What's a "walker"? A walker is what Julia Roberts gets to wear around town with a devastating collection of Jeffrey Kurland outfits; a fashion accessory who'll jump on a jet at the drop of a tear and be there for you. Rupert, let me tell you, is top-of-the-range. Not only does he dispense Tia Maria and sympathy, he knows all the words - and can do the actions to - Bacharach and David's "I Say A Little Prayer". If that isn't enough, at a pinch Rupert will pretend to be your fiance as you scheme frantically to grab your old boyfriend back from the arms of his intended. Is it any wonder the producers had to add a further 15 minutes of Rupert to the film after preview audiences succumbed to his charm? Rupert is the life and soul of the party, the sister you never had, and suitable for all occasions. Who could this paragon possibly offend?
Well, there's those queens who'll dutifully intone "stereotype" and shriek "patronising", I suppose. And there's those independent modern women with many a gay male chum who loathe the label "fag hag" because it conjures up images of Murray Melvin and Rita Tushingham in A Taste of Honey: outcast girl and bent boy each poignantly recognising that the other is not merely a second-class citizen, but - pass the paper tissues - damaged goods. That's not them, any more than the frumpy Chloe in When The Cat's Away is. They don't require a tacky, faggy makeover from a roommate like the precious Michel, as if the meaning of a woman's existence was luring a man. It's too insulting. It's too old (picture) hat.
And if My Best Friend's Wedding traded in any of the above the understandably suspicious would be absolutely right. But My Best Friend's Wedding lives in the messy present, not the thoughtless past. Neither Rupert nor Julia are exactly presented as tragic examples of what patriarchal oppression can do (what pop culture can do is another matter we'll move onto later). On the contrary. She's a hot food writer and he's out and prideful as a peacock. Role models rather than victims. She's also, lest we forget, Julia Roberts. Who'd offer Julia tips on improving her appearance? No one in western civilisation.
At this juncture you might intelligently ask, well, just what is Rupert there for, if not to surreptitiously green light what the terminally touchy already dread. Namely, the lurking status quo - Julia's sudden panicky desire to get hitched and "complete" herself. What's Rupert's point?
It's certainly not to be the fairy godmother granting the wrong wishes. Rupert is more a fly in the ointment. Or cricket, actually; Jiminy Cricket, in fact. He jets in alright, but as the voice of conscience; to nag our heroine not to be a silly bitch over some straight bloke - even one as cute as Dermot Mulroney - and to impart the blunt truths even the tightest girlfriends presumably won't. Or possibly would, except Julia is curiously lacking in girlfriends. Rupert, however, is on hand to drum the movie's relevant message home: that Julia is, as he keeps kindly insisting, "Here to say goodbye."
And not merely to Mulroney. Also to the sort of scatty, underhand screwball behaviour that romantic comedies have traditionally equated with the authentically "feminine". See, strong as I pretend to be, I am flighty, I am foolish, not to mention a slave to the sort of lush Burt and Hal lyrics strategically poured across the soundtrack. "Wishin and Hopin" quivers over the opening credits, but it's a scam. The ballad's sentiments aren't so much the movie's motif as its chosen target. When Rupert bursts into "I Say A Little Prayer" - the highlight of the film - Julia believes he's doing it to embarrass her. Which he is. But it really is a little prayer; a plea to grasp how this exercise in camp over-kill pays the song's delirious all-or-nothing notions their swoony due whilst simultaneously taking the piss. Spoofing the song is spoofing Julia and her resurgent conditioning: a supportive way of reminding the pretty woman of those old, bad conditioned habits obsession has made her blind - and deaf - to: "As I run for the bus, dear, while riding I think of us, dear..."
Rupert empathises. Really. What the screenplay does shrewdly lift from previous depictions is gay male-straight female as natural alliance. For each party the foe and designated object of desire is men: "Those creatures", as the exasperated hero of the recent Alive and Kicking snapped, "who start wars and I have to sleep with." What's different - what's updated - is Rupert not endorsing "I Say A Little Prayer" but demolishing it, the nudge-nudge lesson being that his platonic ideal had better define herself outside the realm of emotions women - and gay men - have been too often herded into for lack of other routes, other options, other arenas. There's nothing romantic about that. Rupert is surely the right figure to tell Julia that marriage - ho hum - isn't for everyone. As he pithily says, taking Julia's hand for the last waltz, "There may not be a wedding, there may not be sex, but there will be dancing." So no: not faggy makeover or even political correctness, but very interior decoration. Just someone with vested interests popping in to help rearrange the psychic furniture... and maybe ask for a loan of that little black numbernReuse content