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Cinema in Focus: ‘27 Dresses’

Romantic comedy delivers insightful lessons for life.

3 Stars — Insightful

It would seem reasonable to expect that a person who is always trying to please others would be loved and respected.  But the truth is that such a person is often used by those around her or him. Not knowing how to say no, such a person loses the connection with his or her own needs and desires that helps create reciprocal and equal relationships.  Such a person could repeatedly become a bridesmaid but never a bride.  That is the truth in Anne Fletcher’s 27 Dresses.

Counselors call this people-pleasing person a “capable co-dependent.” Often having been required to be responsible at a young age because of the death, absence or addiction of a parent, such a person takes over adult responsibilities with increasing capability.  This scenario describes Jane (Katherine Heigl).

Becoming an expert at assisting others with their lives, Jane is the capable assistant of the charming entrepreneur George (Ed Burns).  Having put her emotional malady to use, she has become indispensable as well as capable since she not only foresees his every need but finishes his sentences for him. Jane is the consummate assistant.

The same is true for Jane as a friend.  Having been imprinted as a young girl when she assisted her older cousin in her wedding, Jane became the perfect bridesmaid.  Capably handling all the details of a wedding without receiving the respect or compensation of a wedding planner, Jane has been in 27 weddings and has 27 bridesmaid’s dresses in her over-stuffed closet as mementos of each one.

The element of suspense and a deeper layer of insight is added to the film when Jane admits she loves George, but he falls for Jane’s irresponsible younger sister, Tess (Malin Akerman).  The love triangle this produces is further complicated by Kevin (James Marsden), a wedding columnist for the New York Journal who discovers Jane’s secret obsession with weddings.  He also uncovers her heart.

The discoveries are layered as we walk with these four through times of predictable tension, expected conflict and promised resolution.  The sibling competition and the increasing self-awareness are authentic as Jane and Tess confront the nature of their relationship and their resulting chosen paths.

27 Dresses is an enjoyable romantic comedy, but it is also a film about life as lived by many who have lost themselves trying to be what others want them to be.  Such people morph into whatever they are expected or asked to become, putting on dress after dress, role after role, until they either collapse in exhaustion or find the strength to say no.  We hope that this film will give insight and courage to all of us — from those who please too much to those who take advantage of those who do.

Discussion:

The symbol of Jane’s sacrifice and exhaustion is seen when she accepts the responsibility of being the primary bridesmaid in two weddings on the same evening, rushing from wedding to wedding and changing in the back of a cab. Have you ever found yourself trying to meet the conflicting needs of two people at once? Why did you accept both responsibilities? How did you do it?

The fact that Jane and Tess’ mother died when they were young and Jane accepted the responsibility to care for Tess created this malady in her life. But Jane also used this ability to take care of others to become a capable assistant, friend and bridesmaid. How have you used the difficulties of your past to make it in the present?

The attraction that Kevin has for Jane is due in part because of their mutual brokenness. How have your relationships expressed a connection based on a shared need?

The attempt by Tess to be the kind of woman that George would love requires her to lie. Have you ever lied in an attempt to be the person someone else wants you to be? Is your lie primarily to them or yourself?

Cinema In Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church on the Mesa. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.

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