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Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2008 12:45 pm

Love and marriage

Heigl and Marsden chemically react in 27 Dresses

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27 Dresses Running time 1:55 Rated PG-13 ShowPlace West, ShowPlace East
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27 Dresses Running time 1:55 Rated PG-13 ShowPlace West, ShowPlace East

Like a horse that stumbles badly out of the gate, rights itself, and unexpectedly wins the race, Anne Fletcher’s 27 Dresses recovers from a clumsy first act to deliver a surprisingly entertaining romantic comedy. As is the case with most movies of this sort, the success or failure of such a venture relies on the chemistry of the couple in question, and Fletcher is fortunate to have Katherine Heigl and James Marsden in her corner. Generating sparks during their initial antagonistic meetings, then flames once they succumb to their attraction, this duo is so good together that they make us overlook the film’s conventional plot and numerous holes. They have us rooting for their characters to get together, even though we know all along that they will. The film begins poorly with an implausible and awkwardly rendered sequence that finds Jane (Heigl) running across Manhattan to be a bridesmaid in two simultaneous weddings. This is our first indication that this amiable young lady can’t say no to anyone and that she’s living vicariously through other brides because she has yet to find her own Mr. Right. She thinks he might be George (Edward Burns), her dreamy, environmentally conscious boss, who runs his own corporation. Unfortunately, he sees her as his Girl Friday and nothing more, and adding insult to injury, he falls head over heels for Jane’s younger sister Tess (Malin Akerman), who just happens to be visiting. Making things worse, Jane is being hounded by Kevin (James Marsden), who met her during the night of the dual weddings, found her personal planner in the cab they shared, and, noting that her summer is filled with one matrimonial event after another, decided to pop up at these occasions and observe her. What Jane doesn’t know is that he’s a writer for a major newspaper and is stuck in the Commitments department, which covers the poshest weddings of the season, and wants to write an article on her wedding addiction. Obviously the script, by Aline Brosh McKenna (The Devil Wears Prada), is more than a little top-heavy in its first act, and that accounts for a good deal of the film’s initial awkwardness. Throw in the fact that Kevin writes under a pseudonym and that Jane happens to love his columns but doesn’t realize that they’re written by the guy she loathes, and the movie comes off as being constructed on a collection of manipulative and insulting plot points — that is, until Jane and Kevin have their first honest conversation, over a drink. From that moment on the movie assumes a charming tone and builds on it as Fletcher and McKenna are able to put the screwball-comedy conventions behind them and concentrate on the characters, who wind up being more complex, vulnerable, and sympathetic than first impressions would lead us to believe. Heigl puts aside her more irritating Grey’s Anatomy mannerisms here and seems to revel Jane’s insecurities and her romantic hopes and dreams. Initially the character comes off as a pushover and a deluded romantic to boot, but the actress is able to convince us of the character’s inner strength and, more important, that she’s grown over the course of the film into a confident young woman who’s ready for a healthy adult relationship. Given the opportunity to step out of the shadows, Marsden takes full advantage and nearly steals the film. Playing second banana in X-Men, The Notebook, and Superman Returns, the actor has shown in Enchanted and here that he’s more than capable of carrying a film alone. Charming and full of humor, Marsden’s able to convince us that beneath Kevin’s cynical demeanor lies the heart of a romantic; he’s also able to portray a young man who slowly realizes that he’s falling in love despite his cautiousness. Although it would be a mistake to mention 27 Dresses in the same breath as When Harry Met Sally or other classics of the genre, the film proves a passable piece of light entertainment and a nice showcase for two amiable performances. With any luck some wise producer is paying attention and will reunite Heigl and Marsden onscreen. A return engagement would get a prompt R.S.V.P. from me.
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