When a woman becomes a bride-to-be, strange things happen. Her perception of color becomes skewed, with an emphasis on shades of peach and teal. She experiences an increased sensitivity to noise and opposing opinions, and can only be soothed by saccharine tunes like “I Honestly Love You” and “A Groovy Kind of Love.” An obsession with detail becomes all-consuming, although she occasionally loses sight of the big picture, such as whom she’s marrying (although she knows his general coloring and measurements).
Except for the threat of hysterical breakdown, these moments are ripe for comic mining, and here “The Wedding Planner” gamely stumbles into the breach. The San Francisco planner happens to be Mary Fiore (Jennifer Lopez), who has overseen nuptials since she joined up her Barbie and Ken dolls. Fiore pulls off opulent ceremonies with the military precision of an army general, the technology of a concert promoter and the soft-spoken grace of an ambassador. She even has her code words and equipment rivaling the “Proof of Life” kidnapping and ransom specialist lingo. “The FOB is MIA,” Fiore tells her assistant Penny (Judy Greer). She finds the tearfully tipsy father of the bride and, from her waistbelt, sprays him down and sobers him up just in time to give away the bride.
Naturally, despite her beauty and efficiency, the coordinator of fairy-tale weddings spends her rare free time alone watching “Antiques Roadshow.” Jilted at the altar six years back, Fiore has focused on her career and her Scrabble club. Life seems to be coming together, though: She lands the account of Internet magnate Fran Donolly (Bridgette Wilson-Sampras), the success of which means a partnership; and she gets rescued from a runaway Dumpster by a handsome pediatrician (Matthew McConaughey). Her assistant engineers a romantic evening, and all is well in the world until Fiore finds out Dr. Steve Edison is also Donolly’s fianc. Thrown into the fray is boyhood acquaintance Massimo (Justin Chambers), whom Fiore’s well-intentioned father has chosen to be her fianc.
While Lopez has hinted at her comedic wellspring in previous works, “The Wedding Planner” reveals her to be a natural. Her appalled, frantic double take when she catches sight of her reflection in the doctor’s office and a drunken scene hit the right balance of reality and humor. It’s both subtlety and context; the same kind, melodious voice she used to lull a serial killer into a trusting, childlike state in “The Cell” is employed with wonderful and later heart-tugging effect with irresolute brides.
The challenge is how to tell a conventional fairy-tale romance in a new way, and the film does it by, of all things, the innovative use of mundane reality. It isn’t as dull as it sounds, although it does mean at times, especially in the second half of the film, resorting to the somewhat banal dialogue of everyday conversation. For instance, misunderstandings don’t get dragged out, but lead to apologies. While the old-fashioned battle of the sexes might have made some fiery exchanges, it doesn’t bode well for a blissful future; and anyhow, in the 21st century, the battle lines are supposed to be blurred between men and women. So while that may not lend itself to the irresistibly vicious, crackling wit of “Philadelphia Story” or “As Good As It Gets,” it does inject a measure of reality (at least, as real as it gets in a Hollywood romance).
The film also works toward resolving the intersecting love triangles in a kinder, less vindictive fashion and avoiding most of the clichs of its genre. Donolly, done a disservice in the film’s trailer by being depicted as a manipulative, shrieking harpy, actually emerges as a pleasant, likable and smart woman. She might be impeccably blond and whip-thin, but she treats Fiore as more than the hired help (unlike her well-meaning father). Maybe the marketing department has been taking a seminar in reverse psychology, but it is a pleasurable surprise to find an otherwise hack role to be endowed with a little more soul.
Then again, it also underscores how American cinema has long abandoned that Capra-esque working class sensibility which used to jab at the super rich. The windbag stock characters that used to be a delight to prick give off mostly harmless lukewarm air, like the class-conscious father who refers to Fiore as “Wedding Woman” or the vaguely inebriated mother (who is a bit more disturbing considering our current hyper-awareness of alcoholism). As for the bride-to-be, her cinematic predecessors suffered for their immoderate rapaciousness with a pie in their face or some other culinary comeuppance. In postmodern America, Donolly, as a member of the Land Rover-owning Internet rich who struck not gold but silicon, is not mocked for her indulgence to be the first to use Golden Gate Park as her wedding aisle.
Part of it is because Fiore comfortably travels in those circles, even if they are her business settings. She has arranged Whitney Houston’s wedding and owns Gucci shoes (for which she almost risked her life). As the daughter of Italian immigrants, she exemplifies the plasticity of American capitalism when she can do a hard-nose negotiation for a partnership in a business for which she has worked only five years and live in a nifty San Francisco apartment. Considering how the Silicon Valley boom has made this the most romantic of cities also the most expensive, you have to admire “The Wedding Planner” for sustaining the ultimate fairy tale.