Consider a Quickie Divorce
The Wedding Date is the romantic comedy equivalent of Closer, Mike Nichols's acerbic relationship drama that opened this past December. Except Closer is funnier, more romantic and altogether better. What they have in common, aside from being set in London, is a retinue of repellent, even despicable characters hailing from England and America.
Following this botched ceremony, anyone fond of Debra Messing and Dermot Mulroney will be left standing at the altar in tears. She plays Kat, a neurotic New Yorker who hires a gigolo called Nick (Mulroney) to cross the Atlantic and pose as her lover at her sister's nuptials. Kat's ex fiancé, who dumped her without explanation just before they were to tie the knot, is Best Man. Everyone knows a boy toy on your arm is the best revenge.
Director Clare Kilner is really the one who deserves to be jilted, on the grounds she can't put together a coherent narrative or settle on a tone. The film lurches forward without bothering to be funny or convincing. There's no joy or inventiveness in how the cynical obstacles to romance are overcome.
Kat and Nick aren't bad people, unless you think prostitutes and those who patronize them (only to fall in love) are bad by definition. But they're tainted by loathsome supporting characters -- gits, lushes, sluts, backstabbers, cheaters, and blabbermouths. These people, all in the wedding party, are supposed to be eccentric. Their ickiness rubs off.
Not that Messing and Mulroney are blameless. They deliver far from perfect performances. He wears a single bemused scowl, while the "Will & Grace" comedienne mugs and titters. Yet even when she's behaving immaturely or irrationally, you root for her on screen. Same with Mulroney. Part of his appeal is that he doesn't over-emote. And because they aren't given a chance to fuse, it's not a question of chemistry. The part where they fall in love ended up on the cutting room floor, as the saying went before film editing was totally computerized.
Nor do you have to be a prude to be turned off. A similar premise charmed with Julia Roberts and Richard Gere in Pretty Woman, the difference being she was the working girl and he was the client. So maybe sexism has something to do with a negative response, since The Wedding Date has the woman in the position of doing the whoring? Maybe.
But don't think there's a feminist message. Just the opposite. Kat calls Nick the "Yoda of escorts" (the movie's best line) and he's like a handsome fortune cookie for hire -- a New Age gigolo with a healing touch. He spouts platitudes about giving clients what they want and gives voice to an offensive and patronizing theory gleaned from his professional experience: "Every woman has the love life she wants." Does this hold for men as well? Treating viewer's to an extended shot of his rear, and not Messing's, also seems discriminatory.
With no warning, Kat and Nick have sex in a sailboat parked in her mother (Holland Taylor) and stepfather's driveway. Upon learning she withdrew a wad of cash from the ATM to pay him, he's devastated, which is an obvious signal in case we didn't already know that he's the man for her. Later when he refunds his fee of $6,000, his credentials as a noble stud are beyond question.
Dana Fox got paid a lot more for the screenplay, based on a book, Asking for Trouble, by Elizabeth Young. And while culpable, director Kilner -- whose credits include an award-winning documentary on Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and the Mandy Moore vehicle How To Deal -- makes mincemeat of whatever shooting script Fox delivered. "Love Doesn't Come Cheap" is one of the movie's publicity lines. The end product begs to differ.
(Released by Universal Pictures and Gold Circle Films; rated "PG-13" for sexual content including dialogue.)