The Good: Good acting, Decent writing
The Bad: Mundane plot, Unremarkable characters
The Basics: Katherine Heigl makes a coming out movie for mainstream audiences with Jenny's Wedding, which is a romance about twenty years behind its relevance.
Whenever a subculture's struggle and culture becomes pervasive-enough, mainstream media catches up with where the marginalized group has been . . . usually for years. Twenty years ago, when The Incredibly True Adventure Of Two Girls In Love (reviewed here!) was released, it was a pretty audacious art film that managed to open a wide section of American culture up to the everyday struggles of young lesbian women. The LGBT struggle for acceptance and civil rights recognition has come a long way in the past twenty years and as Jenny's Wedding hits theaters, it is almost passe. Hell, Friends - one of the most popular, most-watched television shows of the last twenty years, had a lesbian wedding episode nineteen years ago.
Does that mean the struggle does not still exist for lesbians and gays coming out to their families? No, but the struggle is hardly that momentous in much of the United States and in most of the developed world. Katherine Heigl and Alexis Bledel lead the cast of Jenny's Wedding in a mundane love story and coming out story that is about as interesting as watching any two middle class, heterosexual people turn a casual college romance into wedded bliss. These stories need a hook and Jenny's Wedding does not have one. Katherine Heigl and Alexis Bledel are incredibly safe casting choices for a lesbian couple and the sheer lack of complication in their characters' relationship makes Jenny's Wedding drag. Are we really at the point in our society's development where we truly need a film that implicitly states "they [LGBT folks] are just like us [the heterosexual majority]?" IFC Films seems to think so.
In advance of her parents' anniversary party, Jenny finds her family - especially her nosy sister - pressuring her to settle down and get into a relationship. After discussing it with her roommate and longtime girlfriend, Kitty, Jenny attempts to come out to her family at her parent's anniversary party. Her mother and father are shocked and ask Jenny to not tell the rest of the family and she begrudgingly agrees. Jenny's father, Eddie's, attitudes quickly change as he becomes troubled by how his firefighter co-workers refer to gays and lesbians. His wife, Rose, is much more shocked by Jenny's coming out and that complicates her interactions with her friends. In fact, that Rose asked Jenny to continue lying causes friction between Rose and Eddie.
As people find out, Jenny stands up for herself and Kitty and they begin planning the wedding in earnest. Despite an awkward public coming out at her old neighbor's funeral, Jenny sticks by her decision and prioritizes her love for Kitty over the discomfort of her parents. And her parents work to come around to accepting her.
Katherine Heigl is a good, safe, choice for Jenny and Jenny's Wedding does exactly what it sets out to do. It's a coming out and gay wedding movie. And for those who have never seen one of the hundreds (thousands, maybe?) of coming out movies in the past, this is a wonderful, safe entry for the masses into the genre. Personally, I still prefer The Incredibly True Adventure Of Two Girls In Love as it is far more complex as it includes issues of economics, interethnic relationships, and first-time/experienced individuals exploring a relationship.
The closest to genuine conflict that Jenny's Wedding has comes when Jenny's sister, Anne, sees Jenny and Kitty at Nordstrom's and freaks out. Anne's rant to Rose is interesting in that Anne is suddenly complex; she is less angry about Jenny being gay than how Rose having Jenny continue lying to her continues a long history of bad cycles in their relationship. As Jenny comes out more publicly and Rose works to accept who her daughter is (and has been), Jenny's Wedding becomes very mundane. And, for fans of the genre, there is the very predictable "person who already knew" character (this time in the form of Jenny's brother).
Jenny and Kitty are well-off enough that the wedding isn't going to financially ruin them or truly strain their relationship. Jenny and Kitty are in a longterm, monogamous relationship so neither has to break the heart of their beard to move ahead with their wedding. And in yet another, desperate attempt to create a film that makes everyone as comfortable as possible, Jenny and Kitty are looking to start a family of their own, which involves them having children (because, screw you, child-free people!). Seriously, Jenny is a good, Christian, girl who wants to have a normal family unit with her wife, so mainstream America, see how not-fringy these people are?! Jenny and Kitty are more stable and happy than Anne and Frankie, so it's not like heterosexuals are characterized as all happy and okay.
Outside a stifling lack of onscreen chemistry between Katherine Heigl and Alexis Bledel, what Jenny's Wedding has in spades is great acting. Tom Wilkinson is wonderful as Eddie and the scenes where he and Katherine Heigl play opposite one another are the performance high points of the movie. In fact, it has been easy for years to say that Katherine Heigl is overrated or typecast in works in which she appears: Jenny's Wedding proves she has talent. Heigl holds her own for screen presence with Wilkinson and that is no small task. When Heigl manages not to flinch under Wilkinson's quiet, but furiously-delivered lines at the funeral, it is hard not to sit up and notice her!
Jenny's Wedding has decent supporting performances by Sam McMurray, Grace Gummer, and Linda Emond. McMurray delivers the funniest line of the film as his character tries to reconcile Kitty's name being the same for both Jenny's fiance and the married man with whom she supposedly had an affair. Gummer shows more range than she was allowed during her tenure on The Newsroom (season three is reviewed here!) and Linda Emond does everything that That Type Of Character is supposed to do as Rose. Rose is the reticent mother whose love of her daughter will give her the opportunity to come around, despite all her inherent hurt and prejudices and Emond plays the part well-enough to be convincing.
But the performances are not enough to save Jenny's Wedding. The female sidekick (in this case Anne) comes up with the standard romantic comedy cliche epiphany that seems pretty ridiculous, the soundtrack is troublingly overbearing, there's the conflict montage and everything essential fits into the allotted ninety minutes (or 94, in this case). Jenny's Wedding isn't bad, but it's a movie virtually everyone has already seen.
For other films currently in theaters, please check out my reviews of:
Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation
Lila & Eve
No Way Jose
For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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