Monday, March 15, 2010

27 Tears, er . . . Dresses by Susan May Warren

Please welcome back award-winning author Susan May Warren, to share another installment of her series this month.

Craft Tips and Techniques from Today’s Blockbusters
27 Tears, er . . . Dresses
by Susan May Warren

Instead of one of dress, there’s a flock of look-alike dresses, all fitting (painfully) differently on each attendant . . .

What we can learn from 27 Dresses?

The problem with bridesmaids dresses is that they’re overcute. Especially the ones from the ’80s—you know what I’m talking about. Go to your closet, way in the back where you hid them and take a close look. Puffy sleeves, dropped waists, mermaid curves with one-shoulder straps. And the colors—peach, turquoise, metallic blue. Yes, there wasn’t one woman in the audience of the movie 27 Dresses who didn’t wince just a little when Jane Nichols (Katherine Heigle) opened her overstuffed closet and dragged out her monstrosities.

We vowed, right there in the theater, to run home and take a match to our own closets full of bygone trophies. But the very element that made this movie’s premise sympathetic and even endearing is also the reason this movie doesn’t work. Why it is . . . in a word . . . overcute.

Or, in another word: Sappy.

I really wanted 27 Dresses to be sweetly romantic. I love Katherine Heigl and James Marsden, who plays hero Kevin Doyle. The truth is, it’s not their fault the movie is syrupy, to the point of eye-rolling sappiness.

No, I blame the dresses.

Think about it. A bridesmaid dress is made to accentuate the bride’s dress. But instead of one of them, there’s a flock of look-alike dresses, all fitting (painfully) differently on each attendant. It’s overkill of theme and color. It is, in writer’s terms, overwriting. Overwriting is simply saying the same thing over and over, in different ways, with different words, using different angles . . . you get the picture. Sort of like wedding photos.

27 Dresses is cute and might have worked if it weren’t for the long, “preachy” scene where Jane’s sister, who up until this point not only has been a materialistic ditz, but also hasn’t earned our respect at all, delivers what is supposed to be sage wisdom to our beloved Jane about letting go of things. But Jane already knows this. She’s let go of the man she loves, her hopes and dreams, and even her decency. We get it—she has to live her own life. We don’t need it spelled out for us. First key to staying out of the Sap: Don’t preach it to us.

Remember the day when you looked at the V-necked lime green bridesmaid dress you were to wear, knowing that in it you would look like pasty dough-girl or an anemic whelp? Mine was a burgundy

scooped-back dress that made me look like I’d undergone surgery only hours before. Most of us said, “Okay, I’ll wear it.” The rest of us kept our mouths shut. Because that is what good bridesmaid do. And this is what the movie does.

In a leap that fit the movie plot but not the character, Jane decimates her sister’s rehearsal dinner. Why? Because the formula demanded it. She (like us) could have said, “Hey, I won’t wear that! I would look horrible in that.” Sappy movies don’t listen to the characters, they make them wear the dresses, because it follows the rules. Key two to staying out of the Sap: Stay true to your character.

Finally, have you ever stood, dressed for show, with the bride at the altar, knowing that she and the groom didn’t belong together? That despite his current pledges you were pretty sure he had made a pass at one of the guests the night before at the rehearsal dinner? Or worse, that the bride didn’t love the groom like she did her high school sweetheart, and was headed for disappointment? We want to wave them off, scream, “They don’t belong together!” But because they look so good in their white and black, we smile and hold the flowers.

Why exactly were Jane and Kevin right for each other? Yes, he was a romantic at heart, and she made him see that, but what did he do for her? He mocked her and zeroed in on her issues. Does that show he would care for her? That he would look beyond those issues and love her anyway? And what does knowing him do for her? Just because they were the only two single people in the cast does not mean they belong together. Just because they fit into the dress and the tuxedo doesn’t mean they should be the bride and groom. Final hint to staying out of the Sap: Give the hero and heroine a reason to belong together.

I really wanted to like this movie. I certainly loved the premise. And, I still love Katherine and James. In fact, I’m going to give them another chance . . . as long as no dresses are in the movie.

Susan May Warren is the founder of My Book Therapy, a boutique fiction editing service for writers, and runs A Writer’s Blog. See her Web site to learn more about her award-winning fiction.

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