by Roxaxa Hadadi
“Something Borrowed” is getting annihilated by most critics (17 percent on Rotten Tomatoes? Ouch!), and yeah, I get it. Could more chick-flick cliches be packed into one film? Doubtful – there are pretty actresses pretending to be plain, confessions of love in the rain, a synchronized dance scene and an overall message about finding out who you are and taking charge. Don’t let people get you down, the moviemakers scream at us, especially not someone as blond and vivacious as Kate Hudson.
But in this genre, defined by complicated love stories and backstabbing frenemies, how is that surprising? It’s more shocking that “Something Borrowed” will actually make you laugh sometimes, and is probably a satisfactory movie for mothers and daughters to see together on Mother’s Day on Sunday, and includes a wonderful homage to Salt-N-Pepa’s “Push It.” These are things I approve of, but not even they can save “Something Borrowed.”
Perhaps one of the movie’s biggest flaws is that it was a book first – a bestseller by lawyer-turned-novelist Emily Giffin, who wrote the 2004 novel and its 2006 sequel, “Something Blue” – and chick lit goes down easier when you’re reading it on a bus, on the beach or during a particularly painful weekend with family. The story has all the elements that will make a book a page-turner – An illicit affair! A wisecracking male best friend! Sentimental flashbacks to law school, a simpler time! – but those don’t always translate well onscreen, meaning that most of “Something Borrowed” is just as derivative as you’d expect.
And since Kate Hudson has been in so many of these kinds of movies before (“Alex & Emma,” “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days,” “Raising Helen,” “You, Me and Dupree,” “My Best Friend’s Girl,” “Bride Wars”), it’s easy to feel like you’re just watching a dated film edited for TV, devoid of any really juicy bits. Is “Something Borrowed” something you’d expect to watch on Lifetime or Oxygen, a pat two hours with commercial breaks so you can escape from time to time without really missing anything in the plot? Exactly.
That’s why watching “Something Borrowed” feels exactly like eating a chocolate bar you know you shouldn’t have. It’s all sugary and goes down well at the time, but afterward you’re going to feel all tired and bloated and guilty, annoyed that you went down a road you intrinsically knew would lead to nothing except empty calories and empty emotions. Curse you, Willy Wonka Scrumdiddlyumptious bars. Like romantic comedies, you are my delicious-but-ultimately-unfulfilling poison.
The film begins with Rachel (the cute Ginnifer Goodwin, in a terrible wig), a lawyer in New York City who just turned 30. Constantly overshadowed by her energetic, obnoxious best friend Darcy (Kate Hudson), who since childhood has “won” at everything – she’s prettier, she’s better with people, she has more friends – Rachel puts up with it because of years of history, even though Darcy is now engaged to the guy Rachel has been in love with since law school, Dex (Colin Egglesfield). Even when Darcy is throwing Rachel a surprise birthday party, she makes it all about her, dancing on tables, getting drunk and criticizing Rachel’s shoes (“I just hate your shoes so much”) – meaning she goes home early. Meaning Dex and Rachel admit long-held feelings for each other and sleep together. Meaning everyone’s relationships – Dex’s and Darcy’s, Darcy’s and Rachel’s, Rachel’s and Dex’s – get screwed up.
The rest of the film is focused on the fallout, in a storyline that uses Rachel and her guilt to try and tackle the intricacies of friendships. Rachel’s guy best friend Ethan (John Krasinski from “The Office,” who basically acts like a more sarcastic, less goofy Jim Halpert here) urges her to get Dex to commit, rightly pointing out numerous times that Darcy would never let her loyalty to Rachel stand in the way of getting with a guy. Dex asks Rachel to keep their dalliance on the low, since his depressed mother is so excited about the upcoming wedding to Darcy that derailing it would shatter her. And Rachel more often notices how selfish-yet-fragile Darcy is, as she struggles to write her wedding vows but is more than happy to try on exceedingly expensive dresses. Plagued by self-doubt, along with Dex’s hesitance to commit to her, Rachel tries to figure out whether she wants to be defined by her relationship with Darcy, the prospect of a future with Dex or by something else altogether, something entirely her own.
In some elements of the female experience, “Something Borrowed” delights, even in its expectedness. Who hasn’t choreographed dance moves with their best friend? (Guilty, to the Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way”). Who hasn’t felt inferior to a friend – or romantic rival – who they think is prettier, skinnier, funnier? “Sex and the City” tackled the same thing when Carrie learned of Big’s wedding to the 25-year-old Natasha, who seemed to embody everything Carrie wasn’t. And if you haven’t fought with a BFF over a guy, congratulations – you’ve avoided one of the worst experiences ever, so often used in wonderfully trashy teen soaps like “Dawson’s Creek” and “One Tree Hill.” Where would the cable channel SOAPNet be if it weren’t for these girl-on-girl problems?
But the issue with “Something Borrowed” is that it adds nothing new to the chick flick genre’s vernacular, and nostalgic affection for “Push It” and catfights can only carry a film so far. (There are also some implied sex scenes, moans and waking up the morning after, drug use and cursing.) Maybe it’s because the novel’s contents are consolidated for the film, but there are some glaring omissions: Does Darcy even have a job, and why would Dex’s parents be so upset if he left her for Rachel, an established and intelligent lawyer? Besides snagging Dex, what else has Darcy done to overwhelm Rachel’s confidence so completely? Does Rachel have any other friends besides Ethan, and why wouldn’t she ever consider a relationship with him, since he’s so devoted? And seriously, how would a struggling novelist, two unemployed people and two lawyers just starting out be able to afford a house in the Hamptons for the summer? Does not compute!
Goodwin is cute, obviously, so it’s too hard to buy her as an overlooked simpleton; her lack of chemistry with Egglefield, who seems like a young Tom Cruise but without the intensity, doesn’t help. Hudson and Krasinski are great and you’ll get laughs out of their one-liners, from Darcy’s self-absorption (“I know he loves me, obviously!”) to Ethan’s sly wit (“The Hamptons are like a zombie movie directed by Ralph Lauren”), but the actors don’t need to go out of their range at all. Much like their ease, “Something Borrowed” is theoretically fine – but everyone here, and you, deserve better.