Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places

In Picture Perfect Jennifer Aniston tells a whopper of a lie partially to win the attentions of a guy who has heretofore ignored her, interrupts a wedding, and humiliates another guy at his workplace. This follows on the heels of My Best Friend's Wedding, which finds Julia Roberts trying to ruin a wedding so she can have the groom to herself, and Addicted to Love, in which Meg Ryan and Matthew Broderick conspire to destroy the lives of former paramours who have spurned them.

Whew. Is it any wonder Hollywood has a stalker problem, since it's going out of its way to condone such behavior? At this rate it won't be long before Joe Rubin's creepy cult classic The Stepfather is re-released as a rollicking romantic comedy.

Which, believe me, wouldn't be as preposterous as anything in Picture Perfect. Aniston stars as Kate, a near-30 advertising writer impatient with her career arc -- like Jim Morrison, she wants the world, and she wants it now. Alas, her boss feels that because she's single and a workaholic, she won't be executive material until she establishes a fulfilling life outside the job.

Whoa, back up. Her boss's theory pretty much goes against all current corporate thinking, particularly among creative companies, which seek out and exploit ambitious people such as Kate who have no life and plenty of free time to dedicate to their jobs. These days I know people who are finding that having an actual family to go home to can be a career liability: It proves your priorities aren't straight, that you're not a team player. Picture Perfect's initial premise is so flawed that anything that follows is doomed to be hogwash.

Sure enough, Kate and a colleague whip up an instant fiance: Nick (former Saturday Night Live cast member Jay Mohr), a guy Kate just happened to encounter briefly at a friend's wedding. Appropriately her career begins a rapid ascent. Contrivances mount as Nick becomes an unlikely media hero and Kate's bosses and clients insist on meeting him. (The hero subplot disappears abruptly after its value to the convoluted story line has been served.) Meantime co-worker Sam (Kevin Bacon) begins pursuing Kate, simply because she's now ostensibly unattainable. Actually she's quite pliant -- hip, clever, smart Kate apparently doesn't know or doesn't give a whit that Sam is a transparently charismatic heel or that she's acting like a pig (even if technically she isn't one) by sleeping with a Lothario while engaged to someone else. Of course the questions are who's pursuing whom here, and is either one of these conniving objects of desire really worth catching.

Into this mess wades Nick, the nicest guy on the Eastern seaboard, whom Kate merely wishes to use and discard; you don't need two hands and a road map to figure out where all this is heading. Junk like this is symptomatic of contemporary romantic comedies: Filmmakers grunt and groan so much in concocting new, "quirky" ways for couples to meet, then artificially restrain said twosome for a few reels before allowing them to land in one another's arms, that they have no energy or desire left to create interesting, credible characters or witty dialogue. Kevin Bacon's the bad guy, Jay Mohr's the good guy, and Jennifer Aniston takes 100 minutes to figure it out -- that's it, kids; that's what the obscenely paid dream-factory geniuses came up with for you this time. Oh, and don't forget the thoroughly riveting subplot involving a nationally recognized mustard company whose product turns up in so many scenes here that it must have underwritten the entire damn movie.

There are other unanswered questions -- Why does Kate insist she and Nick stage a faux argument in front of her boss? What does Nick see in Kate anyway? -- but surely by that point you've become numb to the film's idiotic plot machinations. Too bad: Aniston could easily carry a good romantic comedy, as she proved by stealing She's the One away from her costars last year. Here she's plenty charming, but her character decidedly isn't. Roberts was able to glide through My Best Friend's Wedding because it was obvious that flightiness, not malice, informed her more dubious acts. In Picture Perfect, however, Kate is actually quite predatory and opportunistic, and except for one sequence, Aniston is too airy to convey that. Any more edge to Aniston's performance, though, and audiences wouldn't have been duped into rooting for her. The rest of the cast services the material capably.

Kudos to screenwriters Arleen Sorkin, Paul Slansky, and Moonlighting creator Glenn Gordon Caron (who also directed) for being bold enough to flaunt their TV backgrounds -- watching Picture Perfect is like sitting through a convoluted sitcom episode; at one point Kate even admits that her lame-brained scheme "sounds like something out of The Patty Duke Show." If this romantic comedy weren't so laughably contrived, it'd be utterly laugh-free.

Picture Perfect.
Written by Glenn Gordon Caron, Arleen Sorkin, and Paul Slansky; directed by Glenn Gordon Caron; with Jennifer Aniston, Kevin Bacon, Jay Mohr, Illeanna Douglas, and Olympia Dukakis.


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