There’s nothing quite like the happiness of others to remind you of your own misery. For Jane (Katherine Heigl, “Knocked Up”), relationship-based misfortune is stuffed away in her hall closet: 27 bridesmaids dresses, each more ridiculously hideous than the next. Jane, who at age eight developed a deep love for the ceremony of matrimony, lives vicariously through her friends. She plans their showers, acts as moral support and even serves as a stand-in at dress fittings for the bride-to-be. No, she’s not a wedding planner, just a pushover.

Of course, a girl so unlucky in love has to have an unrequited crush. Jane’s boss George (Edward Burns, “One Missed Call”) fills the role of the nice guy who is painfully oblivious to her adoration. Even worse, her blonde bombshell sister Tess (Malin Akerman, “The Heartbreak Kid”) steamrolls into town and into George’s arms, soon saddling Jane with the prospect of fitting one more dress into her already jam-packed closet. In between handling every aspect of Tess’s wedding, Jane also has to deal with constant phone calls and interruptions from writer Kevin (James Marsden, “Enchanted”), who is looking for a way up and out of the “Commitments” section of his paper.

“Dresses” is first and foremost a romantic comedy. It’s chock full of moments designed to make the audience melt – like Jane’s widowed father serving his daughters smiley-faced pancakes. However, the performances, especially by Heigl and Marsden, place the film on a more respectable level. The two actors, neither with much experience in leading roles, do well alongside each other. The abundance of clichéd scenes – the trying on clothes and dancing montage and the always fabulous alcohol-fueled singing at the bar – still come off reeking (in a good way) of adorableness. In fact, the sexual chemistry between Jane and Kevin is strong enough to raise some questions about why Jane is so set on wooing her now-engaged boss. He might be a mountain-climbing entrepreneur, but he’s too boring. While part of that lameness could be attributed to Burns’s lack luster acting, the film barely tries to create suspense about who will end up as Jane’s mate.

Not that it matters. “Dresses” is all about fulfilling the romantic fantasies of women who haven’t yet found the One. Luckily, lest the film gets too cloying, cynics get a break from the love-fest in the form of a strong supporting cast. Judy Greer (TV’s “Arrested Development”) stands out as Casey, everyone’s favorite drunk and slutty, but always loyal, friend. Watching Jane bounce from party to party like she’s trapped in a G-rated version of “Wedding Crashers” can make one wonder what the point is? It’s nice to know someone else in the movie is somewhat doubtful of the optimistic blind faith that rules Jane’s life. Akerman also does her part as the typical “other woman.” She looks hot and is blissfully unaware of her own sister’s feelings, but there’s a little bit of humanity buried deep, deep inside. You come off not hating her too much – just enough to always root for Jane.

Which, of course, means you are rooting for Heigl. Clearly, the girl has her eyes on the treasured title of “America’s Sweetheart,” currently held by the Reese Witherspoons and Julia Roberts of Hollywood. You can practically see the beads of sweat on Heigl’s forehead as she strives to come off as a beautiful, yet relatable, character. Luckily, she pulls it off. Too bad you can’t say the same for the dresses she’s forced to wear.

27 Dresses
3 out of 5 stars
At Showcase and Quality 16
Fox 2000

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