"The Wedding Planner" is supposed to be a romantic comedy. Jennifer Lopez plays peppy planner Mary Fiore, who can turn any wedding into the perfect romantic event. But when the biggest wedding of the year comes along, she finds she's falling for the groom (Matthew McConaughey). All her foundations are shaken, and she realizes that maybe her own life lacks love. Along the way we're all supposed to enjoy the spoof of the modern overblown wedding. But it's hard to spoof a spectacle like the Western wedding, which has become a parody of itself. I should know. I was a wedding planner. I never hated weddings until I spent two years herding people up the aisle. In fact, I hadn't really thought much about marriage or weddings before I began helping happy couples plan their perfect day. I felt rather indifferent, to be honest. I was a bridesmaid in my brother's wedding, but I had never sat around collecting things for my "wedding file." That has all changed. Now I cringe every time I receive an invite. (Sorry, Cindy, Libby, Andrea, and Holly!) These events have become far removed from their true purpose. They have come to be about romance, which is frilly and light, not commitment, which is hard work. Couples spend more time these days talking about the wedding than they do about the marriage. I was relieved when my best pal from high school took the money her dad had offered for her wedding and used it as a down payment on her house instead. I fell into wedding planning by chance. I needed some extra cash to help pay for graduate school. So, when the opportunity arose to help coordinate wedding space and services for the university chapel, I leapt like a bride over the threshold.

The dark side of being a wedding planner comes, of course, when the romance falls apart. The white cotton gloves come off, and all parties involved come out swinging. How many times did I answer the phone to find a sobbing ex-bride-to-be wailing that there would be no wedding? How many times did a fiancé call trying to collect a deposit that was in the name of his one-time significant other? More times than I'd like to count. Our contract stated that deposits wouldn't be returned within 30 days of the event, but there is nothing in this world that evokes so much pathos as a dumped bride on the other end of the line.

For 100 minutes, I relived the horror that was my life (minus Lopez' Gucci wardrobe). Part of the horror was that the film lacks chemistry, wit, and logic (despite being set in San Francisco, for instance, there's not one gay character). But it does illustrate some universal truths about the American wedding. Isn't It Romantic?
In the opening of the film, one wedding guest remarks that a wedding planner's life must be so romantic. There's nothing remotely romantic about planning weddings. Nothing. A wedding is just one contract after the other: the space, the band, the flowers, and the fancy duds (not to mention the prenups) all require someone signing on the dotted line. From the planner's perspective, it becomes apparent that the frills themselves are designed to distract from the none-too-romantic reality that the point of the wedding isn't love, but legality. Vicarious Vows
The first lesson of wedding planning comes in the first minutes of "The Wedding Planner," when the mother-of-the-bride immediately demands that there be a mike so she can sing. The modern wedding isn't for the bride and groom -- it's for everyone but. If the wedding gets out of control, it's usually because of the parents. It's the perfect opportunity for the father-of-the-bride to show off his wealth and the mother-of-the-bride her fabulous taste. The parents also often try to create the perfect romantic day that they never had. Many middle-aged folks had comparatively spartan affairs. My own parents got married at my mother's church and went to the country club for cake and punch. That wasn't considered out of the ordinary back then. Oftentimes couples insist on paying the bill simply to keep the decision-making in their hands, not their mom and dads'. Which brings us to....

It's the Money, Stupid
Weddings are a modern potlatch, a ceremonial feast the Pacific Northwest Indians celebrated, marked by the host's lavish distribution -- and sometimes destruction -- of his property to demonstrate his wealth.

Of course, modern hosts aren't about to start handing out -- or smashing -- the Wedgewood. The displays of wealth take other forms. A friend who lights Broadway shows for a living has been hired to design lighting for several weddings, at no small cost, where the brides were glowing like supermodels. The sad fact is that the money often goes for ice sculptures and balloon arches that you wouldn't wish on a high school formal. The classic Hollywood wedding jitters used to be the groom's cold feet about spending his life with one woman. Nowadays, the tension is all about the money put at the mercy of fragile feelings. (My own plan to resolve the money issues at weddings is to sell advertising space on the bride's gown. The right sleeve would be demographically targeted to the groom's side and the left to the bride's, with the backside and train going for upwards of $1,000.) Keep It Simple
Toward the end of "The Wedding Planner," Matthew McConaughy's character laments he really wanted a simple, small wedding, not the behemoth event his fiancé has planned. Lopez' character wistfully agrees that smaller is better. I couldn't agree more. One of the most moving moments in my short career came when a gentleman called to ask if any time was available for a ceremony that evening. He went on to explain that he wasn't a love-struck teen looking to hitch up quick. At age 45, he had finally met the woman of his dreams. No guest list. No flowers. No cross-stitched commemorative name tags. No drunk best man slurring through a toast -- none of the accoutrement considered the validation of a couple's union.

As luck would have it, I could get the couple 30 minutes in the chapel (the usual length of a Protestant wedding), and our "go to" chaplain was more than happy to perform the service. Go figure. This wedding planner's favorite wedding was one that took no planning at all.

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