Wedding’ Is a Best Friend’s Can Still Talk

The movie’s director, P.J. Hogan, hitting on topics like Dionne Warwick, the nontraditional ending, and why Kimmy’s dad waits until the end of the day to send all of his emails, When you find the theme week you want to spend the rest of your life with, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible. Thankfully, The Ringer hereby dubs this week Rom-Com Week, a celebration of one of the most delightful, captivating genres in film. Head to the top of the Empire State Building, order what she’s having, and join us as we dig into everything the rom-com has had to offer over the years.

The first time P.J. Hogan ever flew on a private jet, he was headed for disaster. On his way to Phoenix for a test screening of My Best Friend’s Wedding, the Australian director was eager to witness the first reactions to his new romantic comedy. But after a friendly plane ride with Sony head John Calley and producer Jerry Zucker, Hogan’s mood shifted dramatically on the desert ground. Despite uproarious laughter throughout the first two acts of the movie, “silence reigned supreme” over its final 30 minutes, Hogan recalls. “And by the time we got to the end, it was hatred.” Originally, Sony executives demanded their A-list star close out the movie on a high note, prompting Hogan and screenwriter Ronald Bass to give Jules (Julia Roberts) a redemptive meet-cute with a new man (John Corbett) during the end credits. But after watching her repeatedly fail to break up a wedding between her best friend Michael (Dermot Mulroney) and his college-student fiancé Kimmy (Cameron Diaz), the Arizona audience had no interest in seeing the movie’s hero-turned-villain get a happy ending. Inside the theater, it didn’t take long to see the decision backfire—audience members crucified Jules on their note cards. “You’d have thought we made The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and I was asking them to root for Leatherface,” Hogan says.

Hogan, who’d broken out a few years earlier with Muriel’s Wedding, headed back to L.A. believing he’d blown his first shot at Hollywood. “I felt like my career was over,” Hogan says. “I felt like it deserved to be over.” But Zucker remained optimistic that Hogan had a hit on his hands—he just needed to reshoot the ending, something the Aussie director had never considered as an option. “When I knew there was a possibility of reshoots, hope rose like the sun over the horizon for me,” Hogan says with a laugh. Soon, he and Bass began tweaking the script, revising the end so that Jules’s fan-favorite gay friend, George (Rupert Everett), showed up to the wedding instead, easing her single pain with a familiar song and dance. “That’s the message of the screenplay—sometimes the person you love isn’t your lover,” Hogan says. “Rupert kept saying, ‘You need me at the end.’ I think he knew the impact he was going to have in the film way before any of us did.”

The new material rescued the movie (a second test screening proved much smoother) and the last-minute changes—on top of a variety of other musical additions and rewrites—paid major dividends. Throughout the summer of 1997, My Best Friend’s Wedding earned $127 million at the domestic box office and added another $172 million globally, turning the genre’s standard fairy-tale ending on its head while affirming Roberts’s unwavering star power. Almost 25 years later, it remains a modern rom-com classic, one that Hogan still enjoys dissecting and theorizing about to this day. And over the course of two-plus hours, he was game to answer every question we had. “There’s something fizzy and vital and alive about it at its best,” he says. “But it has a lot to do with the fact that she doesn’t get the guy.” No, it wasn’t very romantic and it wasn’t very funny. I kind of knew around the midpoint, you had to start questioning the strength of [Michael and Julianne’s] romance. If you start to think they belong together, the ending would collapse, and the ending was why I did the movie. The major thing to me was it needed to be a lot funnier, so I started riffing with [my wife] Jocelyn [Moorhouse]. Rupert Everett’s character, George, was only in two scenes—the opening scene, and when he showed up in Chicago to give Julianne some sage advice. I wanted George to hang around. I’d never read a script in the early ’90s that had an openly gay character pleased to be himself in the way his best friend isn’t. I said to Jocelyn, I really love this character, and I think he could really make a mark in the movie. We had some Australian friends in town, we all got drunk and we pretty much riffed the whole “George visits Chicago” scene when Julianne gets the great idea to pass him off as her fiancé. We were just roaring with laughter.

What did you make of Julia Roberts at the time? Why do you think she was interested in portraying a darker character? I found her absolutely charming, and I saw immediately what made her a movie star. I suspected that, much like me, she didn’t expect her career to be founded on romantic comedies. I think Pretty Woman was such a blockbuster that she got pigeonholed. This was an actress who really wanted to do something that her audience didn’t expect. There was a lot of pressure on Julia that she was returning to her wheelhouse: This one had better connect.