Always The Bridesmaid

JULIANNE (JULIA Roberts), a food critic, and Michael (Dermot Mulroney), a sports-writer, are former lovers, current best friends and about to turn 28. Once they made a vow that if neither had fallen in love by 28, they would marry each other. Now Michael has lost his heart to someone else--and when he tells Julianne the news, just four days before the wedding, she is suddenly convinced she's been in love with Michael all along. Obsessed with derailing the nuptials, Julianne speeds to Chicago, determined to change roles from bridesmaid to bride.

If the delightful and surprising romantic comedy My Best Friend's Wedding played by the usual rules, the woman our heroine is trying to sabotage-the rich and beautiful Kimmy (Cameron Diaz) -- would be played as either a prig or a goody-two-shoes. But as written by Ronald Bass and directed by P. J. Hogan ("Muriel's Wedding"), Kimmy is more than a creditable competitor, and Julianne's motives are riddled with neurotic and ambiguous undertones. Because Julianne is Julia, back in glorious comic form, we are inclined to root for her, but "Wedding" is daring enough to employ the Uncertainty Principle. Should we be rooting forher? The movie keeps you wondering. As her other best friend (Rupert Everett) asks her: do you really love him- or is it just about winning?

A romantic comedy for an era of diminished expectations, "Wedding" is at its funniest when Everett arrives onthe scene and the duplicitous Julianne pretends that her gay friend is her fiance, successfully arousing Michael's jealousy. Indeed, the chemistry between Roberts and Everett--who's never been so charming or hilarious--far surpasses any charge between her and Mulroney, whose function is more decorative than substantial. Here, it is the friendship between a straight woman and a gay man that has the nuances and depths of a good marriage. At a time when the Hollywood romantic comedy feels like an endangered species (try sitting through" 'Til There Was You"), the buoyant, bittersweet "Wedding" puts new fizz in an old form.