My Best Friend's Wedding

TriStar

On this day 20 years ago, the world came to know My Best Friend's Wedding, a film that instantly cemented itself into the romantic comedy hall of fame. It's hard to believe it's been two decades since Julianne chased Michael who was chasing Kimmy. Since we learned that crème brûlée could never be Jell-O. Since we learned what was lower than pond scum.

The movie would go on to be nominated for an Oscar and three Golden Globes (including Best Motion Picture and nods for both Julia Roberts and Rupert Everett). But more important than that, it redefined what a romantic comedy could be and changed the way we view male-female friendships, getting married, and turning 28. It became ingrained in the our pop culture fabric, critical to our vernacular (see above reference to crème brûlée). It introduced a new generation to Dionne Warwick, one dancing restaurant lobster at a time. Millennials know exactly what to do when they hear, "The moment I wake up" and it's all thanks to My Best Friend's Wedding

But like everything in Hollywood, it almost didn't. 

According to screenwriter Ron Bass, who is responsible for bringing My Best Friend's Wedding to life (among other titles like Rain ManWaiting to Exhale and Stepmom—although the impressively long list is a topic for another story), the process of making everyone's favorite rom-com took several years. It all started on a seemingly normal morning in the '90s during a meeting with his then-agents at CAA. They used to get together to kick around story ideas and this time they brought up an article that told of a woman who found out about an old boyfriend's marriage and immediately realized she shouldn't have let him go. 

"My immediate reaction to that was, there should be a movie about somebody who's been really close to that guy along," explains Bass. "She's been his best friend all along and suddenly realizes she should have changed the relationship and now she wants him back. And they asked me, well what happens? And I said, well she goes after him and tries to get him back." 

Bass had attended a large society wedding in Chicago (yes, not too different from the affair that the Wallace family threw in the film) and realized it would make the perfect setting for a romantic comedy. "It was one of those four-day-long parties where everyone comes in and there are all kind of events and it's a huge show," he says. "I realized it's such a long weekend that plenty of interesting things can happen. And that was the birth of the movie."

My Best Friend's Wedding, Pull Quotes

Of course even the most solid gold ideas have a way of picking up slowly in the film industry. Bass let the tale stay in the back of his mind while he worked on other projects but eventually found himself coming back to the idea again and again. He began pitching it to his contacts and despite plenty of enthusiasm about the initial script there was some skepticism over the movie's then-unconventional ending. 

"I pitched it to one person who loved everything about it," cautions Bass. "But he said it would never get made because the lead doesn't get the guy in the end."

But as fans of the Julia Roberts-starring flick are well aware, it was too much of a gem not to find a way to the screen. Bass soon found himself on a fateful flight to Hong Kong while working on another project and by the time he landed and checked in at the Peninsula Hotel there was a fax waiting to inform him that not only was the script sold to a studio (for a very healthy sum), but Julia Roberts was attached to play the lead. "But here's how hard it is to sell something in this business," he adds. "The script went out to 50-something people...we had two offers."

One of the most important aspects of any romantic comedy is the casting. There would be no Annie Hall without Diane Keaton, no When Harry Met Sally without Meg Ryanand Billy Crystal. If My Best Friend's Wedding had chosen the wrong people to take on its central love triangle it could easily have gone from charming to petty. 

"We were mostly worried about Michael," explains Bass. "This happens a lot in romantic comedies, which is that the woman is always the star and the guy is the straight man—he's a nice guy or he's not a nice guy, but he doesn't really have much to do and everybody plays off him. The challenge is to make him not only likable but interesting in his own right: Is this a guy that these two women could fight over?"

It was Roberts herself who suggested Dermot Mulroney and, as Bass tells it, everyone sparked to him immediately. The group was rounded out, of course, by Cameron Diaz and Everett. And special props should be given to director P.J. Hogan, who Bass credits with inventing that now-infamous musical interlude led by George and the Wallace family (or, as its tenderly referred to by those in the inner circle, "The crab scene"). "It was entirely his idea and it was everyone's favorite part of the movie," he raves. 

The group was anchored by Julia's wacky, effervescent, totally crazy character, but it turns out that even that almost wasn't. 

"People say, how could it ever be another actress besides Julia Roberts," says Bass. "The only person the other offer was for, and I'm not sure if she even knew about it, was Sandra Bullock. She's probably the only other actress in the world besides Julia who would have been fabulous for that role. They're the two best people in the world to do that, but that's how lucky I was."

My Best Friend's Wedding

TriStar

Hollywood is forever a place of surprises and the next one came at the film's first test screening: The story we know today was very close to being very different. The studio had originally filmed an ending that saw Jules reuniting not with George as the wedding band played, but an entirely new character—the first cut showed Michael and Kimmy driving away as newlyweds while a friend of Michael's (played by Sex and the City's John Corbett ironically) taps Jules on the shoulder and asked her to dance. 

"The preview audience mirrored my feelings of, are you crazy," says Bass. "How could you end the movie like that: Are we really saying Julia Roberts needs to find the love of her life in the next five minutes?"

To remedy the situation—and Jules' love life—Bass got together with the film's director and producer to come up with a more appropriate conclusion. They pitched the studio several different scenes (including that showdown in the baseball stadium bathroom) and everyone, especially Roberts, got on board with the more unconventional ending: "They understood that what made the picture rare was that in this moment the guy who she relied on, who was closer to her than any boyfriend, was what would comfort her and not some stranger she ended up dancing with." 

And thank Kimmy for that, because it's what gave us, "Maybe there won't be marriage, maybe there won't be sex, but by God there'll be dancing." 

Now that 20 years has gone by it's easy to wonder where all those iconic characters would be today. Would Kimmy and Michael still be happily married? Would Michael be working for Kimmy's father? Would Jules regret doing the right thing at the wedding? And most importantly, would there still be dancing? Most of that is, of course, up to our individual imaginations based on how we want to remember the movie. But Bass does have a few thoughts. 

"Truthfully, I don't think much about Michael and Kimmy, but hopefully they're happy in Chicago," he admits. "It's possible that they're not. I'm sure they stayed reasonably friendly with Jules even though they lived in different places and I'm sure they all saw each other when they came into town." 

The writer has, however, spent a fair amount of time ruminating over the journey of Jules and George—so much so that last year, alongside screenwriter Jessica Amento, he wrote a pilot script to turn My Best Friend's Wedding into a series for ABC. It followed the two best friends in their lives together in New York as George was getting set to marry. It was meant to point out the true thesis of the movie, which, as Bass puts it, "Was not whether Julia Roberts can get a boyfriend because you bet she can—but rather who is her true person, who she can't wait to see? It isn't always the person you're married to and the person you're sleeping with." 

My Best Friend's Wedding, Pull Quotes

The show has yet to make it to the small screen but the feature film still has an incredibly strong legacy—beyond the crème brûlée, even. While Bass admits that he would change a few things if given the chance (mainly that they didn't make enough of her job as a food critic, and that Jules' fake E-mail wasn't quite evil enough), the movie's fans see it as pretty much perfect. Aside from the hilarious fact that the central characters' marriage pact set in at the tender age of 28, there are hardly signs that it hit theaters a whopping 20 years ago. 

And even more, the parts of the movie that made it so different back then are just as important now. Our society has watched two decades worth of romantic comedies and a very select few can resist wrapping everything up in a pretty little woman-finds-her-perfect-man bow. 

"One of the reasons I wrote this movie is I wanted Julia's character to lose the guy and to lose the guy for the right reasons," explains Bass. "I wanted for the audience to be in a position where they didn't know what the filmmaker was going to do, because they didn't know what they wanted themselves." 

There's also the matter of George, whose very presence in a major motion picture in 1997 is cause for celebration: "On top of Julianne losing the guy, I wanted to write something where the smartest, best, wisest, most terrific person in the movie was gay. There wasn't anything like that in those days; this was the first time that ever really happened." 

A person could write several thousand words on why the landscape in Hollywood hasn't changed for gay characters—or flawed, complicated women, for that matter—in the 20 years since My Best Friend's Wedding. But we'll just settle for letting you know that Ron Bass is still trying, box office blockbusters and action movies be damned. 

"I'm writing them, but it's hard to get anything made in this town if it isn't a budget of $150 million. Maybe Gal Gadot will want to make something together." 

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