Katherine Heigl, who earlier this year got "Knocked Up" in the hit motion picture comedy from Judd Apatow, and nabbed an Emmy® for her starring role as a surgical resident in "Grey's Anatomy," is always a bridesmaid but never a bride in the romantic comedy 27 DRESSES. From the screenwriter of "The Devil Wears Prada," 27 DRESSES centers on Jane (Heigl), an idealistic, romantic and completely selfless woman... a perennial bridal attendant whose own happy ending is nowhere in sight. But when younger sister Tess captures the heart of Jane's boss - with whom she is secretly in love - Jane begins to reexamine her "always-a-bridesmaid..." lifestyle.
Jane has always been good at taking care of others, but not so much in looking after herself. Her entire life has been about making people happy - and she has a closet full of 27 bridesmaid dresses to prove it. One memorable evening, Jane manages to shuttle between wedding receptions in Manhattan and Brooklyn, a feat witnessed by Kevin (James Marsden), a newspaper reporter who realizes that a story about this wedding junkie is his ticket off the newspaper's bridal beat.
Jane finds Kevin's cynicism counter to everything she holds dear - namely weddings, and the two lock horns. Further complicating Jane's once perfectly-ordered life is the arrival of younger sister Tess (Malin Akerman). Tess immediately captures the heart of Jane's boss, George (Edward Burns). Tess enlists her always-accommodating sister to plan yet another wedding - Tess and George's - but Jane's feelings for him lead to shocking revelations…and maybe the beginning of a new life.
27 DRESSES caps a remarkable year for Katherine Heigl, whose ascension to superstardom began with her award-winning role in the top-rated series "Grey's Anatomy" and continued with her knockout performance in "Knocked Up." When 27 DRESSES producer Jonathan Glickman saw early footage of Judd Apatow's comedy, he felt that Heigl "was really spectacular - you could see that she had a great energy." Glickman and fellow producers Gary Barber and Roger Birnbaum, partners at Spyglass Entertainment, were thrilled when Heigl said "I do" to 27 DRESSES.
Heigl found much to explore with the character. "Like other people, Jane takes pride doing the things she's really good at," notes Heigl. "She clearly loves being a bridesmaid; Jane is just taking it too far because she's filling her life with other people's desires, forfeiting her own memories or the memories she might make for herself. She's sort of a secondary character in her own life."
"I really enjoyed the opportunity to play a character that is funny and charming, yet flawed - it's everything I want in a comedic character," Heigl continues. "I love this kind of comedy and enjoyed seeing how far I could push the humor. I've been waiting my entire career to have this kind of role."
Aline Brosh McKenna, who wrote the original screenplay for 27 DRESSES and the adaptation for the critical and commercial success "The Devil Wears Prada," describes Jane's saga as "a delayed coming-of-age story about a woman who finds out what things she needs to change about herself in order to go from being a bridesmaid to being a bride."
McKenna says her screenplay was inspired by a friend's myriad stints as a bridesmaid. "She has been in about a dozen weddings, which I thought was fascinating," says McKenna. "I thought, what would make somebody the sort of person who would be invited to be in that many weddings? Obviously she has a lot of connections and friendships, but there was something that was disconnecting her from having a relationship that belonged totally to her."
McKenna's facility in creating sparkling dialogue and comedic yet heartfelt characters and situations, was critical in attracting Heigl and the behind-the-camera team to the project. "Aline has a great way with fun, quick dialogue that really develops these characters as real people," says Anne Fletcher, the acclaimed choreographer ("The 40 Year Old Virgin," "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story") who directed 27 DRESSES. (Her helming debut was the hit dance film "Step Up.") "I loved her script and completely identified with Jane because I, too, am a full-blown co-dependent! My nickname is Mama because I like to take care of everything and everyone. But when you always want to 'do' for everybody, you forget about yourself. That's what has happened to Jane and, I think, to a lot of women."
With the late Bobby Newmyer, an executive producer on 27 DRESSES, McKenna pitched her story to Spyglass Entertainment; the company's Barber, Birnbaum and Glickman immediately saw the film's appeal. "Here was this girl that everybody loved but who never had a boyfriend and never put herself out there to try to get what she wanted," Glickman notes. "She is a fun, intriguing character."
Work continued on the script, and the story evolved from a tale of two friends dueling over the same man to a story about two sisters with a complex family dynamic, which provided more character and story-based humor and emotion. "We tried to keep the story focused more on Jane's emotional journey and character as opposed to the mechanical nature of how two people are going to find each other," says McKenna. Adds Glickman: "27 DRESSES is a naturalistic movie with the very big idea about a woman who's been a bridesmaid twenty-seven times. It allows us to send up craziness that can occur at weddings, but at the same time we have a character-driven romantic comedy with some big surprises."
Once production began, Fletcher and McKenna quickly became fans of the film's star. "Katie [Heigl] has such a great understanding of physical comedy, character development, and of what is naturally funny," says Fletcher. "She is brilliant at playing both the physical comedy and sensitivity of this character." Adds McKenna: "It's amazing that someone who is that beautiful and that poised can convey the humor and the loneliness of being a perpetual bridesmaid. Katie is amazingly funny, her timing is impeccable, and she understands and has a lot of empathy for Jane."
While Heigl's Jane is the story's heart and soul, the other leading roles are critical to defining her journey. Jane's beloved but duplicitous younger sister, Tess, is played by Malin Akerman, who recently starred as Ben Stiller's bride-from-hell in "The Heartbreak Kid," and is now before the cameras for the long-anticipated "Watchmen." "Tess is Jane's Achilles' heel," notes Heigl. "She can't say no to Tess and she can't let Tess make her own mistakes. Jane is always cleaning up after her and fixing everything, which Tess has come to expect and take advantage of without considering the consequences. They love each other immensely and there's a real bond there, but it's gone a little awry as they've gotten older."
"Tess is definitely the typical younger sister who's had the road paved for her by her older sister," says Akerman. "She knows how to manipulate situations - and her sister. It's a fun character to play because Tess gets stuck in the 'Bridezilla' zone and goes a little bit nuts. But deep down she's a real woman who knows what's going on."
The filmmakers wanted each sister to have a distinctive look. Jane is attractive but not too flashy, notes costume designer Catherine Marie Thomas, but "Tess had to pop. The first time she encounters George, the moment where Jane's heart is broken, we wanted Tess to be radiant and glowing - with a look that would stop traffic. Amid characters wearing dark clothing, Tess is in yellow, a gorgeous woman in this short dress with no back; she just beams. Poor Jane, her boss is just drooling."
The two actresses hit it off immediately, but Heigl wondered whether the audience would buy them as sisters. "My first thought was that Malin and I look nothing alike," says Heigl, "but we picked up some of the same mannerisms and started talking the same way. When we went to dinner in Providence [where most of the film was shot], four or five people asked if we were sisters!"
The men in Jane's life are a cynical newspaper reporter, Kevin, and a self-made entrepreneur, George. James Marsden plays Kevin, an ambitious reporter at the fictional New York Journal, where he begrudgingly pens a Sunday "Weddings" column that, despite his cynicism about the ritual, is beautifully and sensitively written.
Fletcher cast Marsden after working with him in "Hairspray," on which Fletcher was an associate choreographer and second unit director, and Marsden played the Baltimore television-dance-show host Corny Collins. She notes the volatile Jane-Kevin relationship is a classic "rom-com" situation of opposites repelling then attracting one another. "You can understand why Jane resists Kevin," says Fletcher. "He's sarcastic and cranky, and he nags and constantly bugs her. His protection is his wit and sarcasm, but he's charming, charismatic and funny."
Adds McKenna: "There is, however, a trait both characters share, for Jane and Kevin are observers - he by profession - and in their own ways both have chosen to sit on the sidelines."
Marsden, best known for his role as Cyclops in the "X-Men" film trilogy, was eager to tackle a romantic leading man part. "I usually play the guy who gets the short end of the stick in, so it is nice when I read 27 DRESSES and realized, 'They're considering me for the guy who may actually get the girl!'"
Ed Burns' progressive-thinking, über-male George is in some ways the polar opposite of Marsden's cynical newspaperman. George is the founder and CEO of a manufacturer of environmentally-aware clothing and outdoor equipment. "George is some kind of movie version of the ultimate urban male," says Burns. "He is very P.C., does a lot of good environmental work, is a self-made man, a Big Brother to a young boy - and he has a great dog. Of course we all know that guys like George don't really exist."
Judy Greer plays Casey, Jane's best friend and colleague at George's company, Urban Everest. "Casey is kind of brassy and loud and doesn't have much of a censor inside of her; she just says whatever comes to mind," says Greer. "She's fun, tries to bring out the wild side in Jane, and is super-loyal, valuing their friendship over all else."
Also taking on a starring "role" is the titular, often outrageous wedding garb designed by Catherine Marie Thomas. Thomas credits Fletcher with encouraging her to push the fashion envelope. "Anne was very eager to explore the crazier side of bridesmaid dresses," says Thomas. "If you use 27 normal dresses, it doesn't look interesting. We wanted to convey the kind of pain that accompanies the wearing of such 'unusual' styles."
Fletcher's background in dance influenced the designs. "I wanted to turn the dresses into costumes with matching outfits that make everyone look as if they're going to break into a dance number," she explains.
Thomas likens the dress selection process to that of solving a puzzle. "Initially we had fifty outfits, so we'd lose one dress and push another into something that was a little funnier, maybe adding lace or a hat," she elaborates. "After we arranged them to the point where we were happy with assortment, we realized to our chagrin that we were three dresses over, and had to eliminate more."
Heigl's favorite outfit was what she calls the "Gone with the Wind" dress, an outfit that would have done Scarlett O'Hara proud. The dress, also known as "Plantation Wedding," was made of yellow silk with orange flowers and orange ribbon lacing. It was accessorized with a straw bonnet with orange trim and grosgrain ribbon tie, a white lace parasol with orange ties, and bright yellow heels. "For the 'Gone with the Wind' wedding, we built everything, including eight gigantic hoop dresses, all different colors," she says.
Then there was the "Bahama Mama" dress - hot pink with big sections of pink and yellow tulle all the way around the bottom of the skirt; the "Cowgirl Dress" (aka "Cowboy Wedding"), featuring a white cowboy hat with hot pink flower; the "Underwater Dress," complete with hot pink flippers and goggles; and the "Green Vomit Dress," which probably requires no further explanation.
Though set primarily in New York City, much of 27 DRESSES was shot in Rhode Island. "Providence [Rhode Island], offered a great alternative because it offers locations that double very well for Manhattan," says Jonathan Glickman. "Also, much of 27 DRESSES is set outside of the City - on a beach and in rural upstate New York - and Rhode Island was a perfect fit for those locales."
Key Rhode Island locations included the Rosecliff and Marble House Mansions in Newport, a diner in East Greenwich, a beach in Charlestown, the city of Providence (which provided some New York City and Weehawken, New Jersey exteriors), and a dive bar in Pawtucket, where Jane and Kevin lead the patrons in a stirring if tipsy rendition of the classic Elton John tune "Benny and the Jets."
In Pawtucket's Hope Artiste Village, a mixed-use industrial/loft space, production designer Shepherd Frankel created interior sets for the Urban Everest offices and a Hindi-Jewish wedding scene. "Shepherd's done a great job not only selling Rhode Island as New York, but also creating interiors like Urban Everest, as well as the news bullpen for the New York Journal; the Journal set feels like no other movie scene set in a newspaper office," Glickman notes.
The production did spend two critical weeks in the Big Apple, shooting locations unique to the City. "We used some familiar locations, like Central Park, but also parts of New York you don't see in movies, like the East Village, where Jane's apartment is located, and the Meatpacking District where George's company is based," Glickman adds.
Throughout production and into the final stages of post-production, the key word for Anne Fletcher was "big" and "relatable." "When I hear 27 DRESSES described as a modest romantic comedy, I say, 'Stop!' she exclaims. "It's a gigantic movie!' Every wedding scene is enormous, from the flowers to the dresses to the people to the dancing and every other component. But the challenge was to make the situations and characters big and recognizable. I didn't want to play it over the top. We wanted audiences to fall in love with these characters from the second they meet them."
And what of the woman whose many trips to the altar as a bridesmaid inspired screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna? "My friend got engaged just a couple of months before the movie got its official greenlight," says the screenwriter. "She'll be married by the time the movie comes out!"
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