Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Something Borrowed

By Pamela Zoslov

One of my favorite childhood pastimes was playing a board game called “Barbie, Queen of the Prom.” The object was to get to the prom first, with the prettiest dress and the handsomest date. We girls would roll the dice to win one of four boyfriends, the most desirable of whom was Ken, a perfect, chiseled WASP of a fellow, on whose arm we would presumably spark the envy of all the other girls. Honestly, readers, this game and its questionable values messed me up for years.

I was reminded of this while watching Something Borrowed, a romantic comedy in which two women compete for the love of a man named Dex, played by the impossibly good-looking Colin Egglesfield, late of Melrose Place and All My Children. Aside from being a nice guy who will lend a law school classmate his only pen, Dex’s chief virtue is his underwear-model handsomeness. He is also alarmingly passive, an object tossed about by two women and his parents, a helpless cork bobbing about in a sea of other people’s desires.

The movie is directed by Luke Greenfield and based on a best-selling novel by Emily Giffin, one of those lightweight, pink-covered books popularly classified as “chick lit.” It is clearly aimed at women who came of age in the ’80s, sprinkled as it is with references to such cultural talismans as Who’s The Boss and Growing Pains. The novel is narrated by Rachel, an associate at a New York law firm associate who is turning 30 and still single (gasp!). After her surprise birthday party, Rachel winds up drunkenly sleeping with her best friend’s fiancé, the aforementioned Dex, for whom she has harbored a secret crush since they were law school classmates. Like a girl playing the Barbie game, Rachel never believed she could win anyone as handsome as Dex, so she fixed him up with her prettier, flirtier best friend, Darcy. As it happens, Dex has been in love with Rachel for years. (In the Barbie game, Rachel would have ended up with the redheaded, freckle-faced nerd named Poindexter.)

The movie version of this story emphasizes its shallowest elements – the romance, the bridal gowns, the Chanel handbags, the shoes, the weekends in the Hamptons, the girls’ dance duet to Salt-N-Pepa’s “Push It,” and the drinking (lots of drinking). The book, though far from great literature, contains some insight about the problems of young urban professionals. Here is the book’s Rachel, lamenting her unrewarding job: “I work excruciating hours for a mean-spirited, anal-retentive partner, doing mostly tedious tasks, and that sort of hatred for what you do for a living begins to chip away at you.” Movie Rachel (Ginnifer Goodwin) disposes of this with a single line (“I hate my job”). Book Darcy has a glamorous PR job; movie Darcy (Kate Hudson) seems to do little but shop. (The movie’s conception of NYU law school is also a bit strange; a flashback to a law school class has Rachel and Dex’s torts professor discussing tortious interference, pronouncing it “tor-tee-ous,” as though lecturing on land-dwelling reptiles. Were I Rachel, I might look into Columbia.)

None of these details would matter if the movie were funnier, but Jennie Snyder’s wit-challenged screenplay leaves the capable cast, which also includes John Krasinski as Ethan, Rachel’s confidante and secret admirer and Steve Howey as Marcus, a goofy womanizer who pursues both Rachel and Darcy, reciting lines that are supposed to be amusing but aren’t. It doesn’t help that the leading characters are so lacking in charisma. Goodwin, something of a specialist in lovelorn single-girl roles (He’s Just Not That Into You), is mannered and annoying, and Hudson’s Darcy is a shallow, self-centered vulgarian, making it hard to fathom why Rachel loves her so much and why Dex ever wanted to marry her (and further, why his uptight millionaire parents are so fond of her). The romantic triangle, which troubles the waters during an entire summer of weekends in the Hamptons, is resolved in a way that is all too convenient, so no one needs to bother about the moral implications.

The success of a romantic comedy depends largely on good writing and likeable characters, whose fate the audience needs to care about. This entry falls short in both areas, with flaccid pacing that makes it seem even longer than its 110-minute running time. It is not without its virtues, including pretty people and New York settings to look at, glowing cinematography by Charles Minsky, and a pop soundtrack designed to appeal to young women whose tastes were formed in the ’80s. These are the women who presumably have read Giffin’s book and will try to drag reluctant boyfriends to the movie. A warning to those young gentlemen: a post-credits scene promises a sequel, probably based on Giffin’s Something Blue.

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