Written and Directed: Mary Agnes Donoghue
There are almost no words to describe what a missed opportunity this was, but I’m going to find some anyway. Let me be very clear on this – both Katherine Heigl and Alexis Bledel can act. I’ve seen seven seasons of Gilmore Girls that tell me that Bledel has terrific comic timing and melodramatic chops. As for Heigl, much of her Grey’s Anatomy work was outstanding, and 27 Dresses showed what she could do with a decent script behind her.
These two women had no chemistry onscreen. None. Zip. Moreover, Alexis Bledel’s six or so lines could have been uttered by a talking tree and been more resonant. They scored Tom Wilkinson to play the father who is messed up about his daughter coming out, and he’s morose and awful. For heaven’s sake, they even managed to screw up a performance of a Meryl Streep descendent, though I rather enjoyed the last 20 minutes of Grace Gummer running around muttering “Happy people don’t have dead grass” over and over, probably more than anything else in the film.
Jenny’s Wedding traces the journey of Heigl’s character, Jenny, as she attempts to break it to her parents and siblings that not only is she gay, she wants to marry Kitty (Alexis Bledel – or the talking tree – I’m not sure which) and start a family. At first we see the compulsory happy family idyllic house with parents and three perfect kids. Then Jenny unleashes her bombshell, and the family begins to fall apart, taking the neighbourhood and their overly-chatty small town with them.
The script is just not very good, and the film-making is even worse. With all this potential firepower behind her, Mary Agnes Donoghue seriously should have accidentally created a better film. While I applaud all her good intentions, with the misguided earnestness of the main character, the sixties-esque attitudes of the parents, the zany disapproving townfolk, this is an absolute archaic mess. 1990 called, and it wants its film back.
As for the characters we are supposed to be cheering for, Jenny and Kitty share one semi-believeable scene, where they are walking around Nordstrom’s looking at wedding dresses and are spotted happily kissing by Jenny’s sister. This scene had a rare moment of spontaneity that was sadly missing from the well-meaning but wooden remainder of the film. The two characters like to spend their time on the opposite sides of the room to each other, and when they do share brief moments of intimacy, these are hurried and embarrassed.
Yes, I cried in the end at the pivotal reconciliation moment between Jenny and her father, but these were cheap emotional heartstrings being pulled, rather like tearing up at a cute puppy on a dog food commercial. It felt transient and unreal, and I felt cheated for investing time and effort into getting to know these characters at all.
We are even cheated of the titular wedding itself – surely if you’ve spent 90 minutes building up to a big event, both parties in the wedding should be permitted to speak? There should be declarations! Kisses! Big speeches! Instead we get a quick walk down the aisle and 30 seconds of Jenny muttering some perfunctory speech that doesn’t come across as either heartfelt or romantic, while Kitty looks on rather like a shocked deer dressed in white caught in headlights and allowed to say nothing at all.
If I sound annoyed it’s because, irrationally, I am. The writer of this film wrote Beaches, one of my favourite films of all time! This could have been so great. It could have been a deep exploration of the family dynamics playing out all over the world now that the real implications of marriage equality are seeping out into our society.
Yes, some families will react in shock to the news, and it's worthwhile showing with some empathy towards how they deal with this kind of upheaval. It’s an important subject, something many of us are grappling with in our own lives. It deserved better treatment, and it should have either been funny, or more serious. Pick one, instead of doing both badly.
This was Jenny’s Wedding, but even in a film that focuses on a single person, you can’t make the rest of the world around her a cardboard cutout of humanity. Even the single-minded conservatives of the world that this film is evidently pitched at will see through this poor exercise in preaching for tolerance.