Julianne (Julia Roberts) and Michael (Dermot Mulroney) have been best friends for nine years, ever since their hot fling in college settled into something far more platonic. They grew to be so close, in fact, that they made a pact that if they were both single when they turned 28, they would get married. When Julianne receives a call from Michael shortly before her 28th birthday, she’s a bit panicked that he may be calling to remind her of the pact… instead, she finds out he’s calling to tell her he’s met someone, and they’re getting married that weekend. This sparks a realization in Julianne that she does love Michael, and now she has four days to stop this wedding from happening and declare her love for Michael. Thus begins a string of devious manipulations as Julianne works on breaking up the happy couple.
Having watched this movie several times over the past two decades, I still appreciate its deviation from the typical rom-com formula. Jules is our leading lady, but she’s not exactly one we want to root for. Her devious machinations are born out of jealousy, but does she really love Michael? As her editor and friend George (a very charming Rupert Everett) asks, “do you really love him, or is this about winning?”. We always want what we can’t have, and Jules clearly has trouble distinguishing love from love. Perhaps she’s just afraid of having to share him with another woman, when she’s been the woman in his life for the past nine years. Roberts perfectly balances her role, keeping Jules from becoming a complete villain in the story because despite some truly awful behavior, Jules is also able to recognize right from wrong, even if she attempts to justify the wrong. With a little help from George, who essentially plays her conscience, you know she’s going to do the right thing in the end.
Cameron Diaz was not exactly the star she is now when she was chosen to star opposite of rom-com powerhouse Julia Roberts, but she holds her own as Kimmy and manages to make a character who could have been completely phony and obnoxious into someone charming and genuine. She is not just the one-dimensional “other woman” who distracts our leading man from the true love of his life until the big reveal of love and happy ending. No, Kimmy is true competition here, and if anything, I found myself rooting for her while waiting gleefully for Jules’s manipulations to be revealed.
The great thing about My Best Friend’s Wedding is that it has some basis in reality. George tells Jules to tell Michael she loves him… when Jules asks George what Michael will do, George tells her, “He’ll choose Kimmy.” I love the candor here, and we as the audience know he’s right. There will be no twist, no revelation that Kimmy is a nightmare or cheating, or devious in her own right in order to justify everything Jules has done. This is just a romantic movie about best friends struggling to figure out what they mean to one another before one commits fully to someone else. It’s about accepting change and letting go.
The supporting cast is fabulous. Yes, we have the gay best friend in George, but Everett is so damn charming and funny that the film gets a much needed comedic lift when he shows up on the screen. Carrie Preston and Rachel Griffiths are a hoot (yes, I said that) as Kimmy’s gossipy cousins and of course, we receive one of the best known rom-com moments with the seafood restaurant singalong “I Say A Little Prayer For You” led by Everett.
Mulroney and Roberts had decent chemistry here. There is a familiarity that makes their (nearly) decade-long friendship feel real. I appreciate that Mulroney plays Michael a touch differently with Jules than with Kimmy. There is love for both women, and you can see the difference in his expressions and how he speaks to them. Michael could have been so bland, but Mulroney gives him plenty of depth.
I would say my complaint with My Best Friend’s Wedding is the idea that Kimmy should drop out of college one year before graduation and put her life on hold to follow Michael around various ballparks as he covers the games for his job. She won’t even get a real honeymoon. It’s clearly a source of contention for the couple, and Michael blows up at her when she suggests he stay in Chicago and work for her father for six months or so. Kimmy wants stability and to finish school, but this seems to not even be up for discussion with Michael and Kimmy quickly and tearfully relents, admitting she was wrong. Jules uses this sore spot to her advantage, but you can see she doesn’t necessarily agree with Michael’s selfishness either. The matter is never really brought up again, but it definitely left me feeling a bit icky about the couple.
My Best Friend’s Wedding remains as magical and bittersweet in 2019 as it did when it was released in 1997. Julia Roberts is maybe the only actress who could play a character like Jules and still make us like her in the end. And while the restaurant singalong gets most of the attention from this movie, I still find Jules and Michael’s dance on the riverboat while he sings “The Way You Look Tonight” to be one of the most romantic scenes I’ve ever watched in a rom-com.