Judge Gordon Sullivan's nightmare involves a Verdict assignment of twenty-seven romantic comedies.
Our review of 27 Dresses, published April 15th, 2008, is also available.
Always a bridesmaid, never a bride.
Romantic comedies are the cinematic equivalent of comfort food. Like comfort food, the recipe rarely changes, and since the recipe isn't new, it's the quality of the ingredients that matter. 27 Dresses does little to alter the romcom formula, but I found its mixture of ingredients worth watching.
Facts of the Case
Jane (Katherine Heigl, Knocked Up) simply can't say no. To date, she's been a bridesmaid twenty-seven times. Her perpetual status as a bridesmaid is made worse by the fact that her own love life is in shambles. Secretly in love with her boss George (Ed Burns, The Holiday), Jane is unable to tell him the truth. Matters become worse when Jane's irresponsible younger sister Tess (Malin Akerman, Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle) breezes into town and falls in love with George. As things escalate between Tess and Jane, famous writer Kevin Doyle (James Marsden, X-Men) has to cover Tess' wedding while writing a piece on Jane's twenty-seven dresses.
The movie starts with a cute premise, taking the aphorism "always a bridesmaid, never a bride" to comical lengths. Combining that with the story of a guy who has to write the commitments section of the newspaper was a fun idea, allowing the film to show some of the less pleasant aspects of marriage for comedic purposes. However, beyond the comic premise, there's nothing new here. Typical romcom trappings include the main couple being stranded by car failure/bad weather, drunken sing-alongs, the huge mistake by the prospective boyfriend, and the eventual reconciliation.
What makes 27 Dresses work as well as it does are the effective performances from the cast (or about half of them, anyway). Katherine Heigl leads the way as Jane. It's an amazing performance because she's absolutely believable as the harried secretary with her hair in a bun and equally effective as the love interest in the elegant black dress. Her timing is effortless, and she has a number of wonderful facial expressions. Right by her side is Judy Greer as Jane's conscience, Casey. She's the free spirit who always tries to get Jane to loosen up, and her dialogue is sarcastic and witty. I was less impressed with Malin Akerman as Tess, as she seemed to rely a little too much on being spastic to convey her character. Considering she's not supposed to be sympathetic for most of the film, her performance doesn't detract much, though.
From the male side of things, James Marsden does an excellent job as the love interest. He comes out strong as the cynical, writerly type, and even though he opens up, he never seems to abandon his cynical outlook. This made him seem like a real person instead of a cardboard cutout. He also has an excellent sense of timing and some of his looks are priceless. The scene where he tries to teach Jane how to say "no" was a highlight. Ed Burns doesn't fare quite as well. There's something very aloof about him as an actor, and his character is supposed to be the down-to-earth outdoorsy type. I just never felt like these two things meshed very well. I blame it on casting rather than his abilities as an actor, but it doesn't help that he underplays the role, aiming for laconic in most scenes.
This Blu-ray disc is a strong presentation of the film. Overall, the high-definition image is finely detailed, and the colors (so important for the various dresses) are pretty well saturated. The only image problems I noticed were during night scenes, which often had a slight haze of grain, but this seems like a source issue rather than a difficulty with the disc. If you look closely you'll notice that the grain appears more often in shots of James Marsden than Katherine Heigl. I suspect it's because Ms. Heigl got a little more time with the lighting department than Mr. Marsden. It's far from the best transfer I've seen, but for its genre, it's a solid effort. The sound was well-balanced and did a fine job with the dialogue.
The extras, unlike many of the featured dresses, have no frills. There are four deleted scenes. They're fine as standalone scenes, but would have added little to the film. Fox also includes a making-of featurette called "The Wedding Party." It's about 15 minutes long and features comments from the cast and crew as they discuss the film's production. There are also two featurettes focused on the design elements of the film. Unsurprisingly, "You'll Never Wear That Again" spends six minutes discussing the dresses with the director, costume designer, and Katherine Heigl. "Jane's World" focuses on the production design behind Jane's apartment, workplace, and weddings. It's also about six minutes long and features lots of comments from the production designer. The final featurette ("The Running of the Brides") has nothing to do with the film. Instead, it's a mini-documentary on Filene's annual sale, where designer dresses that normally cost thousands of dollars have been marked down to a few hundred. Numerous brides-to-be are interviewed, and then the insanity of the actual shopping is filmed. It's cute, but hardly essential.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
There's nothing really new here. If you've seen more than five romantic comedies, you can call this film from the first 10 minutes. So, the deciding factor is the actors. If you have a prejudice against any of the major players, this isn't the film for you.
The film is long. With 90 minutes standard for a comedy, this one goes on for 20 minutes past that. I'm not sure what I would cut, but I can see how others might object to the running time.
Extras are lacking. A commentary from the director, the screenwriter, and some of the cast would be appreciated. I just hope Fox isn't gearing up for 27 Dresses: Dressier Edition or something like that.
I only watch one or two romantic comedies a year, so my expectations are low. With that said, 27 Dresses did what I expect a romantic comedy to do: keep me entertained during the film. I found the cast was (mostly) very likable, the story comfortably familiar, and the premise charming. If you don't see very many romantic comedies and need to watch a recent one, 27 Dresses is a good bet. If you're an old hand at the romantic comedy game, then 27 Dresses might hold fewer charms for you, but I still think it's worth at least one look.
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