Background: Romantic comedies are a guilty pleasure for many people, perhaps best considered a form of escapism on par with any of the latest science fiction releases or supernatural thrillers you will find churned out by Hollywood. You know the drill, a couple destined for one another go through a variety of trials and tribulations only to wind up together against all odds, riding off into the sunset to live a perfect life together. Reality tells us that relationships involve a whole lot of give & take, amounting to a need for the kind of work ethic most of the world doesn't show in their professional lives, and they are not subject to whimsical desires of the universe. The fantasy that "everything will work out" and "love conquers all obstacles" makes for great sophomoric poetry but it generally results in a level of expectations that few of us can live up to, making the life of realists all that tougher when paired with a starry eyed partner. Catering to the fantasy obsessed masses, romantic comedies, much like romance novels, project an unobtainable level of bliss that so many seek out that they are almost always guaranteed to turn a profit for studios, just so long as the leads are good looking enough and a happy ending is to be had. The standard formula for these flicks is the basis for a movie coming out on bluray in coming weeks, a title by the name of Maid of Honor.
Tom and Hannah (all pictures courtesy of Amazon.com)
Movie: Maid of Honor stars Patrick Dempsey as Tom Bailey, a sleaze ball guy that beds women using a set of restrictive rules he established back in college during 1998. Moving from women like a fickle child searching for his candy bar choice of the day, Tom has what amounts to the perfect life, bedding all sorts of attractive ladies but getting to spend most of his quality time with his best buddy Hannah (Michelle Monaghan). They met in college where she was a bookworm roommate of a promiscuous hotty (Busy Philipps as Melissa), a misunderstanding where he jumped into bed with her on a Halloween night resulting in them forming ties that grew with time. Hannah, on the other hand, has been busy with her career as a buyer for an art museum and seemingly formed a sort of codependent bond with Tom, getting all she really needed in her two dimensional life out of him except for the sex since they have never paired off that way. They are so clearly a couple in all other senses of the word that their parents recognize them as such and on surface value, they are all but married despite Tom's grabbing numbers from flirtatious ladies they run across with impunity.
Tom and Hannah
Their routine is disturbed one day when Hannah goes off to Scotland on a professional buying trip, ending up engaged to a wealthy noble that came to her rescue when she was stranded on the moors. Tall, dashing, charming and rich, Colin McMurray (Kevin McKidd) is everything any woman could hope for having won medals for bravery, athletics, and is still a nice guy to boot. She brings him back to meet her friends and family, making Tom's life a living hell as he realizes that he truly loves her despite the manner in which he has taken advantage of her for so many years. Both are seen to scoff at the notion of their deeper relationship and Tom's biggest claim to fame (and source of wealth) is having invented the coffee cup holder which finances his lavish lifestyle more than his meager attempts at working with Hannah at the museum. His father, Thomas Sr. (Sydney Pollack in his last role), is on his 6th wife Christie (Kelly Clarkson), a gold digging wench if ever one existed with her prenuptial agreement amounting to a contract for prostitution, and it is clear that the fruit doesn't fall far from the tree. Dad does spout off some relationship wisdom to the lad and supported by his pals, Tom accepts Hannah's offer for him to be her maid of honor (as much to piss off Melissa as anything) in order to sabotage the wedding from within.
Tom meets Colin and gets the bad news
Tom tends his duties in the roll as fervently as possible in an attempt to be the best "MO" that ever lived, meeting with Hannah and her priest to go over such mundane things as wedding vows, picking out china patterns, and even throwing a lavish party at his penthouse suite, with semi-predictable results. See, Tom is also a jerk when it comes to fluffing off responsibility for his own choices and blaming the hateful Melissa after things go wrong just accelerates the spiral he is in. The movie then moves to beautiful Scotland to show Tom competing against Colin in some highland games, faring well compared to their spirited basketball antics in the states but hardly a match for the perfect man. Just before the wedding Tom catches Hannah in the midst of a wedding ritual allowing anyone to kiss the bride to be, resulting in them coming to the realization that others had already had about how they were supposed to be together. Weepy confrontations ensue and Tom departs only to decide once more to fight for her on the wedding day, resulting in a mad dash to stop her at the altar where the predictable comedy continues to impart an unlikely ending.
Tom goes to great lengths to win Hannah back
Okay, I know that the ladies are supposed to look at Tom and swoon, forgetting his whole life and nailing broads while treating them like shit. They are also supposed to dismiss Hannah's supposed intelligence being willing to overlook all of Tom's many character traits and believe she isn't a gold digger (just like Christie though not as obvious) when she jets off to marry wealthy Colin. Further, while actress Monaghan is marginally able to pull off the age of her character, Dempsey looked too old to fit the opening portion of the role (he's ~10 years older than her) and that limited the chemistry so important to such a movie. I appreciated that Monaghan looked very much like an older version of hotty Stoya (a performance artist highly praised in the adult industry these days) but little was done to make her realistic as the movie revolved around Tom's desire to win her back. The otherwise capable performances were cookie cutter from start to finish and all of this has been done, and done better, before in numerous movies, most notably My Best Friend's Wedding (with nods to Four Weddings and a Funeral, The Heartbreak Kid, Meet the Parents, How To Marry a Millionaire, One More Chance and about a million others). If you like this kind of lightweight fluff piece, you will love the movie but the rest of the world should consider it to be a Rent It at best.
Picture: Maid of Honor was presented with a 1080p widescreen color image as shot by director Paul Weiland for this AVC encoded release in the original aspect ratio of 2.40:1. The video bitrate seemed to hover around the 25 Mbps mark whenever I paid any attention to it but this widely varied with the material (ranging from the teens to the 30's) and never seemed to be an issue with regard to the presentation. The images were crisp and clear, with all sorts of detail present thanks to the upgraded resolution. The blacks were deep and I saw no compression artifacts or moiré, the minimal amount of edge enhancement hardly worth mentioning. In terms of the content of the shots, a lot of sweeping views of the Scottish landscape, Central Park, and the view from the penthouse were added in alongside the more intimate settings of Hannah's bedroom, the pub, and dorm, all with the relationship dynamic in mind (the commentary proudly pointed these out). In terms of fleshtones, colors, and depth, the movie really did look appealing even if the content was suspect.
Sound: The audio was presented with numerous choices including 5.1 TrueHD in English, French, and Portuguese, or 5.1 Surround in Thai and Spanish, each with optional subtitles in English (both regular and SDH), French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese (simplified or traditional), Thai, Korean, Hindi, and Indonesian. For this review, I focused on the English track and while it was not up to par with the visual presentation, it was a decent offering sonically. The front speakers, particularly the center speaker, provided the majority of the aural experience, with pleasing separation and dynamic range. The audio bitrate was variable but seemed to be around 3 Mbps most of the time I paid any attention to it, the standardized 48 kHz sampling rate expected. The vocals were the most important thing here but the soundtrack had ample opportunity to use popular songs in support of the thematic material if you pay any attention to them (some not so subtle by the way) and only the overly loud early wedding party showing any distortion. The surrounds were deployed in limited fashion here as they gave some ambient background at times but rarely enough to register with me other than during the Scottish games or the ending "chase" scene but this is hardly the kind of movie that needs extensive use of them or deep bass (which was also limited).
Extras: The best extra for me was the feature called Save the Date; a behind the scenes offering lasting a dozen or so minutes and giving the chance for the cast and crew to provide minor insights despite it being a fluff piece. There were also some deleted scenes but they really didn't amount to much and the design feature called Three Weddings and a Skyline wasn't worth watching twice as it spent too much time with talking heads describing problems rather than showing them as they unfolded. There were also some trailers that I liked but just for the heck of it, I listened to the director commentary last night too, mostly while writing down notes to write the review. Director Paul Weiland was by himself, a bad move, and he dryly provided some comments that did little more than show him as the cheerleader of the day. He seemed to believe in what he was saying and he offered some anecdotes that amused me more than the movie did most of the time, but it would have greatly helped to have someone else helping him. I tried to access the BD Live content yesterday (Saturday) at a friend's house but none was working at this writing, the movie coming out in the middle of next month giving the company ample time to come up with something if Hurricane Gustav doesn't interfere with anything. In all, it was a fair package of extras but nothing one wouldn't find in an SD version as standard.
Final Thoughts: Maid of Honor is exactly the type of movie that Hollywood is infamous for providing, catering to the lowest common denominator all too readily. It treads familiar ground with established formulas that genre fans seem to appreciate more than the rest of us so if you're looking for a date movie (a "chick flick") where you will look good compared to the protagonist, you may enjoy it more than I did. The characters were shallow and uninteresting to me and despite the attitudes displayed throughout the movie, it wallowed in sentimental truisms that few people seem to accept as believable. Still, the technical aspects of Maid of Honor combined with a plate of extras still not considered as standard for blu-ray releases made it the kind of new release that some of you will enjoy as a guilty pleasure. If you are wise enough to turn your brain to "neutral" you may find that the occasional laugh is worth the effort but don't think it has much replay value given the comedic aspects were driven by the surprise elements more than clever dialogue, forcing it to the "been there, done that" pile.