MOTHER OF THE BRIDE – Review by Valerie Kalfrin

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It’s fitting that the new Netflix romantic comedy Mother of the Bride revolves around an influencer’s wedding full of pretty images and sponsorships. The film looks like a travelogue for Thailand, with stunning skylines, sunsets, and loads of tropical beaches and cocktails.

That’s fine if you’re in the mood to coast on the company of stars Brooke Shields and Benjamin Bratt, but it’s meh if you want more substance.

I hesitate to dunk on the film too much, as I enjoy seeing a rom-com lead who, like Anne Hathaway in Amazon Prime’s The Idea of You, is older than thirty. At 58, Shields (Holiday Harmony) looks radiant and carries off the broad humor and pratfalls that endeared her to TV audiences in the 1990s and 2000s. Bratt (Poker Face), at 60, is a handsome and chiseled match.

But the formulaic story struggles to find obstacles for these two, resorting to cliched plot points and comedic antics.

Shields, also an executive producer, plays Lana, a geneticist who is yet-another variation on the clumsy career woman, tumbling into a pond or a pool, stumbling into an end table, and so forth. It’s a wonder she doesn’t knock anything over in the lab.

For reasons the film never explains, Lana’s influencer daughter, Emma (Miranda Cosgrove, iCarly), has barely told her mother she’s dating before revealing her engagement to RJ (Sean Teal, Rosaline), whom Emma met while working in London. The creaky plot mechanics continue in Thailand, where a luxury resort company has offered Emma an all-expenses-paid wedding complete with a coordinator (Tasneem Roc) arranging endorsements.

The widowed Lana has no sooner arrived with her longtime friend Janice (Rachael Harris, Unfrosted) when she learns that RJ’s father is Will (Bratt), her college sweetheart, now a divorced wealthy executive. With him are Will’s brother, Scott (Wilson Cruz, Star Trek: Discovery), and Scott’s husband, Clay (Michael McDonald, The Loud House), who also attended college with Lana and Janice.

Will disappeared on Lana after graduation decades ago as he struggled to find his purpose in life. By the time he wanted to reconcile, the high-achieving Lana had changed her phone number and moved on to Emma’s father. Once their history and lingering resentments tumble out, Emma grimaces. “If RJ is my half-brother, the wedding is off,” she says.

Much like with 2022’s Ticket to Paradise and this year’s Irish Wish, director Mark Waters (He’s All That) and cinematographer Ed Wu (Ponyboi) take advantage of the sumptuous locations, which prove stirring when the plot doesn’t. The script by Robin Bernheim (The Princess Switch series) is at its best when the college pals catch up, poking fun at how they’re not as young as they used to be, while Emma and RJ pose for photo-ops and count followers.

Although their parents’ past and Emma’s online life gives the engaged couple some misgivings, Will and Lana’s possibly renewed connection checks familiar boxes. Awkward nudity? Yep. Dashing potential rival (Chad Michael Murray) flirting with Lana? Sure. Overheard phone call causing a convenient misunderstanding? Right again.

Mother of the Bride is commendable for showing you’re never too old for love, but in highlighting the gorgeous locations, it forgets to spotlight the romance.

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Valerie Kalfrin

Valerie Kalfrin is an award-winning crime journalist turned freelance film writer whose work appears at RogerEbert.com, In Their Own League, Script, The Hollywood Reporter, and other outlets. Also a screenwriter and script consultant, she’s passionate about challenging stereotypes about gender and disability. Let’s tell better stories and tell stories better.