(by Dustin Putman
Because it is so difficult to reinvent the wheel within the romantic comedy genre, the best-case scenario one should ever hope for is that the story, characters and audience be treated with respect and intelligence. "Something Borrowed," based on the novel by best-selling author Emily Giffin, succeeds at these things most of the time. Director Luke Greenfield, working from a screenplay by television writer Jennie Snyder (CW's "90210"), doesn't have the breadth of material to repeat the success of his last feature, 2004's superbly realized "The Girl Next Door," but one can tell the same creative force is behind it. Greenfield aims to toy with and even defy certain expectations while also taking good care of his stylistic mise en scene. His accompanying soundtrack, such a character in and of itself in "The Girl Next Door," is once again made up of more than just the hip artists of the moment, each selection (from Collective Soul to Counting Crows to Third Eye Blind to Salt-N-Pepa) carefully chosen to supplement the narrative. "Something Borrowed" doesn't always evade the traps of convention—yes, this is one of those films where the protagonist is supposed to be seen as less than the ideal of physical beauty, despite clearly being as pretty as the so-called "gorgeous" one—but it is the first film of its kind in a while with an ending that isn't such an obvious foregone conclusion. Article continues below
Rachel (Ginnifer Goodwin) has always been okay playing second fiddle to longtime best friend and self-described "life of the party" Darcy (Kate Hudson), so it's understandable that she's racked with guilt when, on her thirtieth birthday, she ends up sleeping with Darcy's fiancé, Dex (Colin Egglesfield). It's correct that Rachel and Dex have much more in common—they're both attorneys, and were friends and study partners in law school long before Darcy was introduced to him—but a line of ethics has nonetheless been crossed, and Rachel knows it. As feelings are revealed and the two of them embark upon an affair, neither can seem to take the next step in revealing the truth to the one person bound to be most hurt by such a betrayal. The mess becomes more complicated when Darcy confides that she, too, has been unfaithful. Confidante Ethan (John Krasinski) is far from shy about telling Rachel she needs to finally take a stand and either fight for what she wants, or let Dex go. Whatever she chooses, she's bound to lose someone she loves.
Without just the right treatment, "Something Borrowed" might have self-destructed solely on the basis of Rachel's dishonest, sneaky actions. There's nothing worse than an unlikable heroine in a romance. Fortunately, the film does a nice job of portraying every side of the argument. Rachel is ashamed of herself for sleeping with her best friend's significant other and hesitant about how to handle the situation. She has loved Dex since law school, but let the handsome fellow go because she didn't believe her emotions could possibly be reciprocated. From Dex's point-of-view, he started a relationship with Darcy only after he got the sense that Rachel wasn't interested. It's Rachel he's always cared for, though, but now, so deep into the wedding plans, he's afraid to cancel and disappoint not only Darcy, but also his eager family. His mother (Jill Eikenberry) has only recently overcome a clinical bout of depression, and he doesn't want to risk her recovery. As for Darcy, she's a little conceited and a little immature, a young woman who isn't even sure if Dex is "the one," but also can't envision a life without him. To be sure, she's not a total innocent herself. When so many movies of this ilk are strained and dumbed down for the benefit of the script, here's one that sees its characters as flawed, complex individuals and tries to reason why they do what they do. Helping out all the more is Ethan, the voice of every viewer as he questions and frequently hands out tough love to Rachel for not being brave enough to use her backbone.
Ginnifer Goodwin (2010's "Ramona and Beezus") is exuberantly well-cast as Rachel, her only pitfall being that she is so pretty. At least twice, Rachel makes mention of how much better-looking Darcy and Dex are than her—"Hot people are supposed to be with hot people" and "I didn't think someone like you could like someone like me" are both uttered—and the problem, other than it not being valid, is that Dex never refutes her statements. Perhaps it is more a statement about Rachel's low sense of self-worth than something to be taken as fact, but it still would have been nice for Dex to tell her how beautiful she is. He is, after all, in love with her. This problem area notwithstanding, Goodwin is a lovely presence, the sort of instinctive actor who can express so much just in her face alone. Her chemistry with Colin Egglesfield (2005's "Must Love Dogs"), making more out of the male love interest than one usually finds or expects, is equally potent, Rachel's and Dex's bond one that is given welcome time to grow and flourish as more than just a fling. The frustration that comes with the two of them hemming and hawing about taking the next step knowing that everything is bound to change is intentional, commented upon by Ethan in a harsh, deserved moment where he calls Rachel "pathetic." It stings her because she knows he's right.
As Darcy, Kate Hudson (2009's "Nine") has a firm handle on a tricky role, careful to neither make her despicable nor virtuous. Darcy is egotistical, but that's her nature; she isn't malicious about what she does, and she and Rachel have a yin-yang friendship that works. Watching them perform a choreographed dance to Salt-N-Pepa's "Push It" isn't the silly throwaway it could be seen as, shedding light on their history and camaraderie. In spite of how disparate they are, they make it work. Darcy is bound to find out what Rachel has been hiding from her, and the question in this regard is how she will react. Will their relationship ever be mended? Hudson is comedically sharp and emotionally honest to her character throughout. John Krasinski is a hit-and-miss performer, someone who has grated on the nerves or been strikingly bland in the past, but also someone who proved with 2009's "Away We Go" that he has it in him to be great. For the second time in his film career, Krasinski impresses. His Ethan says what anyone on the outside looking in at Rachel's predicament is sure to be thinking, and Krasinski brings charm and a helping of levity to the part of a guy who cares about his platonic gal pal more than he lets on. Finally, Ashley Williams steals her scenes and earns several solid laughs as Claire, a woman who will stop at nothing to win over past fling Ethan. When the story is getting too serious and dark, Williams can be counted on as welcome comic relief who nonetheless never gets in the way of the plot's focus.
"I wasted my twenties," Rachel says in near-disbelief at turning thirty. "You didn't waste them," Dex replies, "You just grew up." Generally lighthearted yet wise, "Something Borrowed" runs a little long as the threads of the narrative work themselves out—and the movie brushes over Rachel's professional unhappiness altogether the moment after she states that she hates being a lawyer—but involves and entertains while it happens. The final scenes are also of particular worth in director Luke Greenfield's decision to culminate in an ending that satisfies without tying everything in a neat bow. There's a tinge of melancholy to it, actually, as there should be. Sometimes there are sacrifices that must be made in order to be true to oneself.