Jane Nichols — Katherine Heigl’s alter ego in 27 Dresses — is picking out her 29th dress. Or rather, Heigl is picking it out for her. It’s as sunny as a romantic comedy in Malibu as Heigl selects a beautiful pink Carolina Herrera gown — one dress we can safely say she won’t shorten and wear again — before joining her 27 Dresses castmates James Marsden, Malin Akerman, and Edward Burns for EW’s reunion photo shoot.
“I feel like I’m seeing a ghost right now,” Akerman, 40, says, hugging Burns. After all, it has been more than a decade since the four actors traveled to Rhode Island to shoot the beloved film.
”I was trying to think of what was going on in the world when we were shooting the movie,” Marsden, 45, says, pausing. “The iPhone was invented. That’s how long ago it was.” Heigl, 40, laughs before adding, ”I had to have a friend wait in line for it because I was on set!”
Heigl and Marsden, who are currently starring on USA Network’s Suits and HBO’s Westworld, respectively, have seen each other off and on over the years, but for everyone else this reunion was 11 years in the making, and they waste no time catching up. Akerman, who can be seen on Showtime’s Billions, shares that she remarried in December (to BBC’s Atlantis star Jack Donnelly), and Heigl talks about her life in Utah with her three kids and husband, singer Josh Kelley.
Even as they’re being positioned for the perfect photo, they’re still chatting: “Malin, didn’t you leave the [27 Dresses set] to get married?” “Ed, is today your birthday?” The answers: yes and yes. (There’s a birthday cake and tequila on the way for Burns, 51, who starred on the TV series Mob City following the film.) Marsden turns to the photographer and explains, ”We’re just rehashing some stories.” It’s then that they’re each handed a glass of champagne, and Marsden declares, ”Now I feel like this is 27 Dresses.”
The 2008 movie introduced viewers to Jane, a young woman who embodied the old cliché ”always the bridesmaid, never the bride.” Although it might be more accurate to describe Jane as ”always the incredibly helpful bridesmaid without whom the wedding would fall apart…and never the bride.”
“I really related to Jane,” Heigl says of her character. “My experience [in my 20s] was being a people pleaser, trying to make people happy. I understood her mind-set.”
But the same can’t be said of screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna (now co-creator of The CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend), who says her best friend, Kate, inspired the script. ”By the age of 30, [Kate had] been in 12 [weddings],” McKenna says. ”I thought that was an extraordinary, verging on pathological, amount. For me, the movie was about this phenomenon of women obsessively wanting to please other people.”
But that wasn’t always pleasing to studio executives. McKenna, who also scripted 2006’s The Devil Wears Prada, says, “People were more uncomfortable with Jane over the course of development than they were with Miranda Priestly in Prada. We never got a note to make Miranda less Miranda, but I often would get the note to make Jane less of a doormat. People kept saying, ’She should be more like the women in Sex and the City,’ by which they meant sexy woman on the town, but I named her Jane. The whole point of it is that she is your all-purpose friend who drives you to the airport.”
Jane’s relatability is one of the key reasons the film has resonated with audiences more over time, particularly as the wedding-as-performance trend continues to grow, thanks to social media and Instagram. “It’s only gotten crazier,” McKenna says. “Everybody’s entire life is a photo shoot.”
In 27 Dresses, Jane’s journey begins with her running back and forth between two weddings in New York City, and she wins the award for Most Valuable Bridesmaid in both. At one of the nuptials she catches the eye of cynical journalist Kevin Doyle (Marsden). Kevin — or Malcolm, as his byline reads — writes the commitments column for a newspaper, but as Jane would come to discover, the stories that he has presented to the world are mostly fabrications. In Kevin’s experience, love is anything but undying and meeting Jane isn’t his opportunity for a happily ever after. It’s his chance to write the story that could get him a promotion.
“He doesn’t believe in all this s—,” Marsden says. “He doesn’t believe in weddings and commitment.” And when he meets Jane, she’s struggling with the concept as well, mostly because her younger sister, Tess (Akerman) comes to town and almost instantly steals the heart of Jane’s crush, her boss George (Burns). If Jane is a good friend, then she’s an even more selfless sister.
Says Heigl: ”Jane would throw herself in front of a bus for her sister and does, practically, but I loved the dynamic of Jane having to step into more than just the big-sister role but almost be her mother in a way.”
Essentially the film was telling two stories at once: the love story of Jane and Kevin, and the story of Jane’s emancipation as she learns to put herself first.
Of course, in true rom-com fashion, a sing-along jump-starts the action: When a rainstorm strands Kevin and Jane at a bar, the two decide to give in to the situation and order a boatload of drinks. Naturally, karaoke ensues, and they stand on the bar and belt out the (totally wrong) lyrics to Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets,” a detail that McKenna had specifically written into the script. (And yes, those incorrect lyrics were scripted, including “electric boobs.”)
”It’s not just that [”Bennie and the Jets”] is a song that you don’t know the words to, because there’s a lot of songs that you don’t know the words to. It’s a song that you don’t know the words to that you sing with a tremendous amount of confidence,” McKenna says. And when there was a rumor of them changing the song — “Brown Sugar” was a contender — McKenna picked up the phone. Over and over again.
“I called our executive at the studio and then I called the president of the studio and then I called [director] Anne [Fletcher], and I just kept calling people, saying, ‘You can’t change this,’” McKenna says.
The song wasn’t the only thing in contention — the film’s ending was as well. “There’s no other way for that movie to end than [with] a wedding,” Heigl says. But McKenna didn’t necessarily agree with that. ”I actually always advocated for her to end up on her own,” McKenna says. “I always wanted her to actually go on a date with someone that you felt was going to be a healthy date for her.”
But she admits that what happens in the film is much better: Once Jane very publicly reveals that her sister has been lying to fiancé George about pretty much everything, she runs across town to profess her feelings for Kevin. The movie’s final scene sees Jane walking down the aisle in her 28th dress as she’s flanked by the 27 women for whom she was a bridesmaid. Jane is finally the bride.
When the film was released in January 2008, it wasn’t met with critical praise — The New York Times called it a ”futile effort” — but audiences quickly declared their love for the story. The next year, 27 Dresses won a People’s Choice Award for Favorite Movie Comedy and a Teen Choice Award for Choice Movie: Chick Flick. And years later, it’s the film Akerman gets asked about most. It’s also the reason Marsden often gets requests to sing ”Bennie and the Jets” at bars (and even the occasional sushi restaurant).
“I don’t think anybody ever knows when you’re filming something that’s going to stand the test of time,” Marsden says. ”I think there’s a sincerity to the movie that gives it legs.”
But could there be more to this story? Heigl, for one, wants a sequel.
”I think it would be awesome to see, seriously, what are their lives like 10 years later? Do they end up together? I personally think they did,” she says. “I think [Tess and George] have, like, three kids and she’s made Jane the godmother every time, so Jane has to plan the christenings and the baby showers and the gender-reveal parties, but then all the other bridesmaids [also] make her the godmother. But [Jane and Kevin] can’t get pregnant.”
According to Heigl, Fletcher is already interested in the idea.
And here in Malibu, watching Marsden, Heigl, Akerman, and Burns reconnect, it’s hard to imagine why a sequel couldn’t happen. As the photo shoot comes to an end, Heigl swaps her latest dress for jeans and Marsden walks her out, his arm around her shoulder. For a moment, it’s as if the sequel is playing out in real life. Together with Burns and Ackerman, they pull out their iPhones — they’re still a thing — and make sure everyone has one another’s updated contact information; Burns vows to start a group text. So perhaps Heigl shouldn’t hang up her dress just yet.
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