‘The Wedding Planner’ at 20 – Review

This article was written exclusively for The Film Magazine by Libby Briggs.

The Wedding Planner (2001)
Director: Adam Shankman
Screenwriters: Pamela Falk & Michael Ellis
Starring: Jennifer Lopez, Matthew McConaughey, Bridgette Wilson-Sampras, Justin Chambers

It’s a classic – woman has the perfect job and the perfect life, but nobody to share it with. How on earth could she be truly happy? Nobody has any doubt the wedding planner will find her wedding, but it’s all about the journey, right? And with some very sketchy dates, questionable marriage ethics, and a granite penis, it’s an odd journey indeed.

If you’re a rom-com lover, you might be inclined to believe that the peak era for spontaneous love affairs and bold, romantic gestures was twenty or more years ago. The nineties offered Pretty Woman, Clueless, and Jerry Maguire, while the following decade featured hits like Love Actually and My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Leading man Matthew McConaughey became a noughties star in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days and Failure to Launch, and superstar Lopez would appear in the equally successful Maid in Manhattan and Monster-in-Law. Perhaps general perception of this era’s films is blinded by nostalgia; a critical re-examination of Adam Shankman’s debut film reveals that maybe the good ol’ days weren’t so romantic after all.

Successful and independent, Mary Fiore (Lopez) plans weddings on the daily. In a tragic twist of irony, her only chance at the alter was ruined by a cheating fiancé. All hope for love seems lost until she (literally) falls for the textbook perfect guy. McConaughey’s character ticks all the rom-com leading man boxes as the charming, handsome paediatrician Steve Edison – he even saves Mary’s life when they first meet. He goes with Mary on a date, showing (seemingly) genuine interest in her life before leaning in for a kiss. He’s simply everything Mary could ever hope for in a man. Unfortunately, Steve is also a bit of a scumbag, as it turns out he’s the groom in the biggest wedding Mary has ever planned.

Sticking a pair of glasses on McConaughey can’t make up for Steve’s dishonest and disrespectful tricks in the eyes of the audience, and his performance makes it worse. His voice drones unenthusiastically, his tone completely contradicting the few words of adoration he would spontaneously throw at both Mary and his wife-to-be. Meanwhile, his eyes are just as distracted – it’s hard for McConaughey and Lopez to appear to have any chemistry at all given how they can never seem to look at each other for longer than a second. Yet, somehow, he’s always managing to wiggle out of the uncomfortable situations he creates, leaving everyone else in them.

Nineties and noughties rom-coms are riddled with sleazy men getting their way despite their frankly worrying actions, like when Noah frightens Allie into going on a date with him in The Notebook. The Wedding Planner is no exception. Steve’s unfaithfulness is simply shrugged off and blamed on his masculinity, and Mary is expected to fall for his weak excuses. Despite her appearing to be strong enough to see through the philandering doctor, all will be forgotten eventually.

Another drawback is the film’s take on marriage – more specifically arranged marriage. Massimo, the cute but rather desperate Italian, is another concerning suitor. Mary’s father may have had nothing but good intentions when choosing him to be his daughter’s husband, but he’s also another man no girl would want to be pursued by. Sweet as his actions may seem, he chases Mary like a puppy, essentially begging her to be with him. After her father confesses that he and her mother came to be wed due to an arranged marriage, she begins to wonder if Massimo is the man for her. It’s honestly not surprising that she thinks this, given her only other option is Steve, but it doesn’t come without its issues. Firstly, the man we should be rooting for has led Mary to believe she’s unworthy of real love. Secondly, Massimo, despite his faults, is being pulled into a marriage doomed to fail – little does he know that the woman he wants to make his wife has already declared him second best. Everyone puts themselves first, leaving behind a trail of broken hearts. Not exactly the full cast of loveable, humorous characters one would expect from a romantic comedy.

Visually, The Wedding Planner adds the romance its story and characters lack. The beautifully extravagant, glamourous weddings look like they were pulled right off Pinterest. The gardens full of roses and statues, the adorable little flower girls, and the copious amount of champagne are almost enough to make you forget about what’s actually occurring between the couple – almost.

There are plenty of fun rom-coms that are often let down by how the relationship begins. It’s a common feature in rom-coms, especially in those from twenty years ago, when an overly keen love interest was cute, and infidelity was simply something that occurs on the way to true love. However, there’s often a certain charm about them that helps you to overlook the potentially problematic machinations of the plot; whether it be endearing characters or a heart-warming story, their faults don’t ruin the film. Unfortunately, that’s not the case with The Wedding Planner. Its faults have nothing to hide behind; no enchanting romance or comedic value at all. For some it will remain a classic, but pitted against other rom-coms, it remains loveless and empty.


Written by Libby Briggs

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