27 Dresses (12A)

Get me to the smirks on time
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The romantic comedy 27 Dresses, about a woman who's always been the bridesmaid, is a little like one of those weddings where the food is inedible, the wine is served in thimblefuls, the music is atrocious and the speeches are never-ending – but you still have quite a good time. That's because the principal players, Katherine Heigl and James Marsden, not only make the most of a mediocre script, but they also manage to project characters who are likeable, if not quite believable, human beings. These days, even that little can be enough to help you through a couple of hours.

Timed to catch the rash of spring weddings, it concerns the travails of Jane (Heigl), a Manhattan singleton who's played bridesmaid 27 times and still has the dresses to prove it. She's a paragon of selflessness whose secret crush on her boss (Edward Burns, miscast) is abruptly sabotaged when her spoilt younger sister, Tess (Malin Akerman), breezes in to town and sweeps the man off his feet. Weeks later, sis and boss announce their engagement, and poor old Jane will be required not only to do bridesmaid duty (again), but to organise the whole wedding.

Screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna, who made a fine job of turning The Devil Wears Prada into a thin-lipped bitchfest, has misjudged things here. That Heigl, gorgeous by any standard, should be anyone's doormat is stretching credulity; that she also tolerates a sister who's a bubble-headed monster of egomania snaps it altogether. Every time Akerman appears you wonder why someone hasn't already tried to throttle her – she's that horrible.

Watch the trailer for '27 dresses'

Fortunately, the prickly relationship that develops between Jane and Kevin (James Marsden), a journalist stuck in "the taffeta ghetto" of the wedding columns, has a spark and sexiness uncommon in the genre. Heigl is a fabulous comedienne, her fluid switches of expression being one of the joys of Knocked Up, and she handles the movie's slapstick with aplomb. Watching her warm up to Marsden's pleasantly cynical scribe proves more than tolerable, and her best friend (Judy Greer), sniping away on the sidelines, also gives the mood a lift.

Elsewhere, the film shows itself unafraid of cliché, including a bar scene when they start singing "Benny and The Jets", and the background clientele enthusiastically join in, and the reliance on wacky montage is regrettable. Those 27 weddings won't stand up to any investigation, either. Would Jane really know that many couples with such a fondness for "themed" nuptials, or such bad taste in executing them?

This clinches its two-star rating almost entirely on the strength of Heigl's comic chops, though I do wonder about her choice of roles. Having admitted that she thought Knocked Up a bit sexist, Heigl perhaps believed that a movie conceived by a female screenwriter and a female director (Anne Fletcher) would ring some changes. And what 27 Dresses says is this: a girl can only attain happiness and fulfilment by getting hitched. I'm not sure that message is a fist-clenching triumph for the feminist cause.