Watching this movie took all the fun out of Appellate Judge Amanda DeWees's fantasies about male escorts.
Love doesn't come cheap.
The Wedding Date may look like a standard romantic comedy, but it isn't. I'm still trying to decide whether that's a good thing.
Facts of the Case
When Kat Ellis (Debra Messing, Will and Grace) flies to London for her sister's wedding, she takes more than the literal kind of baggage. The best man is her ex-boyfriend, Jeffrey (Jeremy Sheffield), who dumped her on what was supposed to be their wedding day and hurt her so much that she hasn't had a serious relationship since. In an effort to save face, she hires male escort Nick Mercer (Dermot Mulroney, My Best Friend's Wedding) to pose as her devoted boyfriend.
Her ploy seems to be working at first: Jeffrey appears to be jealous, and Kat delights in rubbing his face in what he's lost. She and Nick even find that their relationship may become more than just a business arrangement. But her self-absorbed little sister Amy (Amy Adams, Drop Dead Gorgeous) has a secret that may put the upcoming wedding in jeopardy—and break Kat's heart all over again.
Although the plot and packaging suggest a romantic comedy, The Wedding Date isn't particularly romantic, and it isn't particularly comic. It's actually a bittersweet dramedy, less about Kat's budding relationship with Nick and more about the emotional damage she is recovering from, and her tortuous progression toward self-esteem and reconciliation with her little sister. Likewise, the low-key, leisurely-paced approach to storytelling is a world away from the usual high-spirited rom-com tone; there are a few big laughs, but for the most part the humor here produces not laughs but smiles—and also some winces. Kat is so tense and insecure that I found her pitiable rather than funny. I can't fault Messing for trying to do something different from her hyperactive Will and Grace persona, but Kat is too subdued to be very good company. Likewise, while I appreciate this film's decision to dispense with the sometimes forced hilarity of other romantic comedies, its emphasis on dysfunctional relationships and family grudges wore me down over its running time; I wanted to hose the actors down with a solution of Zoloft.
The only two actors who seem to be enjoying themselves are Sarah Parish, as the earthy and hilarious TJ—she makes the requisite role of outrageous gal pal vivid and distinctive—and Jack Davenport as the hapless groom-to-be. Davenport is so good at playing the well-meaning, befuddled patsy (as he did in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl and the British TV series Coupling) that I'm afraid he may end up getting typecast as the modern Ralph Bellamy. Here he brings charm and depth to another stock role. So when does he get to star in a big-screen romantic comedy of his own? He'd be sensational in the Cary Grant role in a remake of My Favorite Wife. The always delightful Holland Taylor (Legally Blonde) starts out strong as Kat's horrible mother, but the writers seem to lose sight of her as the film progresses.
Due in part to the performances, the "romance" between the two leads is more like therapy than ecstasy. Dermot Mulroney is curiously detached as Nick; for a gorgeous man and a professional sex worker, he generates very little heat. Mulroney was much more charismatic in another wedding-themed chick flick, My Best Friend's Wedding. Although the prices Nick charges would suggest that he's an expert at seduction, the only time we get a sample of his technique is when he bends Kat backward over a car and tells her, essentially, to have confidence in herself. Kat swoons orgasmically during his little speech, which seems like an overreaction, to say the least; I can only guess that Nick's offscreen hand was doing something very, very interesting to evoke such a response. His emotional detachment is probably a must in his line of work, but it makes it hard to believe that he's developing real affection for Kat. When he initiates a personal relationship with her by saying something sweet and taking her hand, it's entirely out of the blue. I expected Kat to ask, "Where did that come from?" Instead, the editing shows the same detachment that Nick usually does: The scene just ends. By the end of the movie we still know almost nothing about Nick as a person.
For that reason, it's hard to swallow the filmic convention that these relative strangers are perfect for each other. In a film that seems to be trying to take a more "realistic" approach to the romantic comedy plot, there are significant gaps in the progression of Nick and Kat's relationship. Nick's past is surely a factor in his ability to relate to a woman romantically. He never indicates how he feels about his work, what effect it has had on the way he views women, whether he has had successful (nonprofessional) romantic relationships in the past. At the very least this should warrant a discussion when he and Kat start considering a life together. Kat, for her part, doesn't seem ready to be in any relationship, let alone one with this many complications. The logical ending to the story would have presented a Kat who is ready and happy to be relationship-free, armed with new self-confidence, and parting from Nick with friendly gratitude. But that's not the Hollywood way, and the film fobs us off with a conventional ending.
The audiovisual experience here is as clean and attractive as one would expect from a new film; the surround audio is effective in presenting the obligatory golden-oldie pop song, and the only problems I had understanding dialogue were caused by the accents, not the audio transfer. (From time to time when the British characters spoke I did fall back on the English closed-captioning, which was helpful, but it still left me in the dark as to what "scrumpy" means.)
The bonus features for the disc don't explain the ambivalent tone of the film's central romance, but they will please fans of Debra Messing. "A Date with Debra" is a short (7:30) interview interspersed with film clips; in it Messing is noticeably more vibrant than when in character as Kat. She also provides a trivia-heavy audio commentary, which is most interesting when she gives us glimpses of what the film would have been like without such extensive cutting. Time and again Messing notes that material was deemed too "dark" for the film, even though the darker elements (particularly an increased focus on family dysfunction) were, she says, what originally drew her to the script. There are lots of silences in her commentary, so it's a shame that no one joined her to add another perspective and make the track livelier. The deleted and extended scenes provided are surprisingly brief, considering all the material that Messing says was filmed but cut. A few offer glimpses of more character development, but most are disposable.
Viewers weary of the barrage of high spirits that form the backbone of most rom-coms may find this more grounded film a refreshing change. Those who prefer feel-good films may want to road-test it with a rental to see if it's too bittersweet for their taste. Although I found it unsatisfying and lacking in credibility, the female friend with whom I watched it enjoyed it. We did agree on one thing, though: Debra Messing's hair looks awful straightened.
Although the defendant is guilty of pretending to be a romantic comedy, the court will exercise tolerance. Next time you show up in my courtroom, though, you'd better have a leading role for Jack Davenport.
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