Cinema and the Single Girl
Weddings alternately make me cry and cringe. Generally they're wonderful, happy occasions, but there's always one moment I dread: The traditional tossing of the bride's bouquet. My status as the Single Guest somehow being apparent to everyone, I am always pushed up to the front. I resist; I try to hide. If possible, I recede to the back, willing the flowers to go to a woman more eager than I am to make a trip to the altar. So a scene in the film Picture Perfect -- in which Kate (a hip, young career woman played by Jennifer Aniston) finds herself amid a wedding reception crowd, the only single woman there (and dateless to boot) -- really spoke to me. "OK, just hand it to me," she tells the bride. Whether it's a reality check or merely coincidence, single women have replaced hookers as the role du jour this past summer. Consider: Julia Roberts in My Best Friend's Wedding, Jennifer Aniston in Picture Perfect and Mike Leigh's new movie, Career Girls. With $120 million racked up, My Best Friend's Wedding is the fourth highest-grossing movie this summer, and the highest-grossing non-action movie. However, I vowed early on not to subject myself to Roberts' much-touted "comeback" film. Another shallow comedy about manipulative women determined to drag men into the institution of marriage? No thanks. After all, where are the movies about happy single women? Films in which the characters are independent, and have interesting lives, friends and careers that don't revolve around dating or boyfriend tribulations? Sure, there are foreign movies and independents such as last year's excellent Walking and Talking, in which Catherine Keener's character tells her therapist, "Here I am, completely single, and I'm not so depressed about it." But when will Hollywood enter the '90s and realize that matrimony is no longer a woman's sole reason for living? Not surprisingly, when I started hearing that My Best Friend's Wedding was actually sort of, well, good -- maybe even a little subversive -- I had my doubts. A Julia Roberts movie? Subversive? This I had to see. The premise seems hackneyed: Two exes have made a deal that they'll tie the knot if neither is married by age 28 (god forbid!); he suddenly produces a sappy fiance and wants his "best friend" to come to their wedding. Our redheaded heroine Julianne (Roberts) then spends most of the movie trying to convince wooden Michael (Dermot Mulroney, in a role only slightly more interesting than Melrose Place's Billy) to leave Kimmy (Cameron Diaz) for her. But along the way, both her plan and the larger scheme of marriage are debunked. Sure it's subtle: the kids singing while on helium as Roberts and Mulroney try to have a serious conversation; the instantly classic Dionne Warwick sing-along led by Rupert Everett (Roberts' editor and friend who's gay) at a rehearsal meal; the dance scene at the film's conclusion. In best farce tradition, the absurd clashes with the conventional, and no one seems to notice. Of course, Michael and Kimmy's union seems doomed from the start, with or without Julianne's interference. Why root for a woman who drops out of college to marry a karaoke-loving traveling sportswriter, particularly when compared to Julianne -- a food critic in New York City, who wears designer pant suits and probably goes to amazing dinner parties with Rupert Everett? I had a similar reaction after seeing Picture Perfect, featuring Kate (Aniston) whose talent keeps getting overlooked at her ad agency job, despite all her brilliant ideas. Again, the character is a young, single woman with an enviable existence: funky apartment, a job with potential, stunning clothes, nothing but good hair days. She's got her shit together, and she's done it all by herself. Ironically, her lack of a boyfriend, fianc or husband is the excuse her boss gives her for not promoting her. (Never mind that in the real world, this is called discrimination.) He tells her she's too single and carefree; she doesn't seem tied to the company in the way children or a mortgage might ensure. Her friend/mentor (played by Illeana Douglas) concocts a fianc based on a Polaroid of Kate and a wedding videographer (played by Jay Mohr), and the movie takes off from there. In the end, however, Kate's honesty and hard work triumph. Sure, it would be nice if these movies' storylines didn't revolve around the characters' hopes that either getting married or pretending to will somehow make their lives perfect. But at least, they show signs of progressive thought in a cinematic landscape still overpopulated with Wives, Girlfriends and Prostitutes. All I know is that I'll take Rupert Everett or the New York apartment and Prada wardrobe over a button-downed fianc and bouquet any day.