Senior Editor
02.14.08 20 Comments

So I’ve had this 27 Dresses review sitting around but I hadn’t posted it because it’s not timely.  But then today came around and I thought, "Hey, why not a cheesy movie review in honor of a cheesy holiday?"  Enjoy.

27 Dresses is basically like every other romantic comedy ever written – as anyone who’s seen the trailer or even the poster should know. Just by buying a ticket you’re signing a waiver of sorts.  Call it the Hollywood Rom-Com Viewer Agreement.  The gist of it is that, should you decide to file a grievance, any and all evidence of unoriginality in plot will be inadmissible.

In Adaptation, Charlie Kaufman the good screenwriter tells his twin brother the hack, “Donald, writing is a journey into the unknown, not building one of your model airplanes.”  As expected, a journey into the unknown 27 Dresses ain’t, but even if it’s a model airplane there must be someone out there walking around with a propeller stuck to her forehead (and probably high on glue).   

Grey’s Anatomy star Katherine Heigl plays the 27-time bridesmaid searching for the true love she knows is out there.  James Marsden, whom 27 Dress’ target audience probably won’t remember from X-Men (but might from Hairspray) plays the cynical writer guy with whom she ends up.  He pursues her hard at first even though she’s not interested, but after some stuff happens, she finds herself falling for him.  But just when it’s looking like they might end up together, something else happens – a bombshell that tears them apart.  Luckily some other stuff happens, she realizes the true meaning of life and finally says all the things she’s always wanted to say and they live happily ever after.  That’s what you expect and that’s what you get. 

But even in a paint-by-numbers premise like this one, you hope there’ll be beauty in the execution.  In 27 Dresses, sadly, everyone seems to be half assing it.  Especially choreographer cum director Anne Fletcher, who shoots every scene as a series of center-framed, head-to-waist two shots, like a movie version of American Gothic for Boring Yuppies.  I haven’t seen her other work but judging by this, I’d expect her storyboards for a rape scene and a child’s birthday to look basically the same.

An interesting side effect of Fletcher’s style is that you’ll end up scanning the background of every crowd scene for the most attention-hungry extra like a game of Where’s Waldo.  Similarly, you’ll marvel at just how blatantly she’ll use the extraneous-characters-pantomime during-the-principal characters’-dialogue trick.  She seems to be daring us to notice, at one pointing shooting a mariachi band whose fingers aren’t even moving.  Even in the midst of their half-hearted lipsynching their faces seem to be saying Are you sure we’re supposed to be in this shot?  It gets even more pathetic when Heigl’s boss and her sister (the archetypal Hot Sister, played by Malin Akerman) start to fall for each other.  They sit across the table from each other, while Heigl leans over them in the center of the frame, horrified.  The camera moves in to focus on Heigl’s expression while Akerman and Burns slowly transition from regular conversation to murmuring pantomime (both still in the frame of course).  Great trick – hey, it beats writing interesting dialogue!

You’re not supposed to notice because, like everything else in this movie, it’s designed for someone who’s never seen a movie before.  Every time Heigl’s party-girl best friend (Judy Greer – the party girl secretary from Arrested Development) says something “kooky”, you practically see the director atop a ladder with a bullhorn saying, “ccch… this is  where the audience laughs …ccch.”  At every remotely tender moment, the orchestra fades in as if to say, “Ccch… meaningful and heartwarming, they’re having a realization here… ccch.”

And maybe the audience needs to be shouted at, because, in the starring role, Heigl adds little pizzazz to a character who, as written, is basically human oatmeal.  “Jane” (presumably as in “Plain Jane” – I know, really creative) is a 20-something assistant to a catalogue publisher (Ed Burns). We don’t know much about her, other than that she’s a hopeless romantic who’s in love with her boss and has 27-marriage-aged friends apparently willing to overlook the fact that she’s insanely boring.  She has no quirks, no cynicism, no sarcasm, little sense of humor, and seems to inhabit that annoyingly insular world of rich-kid high school reality shows where no one talks about anything but relationships that are annoyingly predictable to everyone but them. 

When Jane meets someone who’s supposed to be interesting (and I stress supposed to be), Marsden’s character, she initially rejects him for being “creepy and weird.”  When she finally realizes that he’s the one who writes the wedding-feature “Commitments” column in the "New York Journal", the one she cuts out and saves every week, she’s horrified.  “You’re just a cynical guy who writes the kind of fairy-tale B.S. that women like me want to believe,” she says (or something to that effect).

Her character’s main obstacle is learning to deal with real life after using cheesy fairy tales insulated herself for so long.  And there’s the rub – in its own storyline, 27 Dresses actually argues the case against pieces of crap like itself.  By glorifying these one-dimensional relationship robots, it’s a tacit encouragement of people who might actually act that way.  It’s the devil on the annoying girl at the bar’s shoulder, whispering don’t say anything of substance – that would be creepy and weird.  Tell them how your ex-boyfriend hated your cat; you’ve got some fascinating stories.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s not just a bad movie.   It’s bad for society.

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