Movie Review: Brooke Shields and Benjamin Bratt deserve more than Netflix’s ‘Mother of the Bride’

Romantic comedies are in a destination wedding rut. Perhaps it’s a collective post-COVID wanderlust kicking in, or, more cynically, some combination of tax credits and a place producers want to spend time. But between “ Ticket to Paradise,” “Anyone But You,” “ Shotgun Wedding ” and now Netflix’s “ Mother of the Bride,” the conceit is starting to curdle.

The problem is bigger than the setting, of course. There’s only so much heavy lifting a picturesque location, photogenic bodies and enviable resort outfits can do to make up for a lame story. Also, the appeal of an out-of-reach travelogue is limited in this age of influencers living wildly extravagant lifestyles around the clock on Instagram and TikTok (not to mention the sharp ways “White Lotus” has skewered and luxuriated in those worlds).

“Mother of the Bride,” now streaming on Netflix, wonders what might happen if you find out a few days before the wedding that your kid (Miranda Cosgrove) is marrying the offspring of the guy who broke your heart. That’s what happens to Brooke Shields’ Lana. She arrives in Phuket, Thailand, for her daughter’s wedding, meets the groom (Sean Teale), turns around and sees that his father is her college ex, Will (Benjamin Bratt). Barely a minute passes before they both fall into a pond.

Later, she’ll walk in on him emerging from the shower, hit him in a sensitive spot playing pickleball and, after they’ve made some progress, overhear the wrong conversation at the wrong time. This is a movie that is adhering to some kind of romantic comedy checklist, but whose ingredients add up to very little in the end.

Our tolerance for a silly set-up in a romantic comedy is usually pretty generous if we’re given a clever, charming script and authentic emotions. Just think of how ridiculous so many of the greats sound on paper, from “Sabrina” to “Sleepless in Seattle”? Is it fair to compare “Mother of the Bride” to Nora Ephron and Billy Wilder? Maybe not, but it never hurts to be aware of a North Star, which veterans like screenwriter Robin Bernheim Burger and director Mark Waters no doubt are. Just look at the title. This movie even has a romantic foil in a younger doctor (Chad Michael Murray) who is smitten with Lana, which can’t help but remind of Keanu Reeves in Nancy Meyers’ “Something’s Gotta Give.”

But this is so wildly contrived from the start that you never get to that moment where you’re enjoying it enough to stop asking questions, like did Lana never google Will in the 20 years they’ve been apart and find out that he’s a wildly rich and successful businessman? Or why would a major corporation offer an intern who has a barely maintained lifestyle Instagram that she started freshman year of college “six figures” to help promote their luxury hotels? Why are we supposed to root for these young people with seemingly infinite resources (one of their wedding presents in a multimillion Tribeca loft) who agree to get married in a month because a brand asks them to? Maybe more fundamentally, did the kids and a wedding have to be involved in this story at all? Does it make the idea of Will and Lana getting back together too weird to be fun? Couldn’t they have simply run into one another at a resort?

I won’t go so far as to say that “Mother of the Bride” feels like an AI creation but it does feel at least a little stitched together from pieces of other romantic comedies of varying quality. Why cast a capable comedian like Rachel Harris as the best friend only to have her say lines like “Is he on the menu”? Or give Wilson Cruz so little to do as Will’s brother?

And it’s a shame, too, because Shields and Bratt came ready to play, to fall in the pond and be minimally clothed for comedy’s sake. There must be a new generation of romantic comedy writers and directors who grew up on Ephron and Meyers out there and are ready to give us something that’s commercial and glossy but also smart and fun to revisit (ahem, remember “Set It Up”?). Maybe they just need to be given a shot.

“Mother of the Bride,” a Netflix release streaming Thursday, is rated TV-PG. Running time: 90 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.

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