The chick flick is such a maligned genre that sometimes I wonder why people make them anymore. Not that I’m disputing the fact that there’s plenty of money to be made, but it still must be kind of hard for writers, directors and stars to take the almost obligatory revulsion on the part of critics. Many reviews read as if they were written before having even seen the movie, and the critic only went to the screening to fill in plot details. Maybe it’s just that I put myself through the experience of reading “Something Borrowed,” Emily Giffin’s novel, but it’s worth thinking about why this movie was made, what it’s trying to do, and endeavor to say something more interesting than “this was supposed to entertain me, it didn’t, and therefore it’s terrible.”
Obviously the reason a major studio film like this is made is primarily to make millions of dollars. The novel on which it’s based was a New York Times Bestseller and in this particular genre that’s a pretty safe bet. But really, not every bestselling piece of “chick lit” gets adapted for the screen. To give so little credit to the writer and director, not to mention the producers, the cast and the entire crew is just kind of silly; there’s definitely more going on in this movie than just failed entertainment and a couple of decent performances. There’s a genuine attempt to create an unconventional and somewhat morally problematic love story, and it’s actually quite interesting how “Something Borrowed” tries to not only effectively present its amorous characters but also make sure that you side with them over everything else.
I discussed the basics of this in my review of the book earlier this week, but the movie adds enough new elements to the story that it deserves its own discussion. As a refresher, Rachel (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Darcy (Kate Hudson) are best friends. Rachel starts sleeping with Darcy’s fiancé, Dex (Colin Egglesfield) almost immediately after the film begins, and she tries to cope with it by telling her friend Ethan (John Krasinski) — the voice of reason. The whole time, as Rachel and Dex are having their affair, the audience is supposed to root for the cancellation of the wedding, the end of Darcy and Rachel’s friendship and the love-conquering-all of a somewhat unethical affair.
That allegiance to Rachel’s desire depends upon our absolutely detesting Darcy. Hudson is wonderful here, portraying the egotistical, obnoxious and sometimes shrill woman without turning her into a one-dimensional stereotype. She harasses the camera from the moment she appears, and delightfully prances around New York City and the Hamptons with an air of oblivious self-importance that will drive everyone else mad. Yet while the novel for the most part depends upon despicable Darcy as a way to build sympathy for Rachel, the film moves in a couple of other directions to both build sympathy and make the story more intriguing and complex.
For one, there’s the creation of Ethan as a possible love interest. At first I was hesitant about this cobbling together of multiple characters, both female and male friends of Rachel, into a single hilarious gadfly. Watching the film, however, it suddenly became clear that bringing Krasinski into “Something Borrowed” with an extensive role actually makes things much more interesting. Here’s an alternative for Rachel, a romantic option which on the surface is far and away better than sticking with the guy who may or may not leave his fiancée. It raises the stakes and Krasinski’s talent for witty humor really makes it compelling. Moreover, when she finally turns him down it gives us further insight into the seriousness of her love for Dex. It might seem kind of infuriating and downright stupid, which it probably is, but it’s an admirable piece of creative adaptation.
On the other hand, the film also takes an interesting turn towards making the audience even more upset about the impending marriage. Instead of meeting Rachel’s parents, as in the novel, we become acquainted with Dex’s extraordinarily rich and entirely unpleasant parents. Maybe it’s the fact that the book was published in pre-recession 2005, and now that we’re in 2011 we have a much more sensitive perception of wealth. While reading, it did bother me that these people have so much money to throw around with little consequences, and so this perspective on the part of the filmmakers is actually somewhat refreshing. When Dex’s father takes his son and future daughter-in-law out to look at two-million-dollar houses it becomes almost painfully obvious how much we’re supposed to cringe. Darcy’s extravagant wardrobe also doesn’t help, and while Rachel is certainly not a pauper there’s a clear message in here about choosing against the wealth and privilege of upper class Manhattan.
So those are the elements I found interesting about the construction of this potentially dark and amoral love story. It’s more complicated than you might think, and while I wouldn’t give it too many points for dialogue or really just overall quality, it’s worth noting the more creative aspects. Moreover, I would argue that the very nuance (or at least the valiant effort thereof) makes this film worthy of comment and discussion beyond the typically creative ways to put it down and say nothing of value in the process. And as a friend pointed out, it also serves the function of getting us ready for summer, with its light aesthetic and plethora of beach scenes. There’s more to this film than meets the eye, or the critical consensus.
“Something Borrowed” opens nationwide today.
Recommended If You Like: the book “Something Borrowed”; “Bride Wars”; Candace Bushnell