The divine secrets of the Eskimo sisterhood in Something Borrowed

May 5, 2011 at 4:00 am

Something Borrowed is based on a 2005 work of chick literature by Emily Giffin. It was directed with extraordinary impersonality by Luke Greenfield (Rob Schneider's The Animal) and produced by Hilary Swank in collaboration, apparently, with the restaurant Shake Shack — one of the lifestyle brands prominently featured in this tale of love and betrayal among New York City's young and affluent.

Rachel White (Ginnifer Goodwin) is a successful single gal, though her face in repose is a frown, with creases starting to show at the corners. As the film begins, she walks into her own dirty thirtieth birthday party, thrown by her lifelong best friend, Darcy (Kate Hudson). Among the guests are Darcy's groom-to-be, Dex (Colin Egglesfield), and Ethan (John Krasinski), the comic-relief platonic pal.

Normally, Rachel's the schoolmarm, and Darcy's blonde and having more fun, but something is askew tonight. Maybe it's Rachel's shock at starting a fourth decade, maybe it's Dex's pre-wedding jitters, maybe it's the way Darcy leaves Rachel with the fond slur "I just hate your shoes so much" as she stumbles home early — but Rachel and Dex go for a nightcap together and wake up in the same bed.

In addition to giving them a guilty secret to conceal, this act shakes loose an avalanche of flashbacks. Before Darcy got Dex, he was Rachel's study-buddy at NYU Law, and it seems their flirty friendship stopped just shy of a hookup six years prior, when Rachel stepped aside for Darcy, as we're told she always has. Ethan's given the job of explicating that friendship dynamic to Rachel — and the viewer. Goodwin's an appealing wallflower, and Hudson shows flashes of blithe, funny egotism, but they lack moments together that illustrate Darcy's feminine gamesmanship in action. From the opening birthday-party scene, in which Darcy narrates a slideshow introducing the cast of characters, it's clear that Something Borrowed finds it easier to tell us about relationships than for us to observe them under way.

For the rest of the summer, spent between Manhattan and the Southampton rental, Rachel and Dex carry on and off, hesitating to drop the bomb on Darcy. Dex's other big roadblocks in breaking off the wedding are his stereotyped WASP parents, a neurasthenic mother and disapproving father who says things like, "It's not the kind of people we are"; wants to buy the newlyweds a Westchester manor; and presumably quashed Dex's dreams of being a teacher — because he is having a career crisis on top of everything else. (A Happy Ending showing Dex's first day at some Bronx P.S. would be welcome.)

In other romantic complications, Ethan is followed to Southampton by a hopeful, puppyish old fling, played by Ashley Williams — a chewtoy for Krasinski, whose comedy always seems to require someone to cut. Still, Ethan's a more appealing bachelor than Dex. Egglesfield has fine genes, but he's a limited actor playing a character that requires a vulnerability in order for us to forgive his frequent caddishness and constipated decision-making. Egglesfield can't transcend his guy-who-just-cut-you-off-in-his-convertible air; misting up over his family troubles, he registers as schemingly sensitive, looking to take advantage of any sympathy that comes his way.

The Something Borrowed is, of course, the premise, embellished from a 1997 Julia Roberts vehicle, My Best Friend's Wedding. Befitting a demographically precise movie about second-chance nostalgia, Borrowed raids young professionals' Clinton-era pop-culture memories. Dex's wildman pal, played by Steve Howey, resembles Mark McGrath, the middlebrow go-to "bad boy" in 1998. At one point, Rachel goes to check out a " '90s cover band" for the wedding, and we're treated to meaningful renditions of Third Eye Blind standards; later, Goodwin and Hudson perform a Salt-n-Pepa dance number, rehearsed to perfection in distant youth. (This is the one moment they actually seem like symbiotic BFFs.)

The poster, featuring colorful little boxes with headshots of the stars, is nearly the same lazy design used to promote the superb, humane comedy How Do You Know last year — a disturbing example of insensate Hollywood selling its best and worst in the same package. If not the worst, this is at least the most dissembling. It's no coincidence that Borrowed features lawyer protagonists; while making a pretense of being a comedy of modern sexual ethics, the movie never asks a hard question without an answer prepared in advance.