This week, guest writer Rachel Jones-Pittier gives us, so far, our most thorough breakdown of a decade-old film. Prepare for a dissection of mainstream rom-coms, bad accents, last decade’s fashion and a surprising number of jokes about sausages. It’s long, but it’s also fantastic. (That’s what she [some other woman] said…)

When I first saw The Wedding Planner, I was a high school sophomore living in Minnesota. For the re-watch, I’m a married 25-year-old living in Los Angeles. JLo is now a judge on a singing competition, and Matthew McConaughey is fervently making babies in Venice Beach. Clearly a lot has changed in the last 10 years.

To start this re-watch assignment, I first had to locate my copy of the movie on VHS; I found it in a box with other videos that had seemed like good purchases at the time (She’s All That, Serendipity, A Night at the Roxbury, etc).

Then I had to set up the only VHS player in my apartment — a 13-inch TV, which was cocooned in movers’ saran wrap from our recent move. I put in the tape, only to find I had to REWIND it. Good lord, do you remember having to REWIND stuff? And fixing the tracking?!

As it was rewinding my husband asked me, “Did you like this movie when it first came out? I mean, you had to, to buy it.” I said, “I guess so. I don’t remember,” while trying hard not to think back too hard, for fear of actually remembering what it was like to be a 15-year-old sap.

“You must’ve liked something about it,” he pressed. “It has ‘Wedding’ in the title,” I finally admitted. And that was pretty much the basis for my movie choices in the year 2001.

So, let’s get cracking. The movie opens with a young girl planning nuptials for her retro Barbies. It’s probably supposed to foreshadow how she goes into wedding planning and is able to give great pep talks to both plastic and human brides, but at age 25 this scene just makes me think of how preconditioned kids are to believe in certain gender roles and how marriage is put on a pedestal for young girls. (Thanks, liberal arts college!)

Next we see grown-up JLo giving a pep talk to a bride on her wedding day. The best thing about re-watching this movie is the fashion — wedding attire captures an era better than any other type of clothing. The bride has frosty pink eye shadow up to her eyebrows and a bouffant that perhaps was the impetus for Snooki.

As the film goes on we see how Jenny from the block (or Mary Fiore as she is called here) is an über-organized, high-strung wedding planner for high-end couples in San Francisco. She even uses an earpiece at events! And code words! But after the fancy parties and champagne, Mary goes home alone. She isn’t even a cat lady, that’s how lonely she is. She bravely eats dinner on her own while watching Antiques Roadshow. Later she vacuums her curtains.

Mary is a creature of habit, something that I can get on board with. I can’t tell in this re-watch if JLo is written as a character to be admired or pitied. She is smart and successful but is still painted like someone that we should feel bad for. But how can you pity clean window treatments?

In addition to doing single lady activities in her empty apartment, Mary enjoys playing Scrabble with her oddly accented father and his retirement home friends. I think they are supposed to be a likeable peanut gallery of sorts but they are never really explained.

Then we meet Massimo — a pre-Grey’s Anatomy Justin Chambers who also speaks like there are marbles in his mouth. Mary’s dad wants her to marry Massimo. This scene actually elicited a laugh from my husband, who was pretending not to listen while playing PlayStation. “Are JLo’s friends speaking Yiddish?” he said.

Mary goes after what she wants, including a partner title at her wedding planning company, headed by the under-utilized Kathy Najimy. They agree that Mary makes bank for the company and that if she can land the wedding of frozen sausage empire heiress Fran Donolly, Mary will be made a partner.

I should mention Mary’s assistant Penny is the also enjoyable Judy Greer. Why doesn’t she have her own show yet, 10 years later? Penny points out that Mary hasn’t had a date in two years, meaning she’s a spinster.

[Editor’s Note: Greer did have her own show — the funny but underseen 2008 midseason sitcom Miss Guided.]

Oh, here is JLo’s big action scene. An old Korean cab driver side-swipes a dumpster and sends it hurtling down one of San Francisco’s crazy steep streets at the same time one of Mary’s fab heels gets stuck in a sewer grate. (Unrelated, JLo’s trench coat in this scene doesn’t quite contain her breasts and is clearly pleather, but I like it anyway.) Because of her wonderful accessorizing, Matthew McConaughey springs into action and whisks Mary to safety just in time! He lands on top of her on the sidewalk, which in Western culture is a stranger’s way of saying, “do me.”

For some reason then Mary passes out and the always frat bro-y McConaughey has to take her to the hospital where he works. As a doctor. For children. Mostly sick ones. McConaughey plays Steve Edison, who is compassionate and caring (and wears a stethoscope). Mary and Steve engage in some witty bedside banter.

Remember Palm Pilots? Penny has one of those. She comes to meet Mary at the hospital and embarrasses her by inviting Steve to an outing at Golden Gate Park. Penny makes an excuse to leave the couple together alone where they enjoy concessions and an outdoor movie. More witty banter, and sharing of likes and dislikes.

This is of course a formula for the rom-com — the main characters must have some unusual-but-still-mainstream-enough-to-be-likeable quirks that endear us to them. For example, Mary is huge into Scrabble. Dr. Steve only eats brown M&Ms, because they have less artificial coloring.

It is at this point that Mary mentions her parents emigrated from Italy. “Italy?” my husband turns around to ask. “They couldn’t have re-written the script to have her be from Guatemala or Cuba?”  JLo does not look very Italian and her movie father does not sound even vaguely Italian. This reminds viewers that Hollywood thinks you’re dumb and don’t know the difference between Mediterranean, Latina and straight-up mumblers. I work with Italian clients and although they do often sound comical, they are nothing like this movie.

Mary Meat-a-balls and Dr. Steve slow dance at the park and she invites him to watch a Scrabble game in person. They lean in to kiss… and then it starts to rain! Damn La Niña.

The next day Mary is at another wedding where the crazy Greeks are smashing plates. Judy Greer freaks out but then Mary smashes a plate too because love has set her freeeee!!

After some dish violence, Mary goes to her dance class where she runs into Sausage Princess Fran and her fiancé… who is also Dr. Steve! Oh noes. Fran gets a call on her massive, no-reception 2001 cell phone, and the dance instructor (a goateed Fred Willard, likeable in anything) insists that everyone dance, so Mary and the naughty doctor must be partners. They have the spiciest dance-floor argument in ballroom history! JLo’s waist looks tiny. Her butt is still large. Steve tells her their Golden Gate Park date was friendly, but Mary knows better.

In the next scene we get to see some awesome ladies’ pantsuits. Mary tells Penny that her doctor date is also a groom, and she wants to give up the sausage wedding. Penny reminds her not to sacrifice her entire career over one dude, and that if Mary quits she won’t make partner. By the way, are there really partners at wedding planning companies (which are also conglomerates with large offices)? Or did they make that up to make Mary seem more important?

Now Mary Marinara must go on a wedding site visit with Lady Wieners and Dr. Steve. Somehow Massimo finds out where Mary is and surprises her, announcing that they are betrothed. Mary blushes. Steve gloats. Massimo and Steve go have “manly bonding” time which results in an exaggerated competitive treadmill scene.

Mary and Sausagelinks go horseback riding (an important part of any wedding preparations); Mary’s horse gets spooked and takes off, but Dr. Steve rescues her. Somehow this ends with Mary straddling him. See guys? They still want each other. This film’s true beauty is in its subtlety.

After the straddling, they get in a little tiff where Mary tells Steve his marriage is doomed. Steve admits he liked her at the M&M Fair, but he loves Fran. Meanwhile, despite his terrible rambling, Justin Chambers is growing on me; this also happened in my first viewing. He’s just so (intentionally) ridiculous.

Back at home, Mary wakes up to find her dad measuring her for her wedding dress. Padre not only has a terrible, cotton-mouthed accent, but he sounds like he’s had a voicebox transplant. He confesses to Mary that he and her late mother met in an arranged marriage, and gradually grew to love each other over many years. He wants her to do the same for Massimo. “Maybe you might love him later,” Babbo says. That is terrible, archaic advice, on my first viewing and still today.

Fran and Steve pick a wedding venue, and she leaves the planning to Mary while on a business trip. Mary Mostacolli and Steve go statue-shopping (since statues are integral to any wedding) and Crazy Steve knocks over a naked cherub. And wouldn’t you know it, his pecker falls off (the statue, not the doctor). I remember being surprised in my first viewing that they showed the whole marble penis sitting on the ground. Mary of course carries crazy glue, so they try to shellac the penis back onto its owner but Steve’s hand gets stuck just in time for the security guard to bust them. This was probably supposed to be a craaaazy hilarious scene, but it has always struck me as kind of crude.

Later, Mary goes to her dad’s house for a visit, where she finds Massimo. She scolds him for being a weirdo and he apologizes, then offers to make her American dinner — mac and cheese. “Already today I’ve eaten three boxes!” he proclaims gleefully. Then dinner gets pensive. “Did you ever like somebody but the timing was off?” she asks Massimo. “You long for him the way I long for you,” Massimo replies. Damn Justin Chambers, that’s a good one.

On another important wedding-planning excursion, Mary and Steve go to a flower market. They run into an acquaintance of Mary’s with his pregnant wife, but it turns out this man was Mary’s fiancé and she caught him making out with his high school sweetheart (now pregnant wife) on the eve of her rehearsal dinner. This leads Mary to go on a drinking binge, roll down a couple San Fran hills and require Doc’s help getting upstairs. JLo is an excellent drunk lady. I think this is the only iteration of JLo I could hang out with in real life.

Drunk Mary confesses her sadness to Steve as they roast marshmallows over a candle in her apartment, because playing with fire is what I always do when trying to sober up.

McConaughey is actually less annoying in this movie than he is in real life. However, after leaving Mary’s house, he returns to her front door and basically says, “This is crazy but I have the hots for you.” In this scene he looks like he got punched in the eye, so kudos to the makeup department. Mary, acting like a mature sane person, shoots him down and reminds him, by the by, I’m planning your wedding and know your fiancée.

The next day at her unreasonably large metropolitan wedding planning operation, Mary finds Fran all gloom and doom (complete with black leather gloves and big sunglasses). Fran is having second thoughts and points out all of Steve’s annoying habits. Professional Mary gives her a pep talk — the exact same one as the first bride in the movie! Mary, you brilliant liar.

In the next scene we see a framed photo of what I think is Mary’s late mother, but there is no way she’s Mary’s biological mom unless the milkman was from Puerto Rico. Anyway, we are at Mary’s father’s friend’s birthday party. Massimo is there and apparently doesn’t understand how American birthday parties work because he brings out a gift for Mary.

“The music means I should feel something during this scene,” my husband said, stopping his PlayStation.

Well, Massimo squats down on his little knee and proposes to Mary! Right there at Bert’s birthday party, stealing his thunder and shocking all the octogenarians in attendance. Mary communicates her answer in Scrabble letters. First she puts down “O” so we think she’s spelling “no,” but then she puts down a “K” — OK, Massimo! Let’s get a-wedded.

Cue the wedding prep montage of suit fittings, invitation addressing and Mary becoming a partner. Hooray everyone is happy!

Then cut to the event of the season, the marriage of Sausage McMuffin to the Pediatrician. Steve sneaks into the bride’s dressing room, where Fran is looking pensive in her big poofy dress and hair jewels. He invites her to go for a walk; meanwhile, Mary is handing over the reins of this wedding to Penny. Steve and Fran basically find out on this walk that they have nothing in common anymore (which could not have been determined prior to a million-dollar soiree). Then we see Mary putting on a big white dress and pulling a veil over her face — hey it’s a wedding dress! She’s getting married to Massimo at City Hall!

Steve says goodbye to Fran and her white poof and puts them in a cab, in time for Penny to tell him that Mary already left to get married. Run, Steve!

Back at City Hall… Padre protests to his daughter’s marriage, and his elderly friends (her only wedding guests) follow suit. Massimo looks puzzled; American weddings sure are strange. Mary asks for the wedding to go on, but then we cut to Steve’s cab… when he arrives at City Hall, he finds Massimo and his posse standing outside, and learns there was no wedding. For some reason Massimo immediately forgets he was about to marry this lady, and drives Steve to go find his sweet cannelloni.

Enter a gay joke about Steve and Massimo riding a motorbike with “Just Married” on the back, in San Francisco. Get it? The Bay is totes gay. Topical humor!

Steve finds Mary at Golden Gate Park watching old movies and eating brown M&Ms. Love means never having to eat Yellow No. 5.  Something that annoys me about Dr. Steve’s “quirk” is that, while chocolate is brown, the exterior M&M coloring comes from a candy coating, which is basically sugar and wax. So, good move, Doctor, you probably got testicular cancer from all those brown M&Ms, because the only way to make brown coating is to mix all the other food colorings together!

Anyway, Steve and Mary profess their love and finally make out in the park just like they always wanted. JLo looks like she gives big, wet open-mouth kisses but hey, that’s how they do it on the Italian block. And that’s the end! During the credits they seriously play “My Love Don’t Cost A Thing.” Good times.

I think when I originally saw this movie (then bought it, then saw it on TBS reruns at least once a year) I knew that it was pretty empty, predictable and trite — but that’s rom-coms! The parts that were funny back then, like Massimo eating mac and cheese, still make me chuckle today. And the parts that were stupid or poorly done (cough accents cough) are still eye-rollers. I’m sure that no one, from the studio heads to the pre-teen Cineplex concession workers, planned on this being a game-changing or award-winning movie. Although I can’t tell you how McConaughey still gets work today.

I’ve always had a soft spot for wedding movies (be they Singers, Planners, Crashers) because — as we saw in the first scene of this one — marriage is something that’s revered, especially by young girls. I realize the irony of bashing Hollywood wedding and relationship clichés while re-watching the movie with my new husband, but of course that’s the beauty of such an assignment — over the last ten years I grew up enough to realize that the movies aren’t realistic and a real marriage is much more rewarding than anything Hollywood could put on screen. Now I just feel bad for the poor schmuck who has to re-watch Gigli in two years…

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