My Best Friend's Wedding [1997]

My Best Friend's Wedding One of the best romantic comedies of the 1990s, My Best Friend's Wedding not only gave Julia Roberts a delightful vehicle for her crowd-pleasing comeback, but it further distinguished itself by avoiding the conventional plotting of the genre. Julia plays a prominent Chicago restaurant critic whose best friend (Dermot Mulroney) is a former lover from her college days with whom she'd made a binding pact: if neither of them were married by the age of 28, they'd marry each other. Just when they're about to reach the deadline of their agreement, Mulroney arrives in Chicago to introduce Roberts to his seemingly perfect fiancée (Cameron Diaz) and announce their wedding in just three days. That leaves the shocked Julia with just three short days to sabotage the wedding and marry the man she now realizes she's loved all along. With potential heartbreak waiting in the wings, she'll either get what she wants or pay the price for her selfish behavior, and Ronald Bass's cleverly constructed screenplay keeps us guessing to the very end. Rupert Everett scored rave reviews for his scene-stealing performance as Robert's gay friend who goes along with her scheming (but only so far), and even as she makes her character's needy desperation disarmingly appealing, Roberts wisely allows Diaz to capitalize on her charming time in the spotlight. As the romantic outcome remains uncertain, the viewer is held in a state of giddy suspense, and director P.J. Hogan pulls off some hilarious scenes (like a restaurant full of people singing the Dionne Warwick hit "I Say a Little Prayer") that could easily have fallen flat in the hands of a less talented filmmaker. It's no surprise that this was one of the box-office smashes of 1997. --Jeff Shannon Stepmom Though Stepmom was dismissed as a contender in the 1998 Oscar race, it's worth giving a second chance to this rather cogent, sharp-tongued look at second chances. Susan Sarandon's performance as a mom about to be replaced by her ex-husband's new girlfriend (played by Julia Roberts) has a lot of bite, and it's a shame the script opted to marginalize and trivialize her plight in its final reel. Initially, the rancor that passes between divorced mom Jackie (Sarandon) and trendy fashion photographer Isabel (Roberts) rings true, aided by the sincerity of Jackie's ex-husband Luke (Ed Harris) and the emotional plight of their children, who have the most to lose in their parents' divorce. As the drama makes clear, the kids are the real victims in the agony that ensues between old and new love. Director Chris Columbus, who is adept at showing familial chaos (he directed Mrs. Doubtfire and Home Alone) with a sanitized minimum of lingering emotional damage, actually manages to dig a trifle deeper than usual in exploring the jealousy and hurt that occur when the baton is passed between a birth mom and the younger wife who steps into her shoes. Stepmom fortunately manages to touch on that chord--showing how an ambitious woman might feel hampered by the responsibility of children just because she's fallen in love with their dad--as well as the haunting grief that it causes their birth mom. It's an issue that haunts millions of second wives everywhere, and while Roberts conveys the confusion of being taken for granted in the melee that follows, it's Sarandon who walks off with the film. She's relentless in her fury, and everyone else in the film--the generally excellent Harris included--is sideswiped. It's just a shame that Hollywood once again wimps out in the end, solving the problem by giving Sarandon a terminal illness. Instead of allowing Jackie and Isabel's relationship to unfold on something less than a high note, the movie has to quell its best thing with a false payoff because it doesn't know what to do with real life. --Paula Nechak

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