In "The Wedding Date," Dermot Mulroney plays an escort hired by an insecure New Yorker to squire her to her sister's wedding and act as if he's in love. Debra Messing plays the free-spending john, so it follows that Nick is no ordinary hooker— he's a hooker with a degree in comparative literature from Brown.
Had Chekhov written "The Wedding Date," an Ivy League semiotician introduced in the first act would have certainly deconstructed something in the third. (The movie's basic premise, perhaps?) But "The Wedding Date" was adapted by first-time screenwriter Dana Fox, and director Clare Kilner barely takes it past the 10-second pitch stage. ("She hires an escort to pretend to be her boyfriend, and they live happily ever after!") Nick's academic bona fides are not the only detail in "The Wedding Date" that turns out to be purely decorative. Even the central idea is beside the point. No sooner has the movie established that Nick dates women for money than it seems to recoil from the very idea, strewing wisdom, benevolence and accomplishments in his general direction as it slowly backs away.
Clearly, Nick is a sex worker of the highest caliber. He's a listener, a "healer," a ripped Dr. Phil with hair. He probably belongs to a union and enjoys full benefits. Obviously, he's never hesitated before a daunting row of forks in his life. For all anybody knows, he's licensed. So Kat, like the rest of her family — shallow mom Bunny (Holland Taylor), dear old dad Victor (Peter Egan) and emotional black hole of a half-sister Amy (Amy Adams) — is smitten at first sight. In fact, all who meet Nick seem to adopt him as counselor and sage. ("You're like the Yoda of escorts!" Kat gushes.) It's a shame he's too busy life-coaching Kat throughout the movie to get academic on her, though. Of all the throwaway details in "The Wedding Date," the idea that a lonely, insecure woman in her mid-30s would defund her 401(k) to pay a pro to pretend to love her seems like the one most in need of a deconstruction.
Once Kat's squirrelly ex-fiancé, Jeffrey (Jeremy Sheffield), has been duly threatened by Nick's charm and low body fat, and Kat's plan appears to have succeeded brilliantly, the absence of an actual plot really turns glaring. For instance, does Kat want to win Jeffrey back, or has she given herself over to the idea of dating an escort? When that becomes clear, it gets hard to discern what the obstacles to their happiness are, exactly — or why happiness is set up as the natural outcome of this scenario at all. Except that "The Wedding Date" is regulation rom com at its most limp and disheartening, and the heroine must get her guy in the end, even if it does require multiple withdrawals at the ATM. (Nick charges extra for sex.)
It's emblematic of the general confusion that rules "The Wedding Date" that the morning after Kat's big seduction, Nick discovers the money and takes offense at the fact that she intended to pay him, and at the fact that it's less than he normally makes.
What is the point of making the single girl's wedding date a prostitute — a potentially satirical, wickedly subversive premise — if he's going to be a prig about it? It would be one thing if "The Wedding Date" wanted to float the notion that you can buy me love, but it doesn't at all. What it really wants is to function as a heartwarming, wish-fulfilling fantasy for single girls forced to suffer the indignity of attending their younger sisters' weddings; the jaded girl's Jane Austen.
The more "The Wedding Date" elevates Nick to super-strumpet status, the more it makes Kat — who didn't exactly start out as a jaunty, self-sufficient Katharine Hepburn type — look like the woman with the lowest standards in all of Christendom.
Mulroney is no stranger to the slow-moving hunk role, and he's played it both straight (in "My Best Friend's Wedding") and for laughs (in "About Schmidt"). But here he seems as bewildered as the normally ebullient and physically gifted Messing, whose familiar screwball neurotic persona has been dialed down to just plain neurotic.
How does Kat feel about falling in love with a high-priced escort? What prompts Nick's lightning-bolt conversion to unpaid monogamy? What kind of work can a former comp lit major expect to find in the real world? These and other questions are left unanswered, as the movie doesn't even pretend to be governed by any internal logic. Even light entertainment has to entertain a worldview, and by contorting itself to avoid saying anything remotely real about its inherently dark subject matter, "The Wedding Date" winds up an oddly depressing, lost, little movie that eventually caves in on itself.
I never thought I'd hold "Pretty Woman" up as a standard, but "The Wedding Date" eagerly invites the comparison. And "Hot Dude" it's not.
'The Wedding Date'
MPAA rating: PG-13 for sexual content, including dialogue
Debra Messing...Kat Ellis
Dermot Mulroney...Nick Mercer
Universal Pictures and Gold Circle Films present a 26 Films production, in association with Visionview Ltd., released by Universal. Director Clare Kilner. Producers Nathalie Marciano, Michelle Chydzik Sowa, Jessica Bendinger, Paul Brooks. Executive producers Norm Waitt, Scott Niemeyer, Steve Robbins, Jim Reeve. Screenplay by Dana Fox, based on the book "Asking for Trouble" by Elizabeth Young. Director of photography Oliver Curtis. Editor Mary Finlay. Costume designer Louise Page. Music Blake Neely. Production designer Tom Burton. Art director Astrid Sieben. Set decorator Barbara Herman-Skelding. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.
In general release.