Sunday, May 18, 2008

Made of Honor: Nuptial follies

Made of Honor (2008) • View trailer for Made of Honor
3.5 stars (out of five). Rating: PG-13, for sexual content and profanity
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 5.8.08
Buy DVD: Made of Honor • Buy Blu-Ray: Made of Honor (+ BD Live) [Blu-ray]

For an insubstantial trifle, Made of Honor is reasonably entertaining.

Continuing the respectable jump to big-screen leading man that he established with Enchanted, Patrick Dempsey works his charm to impressive effect in this gender-reversing twist on My Best Friend's Wedding.
After badly missing his best gal pal while she's away on a lengthy business
trip, Tom (Patrick Dempsey, right) eagerly anticipates telling her that he'd like
to turn their long-standing friendship into something much deeper. Imagine
his chagrin, then, when Hannah (Michelle Monaghan) returns from Scotland
with both a ring and a fiancé (Kevin McKidd) in tow.

And that's no mean feat, considering the degree to which Dempsey's self-centered character could be considered unpalatable. I can't imagine why any woman would remain interested in a confirmed bachelor with more one-night stands than Baskin-Robbins has flavors — not to mention a series of asinine rules to keep these willing cuties in their place, such as no "back-to-back" date on consecutive nights — but, hey, that's Hollywood.

In stories like these, there's never any shortage of nubile, half-dressed lovelies willing to throw themselves at the leading man.

But OK, once we get past the fact that Dempsey's Tom is an unrepentant horndog, he's rather adorable. And yes, he's cute, and Dempsey certainly makes the most of the God-given good looks that help keep his star alive on TV's Grey's Anatomy.

Tom's less desirable qualities are kept in check by longtime gal pal Hannah (Michelle Monaghan, Mission: Impossible III and Gone Baby Gone), who refused to sleep with him at a crucial moment and, as a result, has remained his best friend ever since. Tom actually has the perfect life: He's rich — this film makes him the inventor of the "coffee cup jacket," which prevents people from burning their fingers — and sleeps around to his heart's content, and then spends actual quality time with Hannah.

All those one-night stands apparently satisfy only a physical itch; when it comes to actually bonding with a woman, Tom always turns to Hannah. He knows her desires, habits and idiosyncrasies inside-out, and she knows him just as well.

Obviously, they're meant for each other.

Just as obviously, Tom's never gonna do anything about it ... and we can tell, from Hannah's occasionally melancholy glance, that she wishes otherwise.

Business takes Hannah to Scotland for six weeks, during which Tom — never having been without her company for so long — misses her terribly. The penny having dropped, he decides to do something about it. But the opportunity seems to have passed, because when Hannah returns to New York, she's wearing an engagement ring and accompanied by a gallant and ruggedly handsome Scotsman named Colin (Kevin McKidd), who couldn't be more perfect if he'd been created by a Harlequin Romance novelist.

Having decided long ago that they'd stand up at each other's weddings, should such events ever come to pass, Hannah naturally insists that Tom fulfill this bargain by becoming her "maid of honor." Encouraged by his basketball buddies to take advantage of the proximity this position will afford, Tom accepts and tries to figure out how he can sabotage the wedding, so Hannah will realize that he's been the right one all along.

It's a standard-issue romantic comedy set-up, to be sure, but it's given additional sparkle by the two leads, a solid supporting cast and some genuinely funny sitcom-style set-ups.

Tom's willingness to take Hannah shopping for a china pattern is a great scene, for example, as is Tom's insistence that his macho friends help him prepare all the gift baskets for the pending wedding shower.

On the other hand, a few elements of the script — credited to Adam Sztykiel, Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont — ring false or simply wander away. The surprise "entertainment" at said wedding shower leads to an embarrassing joke involving Hannah's grandmother; the gag falls flat the first time and just gets more wincingly awful with repetition.

Two stray supporting characters are treated rather oddly, as well. Tom apparently has a secret admirer: the story's token "ugly gal" who posts embarrassing blogs and stalks him at public events. She appears only once and serves no purpose beyond humiliating the poor actress who gets this thankless role.

More bewildering is the ongoing appearance of Kevin Sussman, as "tiny shorts guy," a pathetic little nebbish who desperately wants to become part of the basketball-playing "cool gang" led by Tom. Poor Sussman keeps trying, and his repeated scenes lead us to believe that he'll somehow be involved with the story's climax ... and yet he finally vanishes in the third act, never to be seen again.

Fortunately, the rest of the supporting cast fares better, and makes the most of the amusing (if predictable) material. Made of Honor proves that familiarity need not breed contempt, if the players embrace their dialogue and actions with enthusiasm.

Busy Philipps is quite funny as Hannah's good friend Melissa, who always envisioned herself as the maid of honor, and therefore hates Tom with a passion (also because of a failed one-nighter long ago). Kathleen Quinlan brings considerable dignity to her role as Hannah's mother, and Sydney Pollack is reasonably amusing as Tom's father, a wealthy old coot who keeps marrying trashy young things despite the certain knowledge that divorce is right around the corner.

(It's easy to see where Tom got his tendency toward serial dating.)

The film also comes alive anew when the setting shifts to Scotland, where all concerned discover that Colin's family is quite honored and well-established. It's a gorgeous backdrop for the story's final act, and director Paul Weiland — a veteran of burlesque British TV comedy such as Blackadder and Mr. Bean — has the usual fun with kilts, thick Scottish accents and manly Scottish games.

Mostly, though, the film is driven by the sweet relationship between Tom and Hannah. Dempsey and the sparkling Monaghan work quite well together, and it's refreshing to see her rebound so well after the disastrous remake of The Heartbreak Kid.

Accepting Hannah's willingness to have hung around Tom so long may require a substantial leap of faith, but — having made that jump — they feel very natural as a couple.

And, speaking as one whose long-ago bachelor party was, indeed, arranged by a good female friend, I can vouch for many of the gender-bending chuckles exploited by this screenplay. Friendship, like love, is a truly fascinating critter, and Made of Honor is at its best when focused on the various ways that people do (and don't) get along with each other.

I rather doubt anything quite this contrived would happen in real life, but Dempsey and Monaghan make me believe it could.

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