Hitching Post Haste

Wedding Bell Blues rides a Las Vegas marry-go-round

There's a lovely formality to the structure of the comedy Wedding Bell Blues. Three young women (Paulina Porizkova, Illeana Douglas and Julie Warner), roomies, take a road trip to Vegas, with the vague plan of getting married, then immediately divorced. Their notion is that a 30ish divorcee is less pathetic than a 30ish "old maid." They're a bit like the courtiers who swear off amour in Love's Labor's Lost--they're sure they've got love all figured out, so of course they're set up for a romantic fall.

All three are feeling some urgency about this mission. Warner has just been dumped by her fiance and is being driven mad by a kvetching mother; Douglas is a happy sexpot with no desire to marry, but great desire not to be pestered anymore by her worried father; Porizkova has just found herself pregnant by an altar-shy boyfriend. She'd like to find a well-heeled father for her child.

All things considered, all three have rather remarkable luck in Vegas, effortlessly turning up uncommonly sensitive, reflective, attractive fellows. The shy Warner, who's never had an orgasm, even by herself, comes upon an amiable rodeo cowboy (John Corbett). The towering Porizkova catches the eye of a wealthy and good-hearted divorced businessman (Charles Martin Smith). This man's associate (Jonathan Penner), a young structural engineer with a healthy sexual imagination--he confesses that he once had a wet dream about Debbie Reynolds--seems just right for Douglas.

In description, the artificial tidiness of this may sound labored, but the light, fast, sassy direction of Dana Lustig makes it feel charmingly symmetrical. The dialogue, by Annette Goliti Gutierrez, is unsteady at times--it has some verbal wit, but it has gags that are overfamiliar as well. But the actors help out here. They don't beat their lines to death; instead of bantering, they talk to each other.

The best talker is the sly, offhandedly sexy Douglas. With her tough yet sensible delivery, she's a '90s version of a classic archetype--a badass with a heart of gold.

Warner's soft, queenly prettiness has undermined her talent in the past--like Nancy Travis, she sometimes seems too radiant for her own down-to-earth style. But Lustig doesn't showcase her. She isn't allowed to glow until the script calls for it (guess when), and thus she seems winningly like a real woman.

It could easily be suspected that Porizkova, best known as a swimsuit model, was in the film just for decoration. Heaven knows she's a natural wonder--like Ingrid Bergman crossed with an ostrich. But those who haven't seen Yurek Bogayevicz's Anna may not realize that Porizkova can act, and in Wedding Bell Blues, she gets another chance to prove it. Her role is more serious than those of her co-stars, but she gets to be funny in one kicky scene early on, locking horns with a difficult customer (Victoria Jackson) in the swanky boutique where she works.

The theme of the film is the embarrassment that women feel over not being married, and the embarrassment that modern women feel over the embarrassment. Despite all evidence that the institution of marriage is irrelevant either to their economic security or to the security of their relationships, the three women in this film can't shake the idea that a wedding somehow amounts to a validation of their womanhood.

A number of films have explored this idea in recent years, notably P.J. Hogan's Muriel's Wedding. But Muriel, while generally superior to Wedding Bell Blues, thrashed jarringly from comic to deadly serious. Wedding Bell Blues manages to wear a wry smile throughout.

Wedding Bell Blues isn't a great comedy, and if Lustig and her cast had pushed this script any harder for depth, it probably could have been a pretty bad one. Fortunately, it's underplayed, for speed and unforced sexiness--it's a casual, half-joking flirtation, not a grand passion. The film is saved by its lack of ambition.

Wedding Bell Blues
Directed by Dana Lustig; with Paulina Porizkova.
Rated

 
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