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"Picture Perfect" shows where "My Best Friend's Wedding" might have ended up. It also underlines, a little depressingly, just how badly Hollywood needs some new ingredients in its tried-and-true formula for romantic comedies.
"Friends" darling Jennifer Aniston plays Kate Mosley, a bright and talented advertising exec who can't seem to get the promotion she deserves or the man she wants. The reason for both of these frustrations is one and the same, and seemingly beyond her powers of control: her boss won't promote her unless she's tied down, financially and maritally, for fear she might abandon ship. And the man of her choice, fellow advertiser Sam (Kevin Bacon), only goes for forbidden fruit--women who are already spoken for.
Both difficulties seem to disappear when her friend Darcy (Illeana Douglas) hits on the solution of inventing a fiance for her from a photo of some guy (Jay Mohr) she met from a friend's wedding. Kate promptly lands her man and the promotion--until her "fiance" unexpectedly gains local celebrity for saving a child's life, such that Kate's boss wants to see him at the next meeting with the colleagues. Kate succeeds in contacting the man in the picture, Nick, and persuades him to pose as her betrothed. Smitten Nick's a little too happy to oblige, especially since Kate had planned an official "breakup" during the dinner to finish her plan.
"Picture Perfect," unlike "My Best Friend's Wedding," plays by the rules of conventional romantic comedy--giving it a generic, by-the-numbers feel. Kate's soul-searching and self-discovery are formulaic, and Aniston's too lightweight an actor for anything more. Kate superficially faces the same sort of work vs. love conflict as Michelle Pfeiffer's character in "One Fine Day." But here the conflict just doesn't seem particularly important or convincing; and her parallel moment of epiphany and instant morality again feels scripted. (Pfeiffer, of course, had the enormous help of an especially cute kid peering through the window.)
Aniston makes the transition to big screen smoothly enough by doing the same stuff that's made her so popular with TV audiences: the Rachel mannerisms, the Rachel smile and above all, the Rachel cluelessness about affairs of the heart. Combined with the slightness of the plot, the whole movie plays like an extended episode of "Friends," minus the other five characters.
The two men, unfortunately, never break out of their papier-mache molds. One wishes that Mohr, a former stand-up comedian who played Tom Cruise's slick-talking, backstabbing nemesis in "Jerry Maguire," could have lent a little more comic verve to his appealing but bland Mr. Nice Guy. Bacon merely drifts in and out as the perverse Mr. Wrong in one of his most forgettable roles. If anything, the movie could have used more of the potential spice of the two supporting females: there isn't nearly enough of Illeana Douglas or Olympia Dukakis as Kate's anxious, marriage-obsessed mother (a figure right out of the comic-strip "Cathy," but Dukakis could have added some much-needed edge).
Advertising is in fact an appropriate metaphor for the film overall: trying to package the story for general tastes, it hardly concerns itself with what's actually inside. Perhaps the most interesting element of Kate's life, as the camera captures it, is her enviably well-stocked wardrobe, which expands into a seemingly endless array of power suits and cocktail dresses. All part of the packaging--too bad there's so little underneath.
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