which spares us from the genre's maddening habit of generating massive shockwaves from tiny, easy-to-fix misunderstandings. Since the film concentrates on having fun with the character than getting to her destination, it seems more effortless. Even the clichéd public sing-along--Jane and Kevin belt "Benny and the Jets" in a bar--is playful and amusing.
Bridesmaid dresses are notorious for being unflattering, single occasion garments. Although formulaic, 27 DRESSES wears well on its star. Whether it crowns Heigl as America's sweetheart or leaves her earthbound as another pretender to the Julia Roberts throne is up to the public.