A Not-So-Fine Romance 

When Lopez met McConaughey

Wednesday, Jan 24 2001
Photo by Ron Batzdorff

The notion of Jennifer Lopez as a woman who has gone dateless for two years is as wildly implausible as it is deeply satisfying to the millions of us who lack Lopez’s more visible assets. In Adam Shankman’s genially undistinguished feature debut, The Wedding Planner, Lopez plays Mary, a professional stager of nouveau-riche nuptials who is so compulsive, she alphabetizes the credit cards in her wallet. Mary has no life outside her work, which makes it imperative that a handsome stranger (Matthew McConaughey), whose name is either Steve or Eddie, save her from being flattened by an itinerant dumpster, then turn out to be not a garbage collector but a dedicated pediatrician who, after an amusing interval of being otherwise engaged . . . well, one doesn’t look to romantic comedy for twist endings.

Director Shankman has diligently studied the forms and reproduced the moves of the screwball romances he so clearly loves, but he simply hasn’t the chops to put together even a decent rip-off of those glittering jewels of the ’30s and ’40s, which depend on great writing, classy situation comedy and, above all, chemistry. The script, by Pamela Falk and Michael Ellis, is a string of gag lines that doesn’t even approach the shining banter of the genre at its best. Worse, Shankman’s idea of screwball is having his leading man get stuck for what seems like eternity to the pecker of a not very well-hung male nude statue.

But the movie’s greatest flaw is the power failure between its leads, who, under Shankman’s direction, fall lamentably short of the Rosalind Russell–Cary Grant alchemy — a meeting of minds and, finally, of souls between witty, skittish urban sophisticates — he’s angling for. We know that Lopez can do it: Like Dolly Parton, she has a natural girl-next-door practicality that can morph on a dime into the burnished radiance of a serious objet de lust. In Out of Sight, Steven Soderbergh shrewdly capitalized on that tension, and played it beautifully off George Clooney, who provides perhaps our closest approximation to Cary Grant’s lazy insouciance.

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Unaccountably, Shankman has reduced his luscious star to a frump in wardrobe by Mervyn’s, presumably to underscore the point that Mary, an Italian-American of ’umble origin, is from the wrong side of the tracks. This might have worked if the butterfly finally leapt out of its chrysalis into Armani or some other ’90s equivalent of the padded shoulder, but Mary remains resolutely downbeat, and her gray populism doesn’t blend well with the aristocrat sensibility of high romantic comedy. Lopez also shows the wear and tear of having to prop up McConaughey, whose orange hair and damp, mumbling line delivery hardly betoken the prince you’d want to wake up to the morning after, let alone for the rest of your life. As the confused swain who can’t choose between safety and passion, McConaughey has all the mature élan of a schoolboy caught smoking in the toilet.

It hardly helps that a number of sparkling supporting performances drains our attention away from the leads. As Steve’s go-getting, careerist bride-to-be, Bridgette Wilson-Sampras is so much more interesting and funny than her rival — so much the antithesis of the wimpy mouse who typically occupies that role — you want to cheer her for getting away from the groom. Joanna Gleason is a treat as the eternally sozzled mother of the bride, and in the one scene with a spark of grace or originality, the ineffable Fred Willard plays a queeny dance instructor leading Lopez and McConaughey through the tango. (Shankman is a former choreographer.) It’s a captivating sequence, at once funny and glamorously sexy, but not nearly enough to save this pallid ghost of one of the great movie genres.

Reach the writer at etaylor@laweekly.com

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