Life. It's a word that describes pretty much everything. Certain movies have "life" in them, like Jonathan Demme's Rachel Getting Married. Somehow, some way, that movie managed to capture a feel of what it really feels like to live, what it feels like to attend a wedding, what it feels like to need and hurt and be lonely. Anne Hathaway was a big part of why that movie worked, playing an essentially selfish, needy character but doing so in a completely three-dimensional way; we understood where her flaws came from, rather than simply being presented with them. Now here is Ms. Hathaway again, in a new movie, Bride Wars, and she manages that life once again, but only in one scene, for one fleeting moment. The rest of the time, for 88 out of its 89 minutes, it's a movie totally devoid of life.

In that scene, Emma (Hathaway) runs into with her ex-BFF's brother, Nate (Bryan Greenberg) and reluctantly goes with him to help him try on his tux (and, of course, tie his bow tie). Her relationship with her fiancé is faltering, her plans are falling apart and she misses her feuding friend. Nate asks her how she's doing. She says "fine." He prods, and she breaks down, all of those emotions: excitement, grief, uncertainty, coming out at once. She re-composes herself and leaves the store. It's an example of a skilled actor overcoming weak, lazy material, which is something I've come to see more and more lately.


The plot has people-pleaser Emma and her pal, control freak Liv (Kate Hudson), growing up together, waiting through their empty lives until the moment that a man proposes to them so that they can live out their dream: a June wedding at the Plaza in Manhattan. They get their proposals at the same time, and sadly, due to an error, there's only one opening at the Plaza. So the friends begin to fight and play dirty tricks on one another to get each other to change dates. (What about a double wedding, you might ask, just as I did? Nope. For some reason it's out of the question, tossed out in a line of dialogue.) Moreover, each girl is forced to choose a backup Maid of Honor, since they were going to be each other's. Emma picks her obnoxious fellow teacher (Kristen Johnston), and Liv picks an ambiguously gay co-worker (Michael Arden). There are fiancés around from time to time, but I found it difficult to care about any of these bland pretty boys. (Neither does the movie; the boys are friends, but the movie doesn't show how their friendship is affected after the story's outcome.) Candice Bergen plays the ritzy wedding planner, and, just in case we found it difficult to follow the story, she narrates for us.

Director Gary Winick has a warm place in my heart for creating the low-budget digital filmmaking production company InDigEnt and making some good films there, but he's not much of a director himself; his other credits include the equally lazy, gutless films Tadpole (2002) and 13 Going on 30 (2004). In Bride Wars, he continually panders to the audience, explaining everything through dialogue and throwing in not one, not two, but three pop music montages to advance the plot. Montages can be useful in more skilled hands, but the ones used here annoy me because 1) they're not funny, and 2) they're designed mainly to pad the movie and sell soundtrack CDs. I guess I shouldn't even mention that films like this send womankind hurtling backwards at least 40 years with lines like "Your wedding day is the first day of your life. You were dead before now."

Part of that statement is true: the characters are dead. This was undoubtedly a movie that was sold by its pitch, and then the characters were shoehorned in afterward. I guess part of me hoped that, in their roles, Hudson would rise to Hathaway's level and save the picture, but I'm afraid that, for the most part, Hathaway has sunk to Hudson's. Two years ago, Eddie Murphy earned an Oscar nomination for Dreamgirls, but between the nominations and the awards, his people unwisely released Norbit to theaters, which probably robbed the voters of any goodwill toward him. I'm hoping for Anne Hathaway to receive her first nomination this year for Rachel Getting Married, but now that depends on voters not seeing this awful thing.