January 17, 2008

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27 Dresses (PG-13)
Katherine Heigl shines — or at least tries to — despite being buried in some extremely mediocre romantic-comedy sappiness in 27 Dresses, a wishy-washy film about the girl who helps everyone else but never gets a moment in the spotlight herself.

Yes, poor poor mousy Katherine Heigl.

Jane (Heigl) loves love. She’s attended 27 weddings as a bridesmaid and has arranged most of those weddings herself — immersing herself in cakes and dresses and all things fluffy and white. She’s so dedicated, in fact, that she wears two of those dresses on one night — darting between weddings and, Jack Tripper on Three’s Company-style, changing from a sari to a periwinkle dress in between. Kevin (James Marsden), a wedding reporter for a New York Times Style Section-like column, sees her fast change and, after talking to her and getting a peek in her day book, decides she’s his ticket out of what he calls the taffeta ghetto. If he can do a feature about Jane, fame and fortune await. Due to some standard romantic comedy trickery, Jane doesn’t realize that Kevin is in fact the wedding columnist whose work she’s been cutting out for years. Instead she just thinks he’s a guy on the make, one who isn’t her oh-so-perfect boss George (Edward Burns), and therefore she isn’t interested.

That is until her younger, flightier sister Tess (Malin Akerman) shows up. Tess and George hit it off quick — an attraction helped along by Tess’ willingness to mold her personality to fit George’s idea of the perfect girl. Jane, meanwhile, burns with the quiet suffering of having a sluttier sister and a sexy boss while she watches Tess become the girlfriend to George that she had always hoped to be. Chattily at first and then warily once she finds out he’s a reporter, Jane tells Kevin her romantic woes, sparring in defense of love and marriage against his raffish cynicism.

Even if you haven’t seen the trailers, you can probably guess where this movie is going. It doesn’t have so much separating it from Bridget Jones, an assortment of curly-haired-Julia Roberts movies and heck, for that matter, Jane Austen — what with all its chattering about marriage, its lusting after the wrong man and its doormat-wins-the-day-sensibilities. The movie, like a bridesmaid dress, is colorful enough. But, also like a bridesmaid dress, it feels fake — costumey and full of needless suffering to get to an equally fake-feeling sunny outlook. Aline Brosh McKenna also wrote The Devil Wears Prada and while I could have smacked Anne Hathaway’s character, I absolutely adore Meryl Streep’s. She is smart, sharp, funny (in a dry and terrifying way) and savvy about life. None of that seeps into this movie, which is as fairy tale-ish as Enchanted but without that movie’s wit and heart.

For all that I couldn’t wait to get through most of this movie, I couldn’t help but like Heigl. She has excellent comic timing and has a kind of believable mouthiness that makes her more than just the no-fun preg-zilla of Knocked Up. Mix the maturity level of this movie with the smarts of Juno and you could have a comedy all about a self-aware woman who feels pain and tries to rise above and wants to be in love even though it also scares her. You’d have a movie that would be perfect for Heigl. She’s not remotely believable as a wallflower but there’s a very real (or, you know, “real” in Hollywood terms) quality to her looks. She’s not too beautiful to throw off a glare or loudly roar a compound curse word. She’s a perfect character for comedy and can believably pull off romance. Just not in this movie. C

Rated PG-13 for language, some innuendo and sexuality. Directed by Anne Fletcher and written by Aline Brosh McKenna, 27 Dresses is an hour and 47 minutes long and will open wide on Friday, Jan. 18. The movie is distributed by 20th Century Fox.