Sunday, July 27, 2008

27 Dresses -- Saying No

"Always a bridesmaid, never a bride." So goes the popular saying, describing some of those unfortunate young women who walk the aisle-walk with a groomsman not a father. This sometimes happens a couple of times, but usually not many more. In 27 Dresses, Jane (Katherine Heigl) is setting Guiness World records, approaching 30 times as a bridesmaid.

At the start of the movie, Jane is a bridesmaid in two simultaneous weddings. Unbelievably, she dashes from one venue to the other, changing dresses and accessories in the cab en route, so as to be at each ceremony and celebration afterwards. What kind of girl is she? One who cannot say no to friends and colleagues.

Jane is a sweet 20-something living in New York, orchestrating the weddings of her friends, while waiting for her Mr. Right. And Mr. Right is George (Edward Burns), her boss, or so she thinks. As his personal assistant she organizes most aspects of his life. So close and yet so far. She is in love with him, but cannot let him know. Everyone in the office knows her predicament except George.

When Tess (Malin Akerman), Jane's younger sister comes into town, she falls for George seeing him across a crowded dance-floor. Cliched, yes. But as she deceives her way into his heart, this instant romance becomes imminent wedding when George proposes . . . and the wedding is in 3 weeks. Jane's life becomes complicated when she is asked to do her thing as orchestrator.

In the midst of all this, Kevin (James Marsden), the cynical wedding writer for the paper ("Love is patient, love is kind, love is slowly going out of your mind "), is intrigued by Jane, but this interest is not reciprocated. He met her when she was being the two-in-one-night bridesmaid, and later found her purse-organizer, her life in a book.

27 Dresses is a formulaic, shallow rom-com, but a fun and visually attractive one. Heigl, who's mostly been in fluff stuff like this, looks good and acts well. Marsden, who has played angry (Cyclops in the X-Men movies) and upbeat (Corny Collins in Hairspray, Prince Edward in Enchanted), plays cynic well here, and has fine rapport with Heigl. But Burns has little to do, and Akerman is obnoxious as the manipulating sister. She was obnoxious also in The Heartbreak Kid, one of the worst and unfunniest comedies of 2007. So she either acts well or is horrible -- I can't tell.

Very funny are the two foils to the two main characters. Judy Greer is Casey, Jane's best friend and work-mate, and Maulik Pancholy is Trent, Kevin's work-mate. Both are looking for easy sex. Both are encouraging their friend to use the situations (weddings) to grab a one-night-stand. Through them, the writer is offering the alternative to marriage: no-commitment selfish unrelationship.

27 Dresses plays up casual sex, one-night stands, love-at-first-sight romances. Yet, at its core it idolizes weddings. Though they may be big business in capitalist America, they still are the "most important day" in a girl's life, according to the screenwriter. That is, of course, if she stays married to her husband. While focusing on weddings, 27 Dresses barely touches on the marriage relationship to which the wedding is simply the prologue. It mentions it in passing, an oblique reference to Jane's parent's marriage. But marriage is work, though it is fun and beautiful. It is unromantic. Whereas weddings are colorful, romantic, symbolic.

Ignoring the obvious casual sex, the main ethical issues in 27 Dresses revolve around the intertwined topics of enabling others, pleasing people and not saying no. Jane is an enabler. She helps, but goes way beyond. She cleans up messes, fixes problems, meeting others' needs, and essentially makes herself invaluable. At one point, Kevin asks her about herself, if she has any needs of her own. Her response: "No. I'm Jesus." Flip, yes. Correct, no. Even Jesus had needs. He came as a real human, and real humans have needs, physical, social, emotional, spiritual. But Jane is denying her needs, putting others first.

Putting others first and helping them is laudatory, and has its place in a Christ-follower's life, if done with proper motivation. But it seems Jane is a people-pleaser, living for the applause she eventually gets in front of a crowd when they know how much she did for the bride. Paul contrasts pleasing men with pleasing God: "Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ" (Gal. 1:10). If we live to please men, we will not please God. What is our motivation?

Fundamentally, Jane did not know how to say no to others. When asked to do something, she would automatically respond with a yes. Even when she wanted to say no, such as to Tess when asked to be her wedding coordinator, she could not bring herself to do it. Kevin showed her this in a bar scene, when he makes her role-play saying no. Eventually, Jane's character learns to say no, but it takes a crisis and causes a crisis. Sometimes that is what is needed. The next time we are asked to do something and want to say no, think long and hard before saying yes.

Copyright ©2008, Martin Baggs

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