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A sitcom come to the big screen, Picture Perfect makes the most of the Thursday night phenomenon that is Rachel.

By Chaney Rankin

AUGUST 11, 1997:  Well, they've all finally made it to the big time. Now that Ross, Rachel, Phoebe, Chandler, Joey, and Monica each have a motion picture on their résumés, Rachel takes the lead and becomes the first Friend to have two films to her credit. Now, someone very precise and anal retentive might disagree and say that Courteney Cox has actually done several films--and she has, but that was before she became known to sitcom fans the world over as Monica Gellar. And, someone equally precise and anal retentive might disagree and say that it's Jennifer Aniston, not Rachel, who has become the big star. But if you look closely, that's not quite true.

Hollywood is full of remarkably well-paid actors and actresses with the unique talent of turning every character they play into the same character, only in different movies. Robin Williams and Jim Carrey spring to mind; generally, this is because the actors in question have personalities too strong and marketable to hide behind trivialities like different characters. But maybe it's also because their first character is their best; why abandon a sure bet?

So it is with the Friends. In Picture Perfect, what we basically see is Jennifer Aniston as the cute, city-dwelling charmer Rachel Green on the silver screen--just as we saw David Schwimmer-as-Ross woo Gwyneth Paltrow with his trademark puppydog style in The Pallbearer, and Lisa Kudrow bring Phoebe's entertaining airheadedness to Romy and Michele. Fortunately, Aniston does a great Rachel, and Rachel was born for romantic comedy.

So, apparently, was Glenn Gordon Caron, the film's director and co-writer, best known for his '80s brainchild Moonlighting, which brought him a batch of awards and gave the world the smug ham that is Bruce Willis. Caron has given us an ancient plot--the fake engagement that brings true love--but revives it with subtle changes and original touches.

Rachel--uh, I mean Aniston--plays Kate, an up-and-coming Madison Avenue advertising exec who manages to get away with wearing notably short, low-cut dresses to work. She's intelligent and career-driven with a nervously cute manner and fab haircut peculiarly similar to a certain sitcom star. Her boss (Kevin Dunn), however, is old-fashioned; when she's up for a promotion she deserves, it's denied because said boss doesn't feel that young, hip, unattached Kate has enough stability (read: a husband) in her life to assure him that she'll stay with the company. While she's hyperventilating in the ladies room, her best friend Darcy (Illeana Douglas) takes matters into her own hands by inventing a fiancé for Kate from a happenstance photo of Kate and a man she met at a wedding in Boston. After the trick nets her the promotion, Kate reluctantly goes along with it. The little deception has the added bonus of attracting the previously uninterested Sam (Kevin Bacon), who is only lured by attached women. When Kate becomes technically unavailable, he immediately becomes available.

This all goes uncommonly smooth, until Nick (the pretend fiancé, played by Jay Mohr) becomes famous for saving a little girl from a burning building. Kate's boss wants to have dinner with the two "lovebirds," so she drives up to Boston, tells Nick the story, and he agrees to go to dinner, fake a fight, and "break up" with her. But guess what? We soon discover that he's only doing this because he likes Kate. A lot. She, however just wants to complete the show and move on. The appropriate hijinks ensue.

MOVIE GURU RATING: Meditative

Caron has done an admirable job in making this movie more romantic and less comedic. Fear not--it's full of the witty repartee that characterizes both Moonlighting and Friends, creating a situation in which both director and star can excel--and excel they do. While this kind of plot traditionally attempts to exploit every opportunity for side-splitting hilarity (think Son-in-Law, Green Card, While You Were Sleeping...--or maybe you shouldn't), Caron takes the high road. He treats the subject a bit more seriously, focusing on Nick's immediate attraction to Kate, and on how she struggles to resolve the situation. And in this you have one of the most refreshing departures from tradition: far from being clumsy and comically embarrassed at trying to keep up the falsehood, Kate manipulates Sam easily into her bed with flowers supposedly from Nick and protestations of fidelity that fade with perfect timing.

Aniston is, of course, believable, since she's had a lot of practice with this character. Kate is more or less Rachel with a better job, and the script and film itself work well with that. No one in this movie really stands out as a paragon of acting, but Bacon does well with Sam, who's a bit shady but not a Bad Guy. Mohr is not given a lot of room to work; Nick is the archetypal Sensitive Guy: kind, gentle, loving, and prone to rescuing small children. But he's still sweet to watch. In the end, though, not even Caron's keen reworking nor Aniston's charm can disguise the overused plot. There are no surprises in Picture Perfect; while it is enjoyable, it isn't exactly enthralling. After all, every person in the audience had to know exactly what was going to happen. But the laughs were loud and the romance was, well, romantic. It may not be Oscar material, but it's worth missing Thursday night's Must See Summer Reruns for, anyway.







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