Features and Columns · Movies

The 36 Dramatic Situations: My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997) and Mistaken Jealousy

By  · Published on August 31st, 2010

This article is part of our 36 Dramatic Situations series.

For 36 days straight, we’ll be exploring the famous 36 Dramatic Situations by presenting a film that exemplifies each one. From family killing family to prisoners in need of asylum, we brush off the 19th-century list in order to remember that it’s still incredibly relevant today.

Whether you’re seeking a degree in Literature, love movies, or just love seeing things explode, our feature should have something for everyone. If it doesn’t, please don’t bully us into singing a Dionne Warwick song in a seafood restaurant.

Part 22 of the 36-part series takes a look at “Mistaken Jealousy” with My Best Friend’s Wedding.

The Synopsis

Julianne Potter (Julia Roberts) is a successful food critic with an infectious laugh and a happily single lifestyle. Until the day her best friend, the charisma-free Michael O’Neal (Dermot Mulroney), calls to tell her he’s getting married to a perky blond named Kimberly Wallace (Cameron Diaz). Julianne suddenly decides that she loves Michael and she’ll do anything to get him back. She wants more than just a friendship with him… she wants to feel the love that he’s obviously giving to Kimberly instead of to her. Julianne’s other best friend, George (Rupert Everett), checks in periodically to provide common sense, biting commentary, and fashion critiques.

The Situation

“Mistaken Jealousy” – This scenario has a handful of variations, but the core is pretty straightforward. Someone is jealous of something someone else has but it’s for mistaken or untrue reasons. See? Simple. In the case of My Best Friend’s Wedding Julianne thinks she’s jealous of the love Kimberly shares with Michael. But the truth is it’s her fear of being alone and of losing Michael that convinces her that she needs to be the one he marries.

I know what you’re thinking. “Geez Rob, could you have picked a more obvious choice for this situation?” Well, nameless reader, the answer is yes. I could have chosen any filmed variation of William Shakespeare’s Othello. Yes, even the teen version with Julia Stiles, Mekhi Phifer, and Josh Hartnett that was so cool it only needed the first letter of the title. But instead of going the classic route I decided to toss some love Roberts’ way and test your taste in romantic comedies at the same time. My Best Friend’s Wedding is a solid romantic comedy and the second to the last great one Roberts made. (Her last great one, of course, is 1999’s Notting Hill.)

The Movie

Let’s just get this out of the way right now. This is a fantastic comedy for several reasons, but first we have to acknowledge the terribly painful musical number in the Red Lobster-like restaurant. Julianne is passing off George as her fiance, and when asked how they first met he makes up a story that segues into Dionne Warwick’s “I Say A Little Prayer For You” and quickly becomes a spontaneous group number as the whole table begins to sing along. Everett is funny, but this scene too annoying, too feel-goody, and too ridiculous. So let’s move on…

There are those among you who harbor a strong dislike for Ms. Roberts and may be tempted to lambaste my choice here as something less than a great movie. It’s your prerogative, but you’d be wrong. Roberts is in her comedic prime here and earns laughs from both her fast-talking banter as well as several bits of physical comedy. Everett has the least screen time of the four, but he actually gets the most laughs. This is one of the rare examples of test screenings actually accomplishing something positive as their input led the producers to go back and film more scenes with him.

Julianne is convinced that she not only wants what Kimberly has, but that she deserves it too, and that jealous conviction is based on her fears and her ego. It’s a mistake on her part that has to be learned the hard way, and that hard way involves humiliation, embarrassment, and the painful realization that she doesn’t deserve what it is she’s after. My Best Friend’s Wedding is a funny movie, but it’s the ending that shows it to be a much braver and far more honest romantic comedy than we can usually expect from Hollywood.

Bonus Examples: Othello, O, Othello

Check out our entire series of 36 Dramatic Situations, 36 Movies.

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.