“27 Dresses” makes the bold decision to focus on a character who flatly refuses to speak up for herself or express her feelings. It’s possible to craft an engaging story around such an indecisive figure — “Hamlet” comes to mind — but it’s not easy, particularly in a light romantic comedy. Viewers want a protagonist to root for, to sympathize with, and to agree with. I find none of that in Jane.
Jane (played by Katherine Heigl) is a nice young woman whose inability to say no has resulted in her appearing as a bridesmaid in 27 weddings (and counting!). She’s the ultimate best girlfriend, clever at organizing, a whiz with last-minute preparations. She’s the one the brides thank during the reception for being such a rock during this hectic time. It’s her calling in life.
She works as the assistant to an outdoor-magazine publisher named George (Edward Burns), with whom she is silently in love. George sees Jane the same way her friends do, as an indispensable assistant, having no inkling that she has feelings for him.
This is not his fault. He’s not just an oblivious male. Jane simply cannot, will not, does not reveal how she feels. The film is ultimately the story of her growing a spine, but the process is slow and frustrating. I can buy that she doesn’t speak up initially. But what about when her selfish, shallow sister Tess (Malin Akerman) blows into town, starts dating George, and is soon engaged to him? How, in all of that, can Jane persist in not revealing her apparently very deep love for him?
In the meantime, Jane meets Kevin (James Marsden), a newspaper reporter who writes fluffy human-interest stories for the weddings section. This means attending about as many weddings as Jane does — apparently this paper covers ALL weddings, even socially insignificant ones — albeit with a much more skeptical attitude. Kevin thinks weddings are a silly waste of money; Jane thinks they’re romantic and beautiful. Kevin cheerfully keeps trying to date Jane; she resists because of his wedding cynicism, even though he’s pretty upbeat and fun otherwise. Kevin is assigned to cover the impending Tess-George wedding; for some reason this means he must hang around the couple and their friends and family 24 hours a day for like a month. (Yeesh, you’d think Tess was one of the Kennedys.) And so Kevin and Jane spend time together, and a romantic comedy is born.
Jane is played by Katherine Heigl, enjoying her newly minted “Knocked Up” comedic credibility and no doubt eager to prove she doesn’t need Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen to make her funny. But whoops! Apparently she does. “27 Dresses” is overflowing with forced whimsy, like the trying-too-hard-to-seem-natural interplay between Jane and her sister Tess. “Look, ha ha, they have shared inside jokes! They are like real sisters! Ha ha!” But Heigl’s lifeless and dour delivery eliminates every trace of believability. Her scenes with her best gal pal Casey (Judy Greer) would suffer the same fate were it not for Greer’s natural gift for making average dialogue funny. She alone seems to be putting forth some effort. Everyone else is sleepwalking.
Well, maybe not Marsden. He’s ever-smiling and enthusiastic as Kevin, like some kind of magical imp who’s pestering Jane into behaving like a human being. She definitely needs someone like him; I’m not sure what he sees in her, though. Maybe he wants a project, someone to fix? Is it only women who do that?
The film is utterly faithful to every requirement on the Romantic Comedy Checklist, and that’s an observation, not a complaint. You don’t have to do something new to be successful. But plodding through the tropes and cliches and plot points with so little imagination isn’t going to wow anyone, and “27 Dresses” — directed by Anne Fletcher (“Step Up”) and written by Aline Brosh McKenna (“The Devil Wears Prada”) — plays like it thinks it’s the first romantic comedy the audience has ever seen. The film is 80 minutes old; I guess it must be time for the central couple to break up when one party learns that the other has been dishonest about something. Oh, and here we are at the 90-minute mark. Time for a public reconciliation, then! Yawn.
D (1 hr., 47 min.; )