The script falters, ditto the pace, and there’s a gap in the area that the star of Ellen calls “man-woman sex.” But don’t bother fighting this sparkler of a romantic comedy. Julia Roberts glitters like gold dust, and she is ideally partnered with Rupert Everett, who gives a witty, wicked, bust-out performance, Just wait till you hear him lead a restaurant in a sing-along of the late-’60s Burt Bacharach anthem “I Say a Little Prayer.” Nothing erotic for this duo. Her character is straight; his isn’t. Here’s the summer-date-movie supreme for pretty women and the gay men they love.
Not a bad idea, and Aussie director P.J. Hogan (Muriel’s Wedding) makes a funny, touching job of it while he can. Regrettably, the movie has more-traditional business to pursue. Take the screwball plot cooked up by screenwriter Ronald Bass (Rain Man). Roberts plays Julianne (Jules, to her intimates), a feisty food critic out to prevent her best friend, Michael (Dermot Mulroney), a sportswriter, from marrying Kimmy (Cameron Diaz), a rich girl from Chicago, because — all of a sudden — Jules decides that she loves Michael herself.
With four days to stop the wedding, Jules recruits her gay British editor, George (Everett), to go to Chicago, posing as her fiance, to make Michael jealous. George is soon appalled by Jules’ deception. He sabotages her efforts by foregoing his usual understated elegance to shriek at the bride’s mother: “Love the dress! Love the shoes! Love everything!” George, a genuine friend, wants Jules to see the error of her jealous ways. “Do you really love him,” he asks Jules, “or is this about winning?”
Beats me. No one seems to have figured out how Jules and Michael feel about each other. The appealing Mulroney is stuck with the role of a cipher. You root more for his bride to be, since Diaz is irresistible. To embarrass Kimmy in front of Michael at a karaoke bar, Jules goads her into singing Dusty Springfield’s “I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself.” The off-key result is agony, but the scene is a beaut, thanks to Diaz’s sweet, brave exuberance.
Jules’ unexpected friendship with Kimmy lifts the film over long dull spots that involve incriminating e-mail and Jules’ need for a cigarette. You’ll say a little prayer for George to return and liven things up. He does at the end, in a poignant dance with Jules that brings out the dazzle in Everett and Roberts.
Some see Wedding as a comeback for Roberts. Actually, she hasn’t been away, merely engaged in films of failed ambition (Mary Reilly, Michael Collins) that didn’t please those who missed the flowing locks and milewide smile that made her a babe icon after 1990’s Pretty Woman. Hair and teeth are in ample evidence here, but she doesn’t strike poses. Nearing 30, she is riper, more dexterous with a comic line, slyer with modulation. Roberts puts her heart into this one. Audiences are likely to return the favor.