Bride Wars

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“Bride Wars” isn’t as bad as it looks, but how could it be? The film’s trailer, packed with scenes of Anne Hathaway and Kate Hudson as screeching brides-to-be sabotaging one another’s weddings, has been horrifying audiences for months. It’s the sort of thing you expect from Hudson, whose bad-to-good film ratio is shockingly high considering her popularity, but Hathaway? Has she no dignity?

As it turns out, the film itself features those unfunny shenanigans for only 30 minutes or so. The rest of the time, it’s trying to convince us that these vain, petty, insecure, treacherous she-devils are actually best friends — and, what’s more, that they’re likable characters who deserve our affection.

Well, they’re not, and they don’t. They’re awful people — and if the film had had the guts to just BE a movie about awful people doing awful things, it could have been funny. Such characters are at the center of many fine dark comedies. The problem is, female moviegoers, as a rule, aren’t big on dark comedies. They like sweetness and happy endings and tearful hugs. And since women are the only people liable to see a film about weddings, 20th Century Fox had to do some pandering.

Didja hear that, ladies? You’re being pandered to! Hollywood thinks you’ll watch anything as long as it involves weddings!

Hudson and Hathaway star as Liv and Emma, lifelong best friends who have always dreamed of having June weddings at New York’s Plaza Hotel. In fact, weddings in general and June-weddings-at-the-Plaza in particular are evidently the only subjects that interest them, or at least it’s the only thing the movie shows them discussing. Liv is an aggressive lawyer (one of many fatuous airheads who are aggressive lawyers, I’m sure) while Emma is a pushover middle-school teacher. They both happen to get engaged to their live-in boyfriends at the same time, and of course each will be the other’s maid of honor — but whoops! A mix-up with New York’s most sought-after wedding planner (Candice Bergen) has them both scheduled for the same day at the Plaza! And it’s the only June date available for the next hundred thousand years or something! And they can’t have a double wedding because, uh, because the movie said so!

Here is where a rational adult says, “Drat! One of them will have to be married at the Plaza in May or July instead, or perhaps stick with June but get married elsewhere.” It just so happens that the only rational adults in the movie are the women’s fiances, whose sane views are ignored or derided. (They quickly learn to stay out of it and let their fiancees kill each other.) Liv and Emma both feel that if they were to get married sometime other than June or someplace other than the Plaza, they might just as well spit in the minister’s face and take a dump on the best man.

But neither will budge from the wedding date. And so these lifelong best friends who love each other more than anything in the world have no option but to sabotage one another’s wedding preparations. It is not enough that neither will be able to attend the other’s nuptials because they’ll be occurring simultaneously. They must also make the other woman miserable. Because that is what best friends do.

One spreads a rumor that the other is pregnant. One secretly dyes the other’s hair blue; one ruins the other’s spray-on tanning session. One tries to trick the other into getting too fat for her Vera Wang dress. Through it all, amazingly, both women are appalled that the other would stoop so low. Emma goes so far as to say she doesn’t know why the marriage-preparation process isn’t as fun as she dreamed it would be. Maybe it’s because your best friend is now your sworn enemy and you’ve turned evil? Do you think?

You can see that there is potential for a farcical comedy of disasters here. Maybe that was the idea at some point. The screenplay was written in 2004 by Greg DePaul (“Saving Silverman”) and has been dusted off and rewritten by sketch comedians June Diane Raphael and Casey Wilson (the latter a recent “Saturday Night Live” addition), and directed by Gary Winick (“13 Going on 30”). In the process, the tone has gotten muddy, ranging from wacky farce to character-driven chick flick; extraneous characters like Liv’s brother (Bryan Greenberg) have been given nothing useful to do; and no one ever found a way to resolve the plot believably or satisfyingly.

I said it’s not as bad as it looks, though, didn’t I? It isn’t. Instead of being claw-your-eyes-out bad, it’s merely run-of-the-mill bad. Liv’s devoted assistant Kevin (Michael Arden) and Emma’s cruel coworker Deb (Kristen Johnston) made me laugh a few times with throwaway deadpan one-liners, and the film’s first half-hour — before it goes off the rails with the wedding idiocy — is tolerable if only because Hudson and Hathaway are genial good sports. It’s all an irredeemable mess in the end, though, make no mistake. Hathaway should be embarrassed, and Hudson should ask Hathaway what it’s like to still be capable of feeling embarrassment.

D+ (1 hr., 29 min.; PG, a little mild profanity, some mild vulgarity and naughty dancing at a bachelorette party.)

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