Full disclosure: part of the reason I wanted to write this piece was to give myself an excuse to watch The Wedding Planner again. Not that I need to – I’ve watched this movie so many times that I insert quotes from it into real-life conversations, the images of an immaculately coiffed and tucked-in Jennifer Lopez playing in my mind.
An early aughts romcom in its purest form, The Wedding Planner brings together the career-driven, talented wedding planner, Mary Fiore (played by J-Lo) and the vaguely southern pediatrician Steve “Eddie” Edison (played by master of square jaw, Matthew McConaughey). They meet when Fiore is almost run over by a vehicle on the hilly streets of San Francisco, at which point Edison saves her, and chemistry and delirium ensue. Only to find out that he is the groom in one of the weddings she is planning. Well, fuck.
But while most films of this genre and time have aged incredibly poorly, this one withstands the test of time – with some caveats.
Much of this film’s success rests entirely on J-Lo’s perfect shoulders. Her character is a true professional without falling into the cold and heartless trope that often burdens such female roles in this kind of movie, and she is one of the most clear-thinking people I’ve seen on screen.
She is also the wedding planner of my dreams. What I would have done to have this woman stand in front of me before I walked down the aisle with her canned but authentic “you are exquisite” speech, a tool belt of wedding emergency items under her blazer. And Mary knows her goddamn worth – as evidenced in the “I know that you know that you need me” line she so deftly deals when asking her boss for a promotion. But she is also a team player, uplifting her hapless co-worker Penny, played by Judy Greer (another triumph of casting) and empowering her along the way.
So few Mary Fiores exist in this era of romcom – characters who are multi-faceted, lovable and formidable at the same time – allowing us to bask in this movie without feeling like we must leave our morals and ethics aside. And when Steve tries to act nonchalant about their rendezvous in front of his fiancee, Mary takes him to task, accusing him of “looking for hot pepper” wherever he can (another layered piece of cultural commentary) and giving off clear and mixed signals while engaged to another woman. Not one to be made a fool of, Mary makes Steve do the work, and not even when she is rip-roaring drunk and vulnerable after seeing her ex-fiance does she falter, holding her boundaries and head high.
Perhaps the final reason I truly love this movie is Mary’s commitment to her family. She is caring to her sweet, widowed Italian immigrant father, Salvatore, and plays Scrabble with him and his elderly friends as an actually fun hobby, not a savior complex a la Sandra Bullock in Two Weeks Notice. When her father – and here I will admit that the movie really lets Italian Americans down with its bastardization of culture and dialogue – suggests she have an arranged marriage to childhood buddy Massimo, she doesn’t cut him off and walk away, but tries to understand where he is coming from. And he’s coming from a good place! Her parents, she finds out, had an arranged marriage themselves, and an incredibly loving and supportive one until her mother died.
I am not one to promote the idea of arranged marriage, coming from a culture where it is rampant myself, but to see Mary navigate these conversations, taking her family’s feelings and past into account is rare in an “American” movie, and I appreciate it. Not to mention, the role that all the parents play in this movie – including Steve’s in-laws, who are pushy and demanding about the wedding. This is a romcom that realizes that these two characters do not exist in a silo as the couples do in contemporaneous films like Never Been Kissed or Bride Wars. That they will not come together and choose to commit to each other without community around them and not just one token friend. My collectivist heart sings.
The Wedding Planner is an emotional and visual treat. It’s a love letter to San Francisco, and a movie where everyone retains some sort of power by the end. Even when Steve chooses Mary (sorry, spoiler), his fiancee Fran, feels liberated by his departure. Rarely do we come across this much winning in one movie, and there are few things I can think of that we need more right now.