May 8, 2008

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Made of Honor (PG-13)
Patrick Dempsey realizes too late that it’s OK to be attracted to girls and to be friends with them in the aggravating romantic comedy Made of Honor, a movie which is annoying even in its title, which implies a depth of character and human decency not exhibited by Dempsey, the man presumptively “made of honor.”

For, were Tom (Dempsey) indeed a man chockful of honor, he might not treat women so horribly — telling them that he can’t see them on consecutive nights and that he won’t let them meet his family because, I don’t know, that would make them real people or something. Only with longtime friend Hannah (Michelle Monaghan) does Tom have conversations or spend quality time with a double-X-chromosome-having person outside the bedroom. She is his buddy — the great chick he gets to have fun conversations with, many of which are about the army of lesser chicks he has recently bedded.

Not surprisingly, Hannah isn’t exactly thrilled with being Tom’s non-romantic life partner. So, when Hannah has to leave New York City for a six-week trip to Scotland, perhaps it’s because her job has sent her but I think also perhaps it’s because she wanted a break from being Tom’s door mat. During her absence, Tom realizes, much in the way a small child realizes that two cookies added to a plate with two cookies gives you a total of four cookies, that, hey, he does enjoy an adult relationship and, wow, maybe being comfortable talking to a girl is a sign that you like her and before you know it he stuns himself by realizing that he’s in love with Hannah.

Naturally, he goes to see Hannah the night she’s returned home, all aglow with his newfound squishy feelings and, equally naturally (if you’ve ever seen one of the films of this depressing genre) she is not alone.

Meet my new fiancé Colin (Kevin McKidd), Hannah says to Tom.

Blerg, says Tom.

And, since we’re best buds, I want you to be the “maid of honor” at my hastily organized wedding, says Hannah.

Perhaps this is a good time to explain that I have romantic feelings for you and though my prolonged adolescence has, in all likelihood, quashed any chances I had of winning your love and respect I feel that maturity propels me to explain the situation and, for my sanity and yours, politely decline your request to help you marry another man, says Tom.

Kidding!

If that happened, if the characters behaved like grown-ups, what kind of movie would this be? There would be no romantic tension, no wacky misunderstandings, no Tom helping Hannah pick out her wedding night lingerie. There would be only awkwardness, conversation and struggle — in effect, real life. And, when you’re paying $9 for two hours of entertainment, who wants that?

So Tom plays maid of honor, corralling the other bridesmaids into good behavior, helping organize a bridal shower, doing the aforementioned lingerie shopping — all while pining for the oblivious-to-his-feelings bride to be. He has friends who offer humorous advice and drill him on the art of being a maid of honor (his friends include Kadeem Hardison — answering the question “What ever happened to Dwayne Wayne?”). He has a six-times-married father (Sydney Pollack), who can give him the “don’t regret not fighting for the girl” speech. Add to that the requisite scenes of a break in the friendship due to emotional turmoil and the big chase to get to the church on time at the end and you have all the makings of your standard romantic comedy.

So why, if this is such an ordinary example of the genre, do I have such extra special hatred for this movie? To get to that, I’d have to get into some details of how this movie ends and, as obvious as the plot twists are, that just doesn’t seem like sporting behavior. So let’s just say that the characters start off simple and then, like Shrinky Dinks, become smaller and more brittle than you originally thought they were. They act in ways that don’t fit the few personality traits that have been established and make decisions that seem contrived at the time and utterly nonsensical later.

Watching this movie gave me newfound respect for the Julia Roberts vehicle My Best Friend’s Wedding. When I first heard about this movie, I thought it was simply the mirror image of that story of platonic friends wherein one realizes, upon the engagement of the other, that they’ve been “in love” all this time. But while My Best Friend’s Wedding starts with the same set of circumstances and expectations (that the main character is going to change all the other characters and their actions), she, at the end of the movie, is the one who changes, who realizes things and grows up. Beneath all the big Julia lips and the Cameron Diaz wackiness, My Best Friend’s Wedding seems startlingly mature.

Or at least comparatively.

In Made of Honor, the whole movie rests on the arch of the characters and nothing about them feels real. Dempsey is probably charming enough for the diehard Grey’s Anatomy fan (though he’s always been too whiny for me) and Monaghan (who will sadly be better known for playing this generic part than her great supporting role in Gone, Baby, Gone) is perfectly believable as a stunningly attractive “real” girl. But these adequate performances crumble under the weight of the ridiculous story. C-

Rated PG-13 for sexual content and language. Directed by Paul Weiland and written by Adam Sztykiel, Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont, Made of Honor is an hour and 41 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Sony Pictures.