'The Wedding Planner' screenwriter cautions: 'Don’t get nutritional information from a romantic comedy'
Still crying over a fictional character’s death from a movie you saw years ago? Having trouble letting go of that one episode of your favorite series? Grieving a gone-too-soon show? We are, too — so with this column, EW staffers pay tribute to something in the pop culture world they’re still not over. This week, Joey Nolfi remembers that time Matthew McConaughey told Jennifer Lopez brown M&M’s were healthier than the other colors in The Wedding Planner.
Hollywood stars: They’re just like us – except they have Oscars, yachts, children named after vegetation that only exists in theory, and, since the release of the 2001 romantic comedy The Wedding Planner, bonkers theories on the health benefits of eating brown M&M’s forever associated with their careers.
When it comes to the sugary-sweet stylings of the guilty pleasure “chick flick,” as dads say, starring Jennifer Lopez as the titular character who, after spending the better portion of her adult life married to her work, falls for the groom (Matthew McConaughey) of a ceremony she’s plotting, there are several traditional life lessons you should heed. For example, a fanny pack is never complete without Evian mist spritzer; do not choose “I Honestly Love You” by Olivia Newton-John as your wedding song (you’ll be divorced in a matter of months!); NEVER, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, GET YOUR HIGH HEEL(S) CAUGHT IN A MANHOLE COVER THAT RESTS IN THE PATH OF A MURDEROUS DUMPSTER; don’t yodel on the back of a horse; always carry superglue so you can quickly reattach the penis of a marble statue after accidentally castrating it — and the list goes on.
What’s also endured, just under 17 years after the film’s successful theatrical run, is a particular scene that sees McConaughey’s character, Steve (a pediatrician, nonetheless) espousing a particular method of sustenance that, to this day, has resonated with fans — this writer included.
“What are you doing?” Lopez’s Mary asks Steve as he sifts through the M&M’s in his palm, tossing aside all that aren’t brown. Instead of telling her to mind her own damn business, seeing as the candies also rest atop his freshly injured (and bandaged) wrist, which he sprained while saving her from an embarrassing death-by-mobile-garbage-bin, he instead dishes on a delightfully absurd food-based quirk none of his colleagues in medical school ever cautioned him against revealing to a potential partner. “I only eat the brown ones,” he responds. “Because I figure they have less artificial coloring, because chocolate’s already brown.”
Since you’ve probably found yourself wondering about the legitimacy of Steve’s claims (he is a doctor, after all) each time you bust open a bag of the iconic treats, we decided to dig into the accuracy of the exchange to see if you’re actually doing your insides a favor each time you down the browns. Lopez, McConaughey, and M&M’s manufacturer, Mars, were either not available for comment or declined to participate in this groundbreaking piece of investigative journalism, but EW did speak to Wedding Planner director Adam Shankman, screenwriter Mike Ellis, producer Jennifer Gibgot, and a pair of ace nutritionists, Lisa DeFazio and Elissa Goodman, on how this seemingly innocent, breezy scene has deeply entrenched itself in the pop cultural sphere — and whether or not there’s real value in implementing a lifelong dietary practice into your daily routine just because a romantic comedy that’s now old enough to drive says so.
Brown M&M’s actually contain more artificial coloring than other M&M’s
Both DeFazio and Goodman agree that Steve’s methods are those of a madman. Multiple food bloggers have also put brown M&M’s to the test over the years, including one, Biting the Hand That Feeds You, which featured an experiment that involved placing wet M&M’s atop coffee filters and watching the artificial colorings spread over the material. The results show that brown M&M’s actually contain red, orange, yellow, and even blue dyes all mixed together.
DEFAZIO: “The brown M&M’s still have food dye. So it’s B.S. [But] it makes sense, actually! I’d probably think the same thing… just because brown is brown… but when you suck on M&M’s, they all turn white because of the candy coating!”
GOODMAN: “M&M’s have a candy coating. When you suck on them and re-examine, the inner coating is white, which means they create the colors artificially — even the brown ones. It could stand that yellow may have the least, while brown has the most because brown takes more mixing and darker colors to create than yellow. It’s a cutesy approach, and using general reasoning, one may think this would make sense, so I can understand how his character could make the claim.”
Ellis and co-writer Pamela Falk lifted the scene from personal experience… like, people *actually* did this before the movie
Ellis and Falk began working on the screenplay in 1995, finishing it in the closing months of the year. Ellis tells EW five studios showed interest in the project, though four of them ultimately closed before the film could be released. As a result, there was roughly a seven-year period between shopping the finished script and the film debuting in theaters — and still, the M&M’s scene survived all incarnations.
ELLIS: “We originally pitched the script to studios in 1995, and nobody bought it. We thought it was such a strong concept that we wrote the script anyhow. The M&M’s scene was absolutely there from the beginning. It was in the first draft of the script. At the time, we were eating a lot of M&M’s. Almost everything in the movie is [from our lives]. We were eating macaroni and cheese three times a day, and Massimo [Justin Chambers] does that in the movie. When I get full, I hike up my pant leg, and that’s one of Steve’s quirks that Fran [Bridgette Wilson-Sampras] complains about, so we really tried to pull as much as we could from what was going on with us at the time.”
SHANKMAN: “When I read it, I remember laughing about it because I already knew other people who do it, so there was something about it that seemed like an easy, tropey cliché to me, but it made total sense because it was a real thing, and it deserved its place in the sun. I always thought it was weird, and when I read it in the script, I thought okay, that’s just crazy. [But the] moment is absurdly innocent. If you look at the cynicism abound today, it has a sort of childlike sweetness that maybe made that particular moment. She sees him as [endearingly] flawed as opposed to the knight in shining armor.”
GIBGOT: “We were thinking about how to make that first date the most romantic date it can possibly be. So many of these romantic comedies are about chemistry. It’s a timeless, sweet love story. That was sort of what we were aspiring to do.”
ELLIS: “We singlehandedly closed four different studios. At the eleventh hour, Sony stepped in. Any sort of roadblock you can think of: Our male star fell out four weeks before production. It was supposed to star Brendan Fraser, but four weeks before production, he fell out and we were like uh oh… Adam [Shankman] drove to Matthew McConaughey’s house and begged for him to do it, and he did.”
Why the scene has endured, much to its makers’ surprise
Of all the film’s memorable moments — you know, the Judy Greer-isms, the Bridgette Wilson-Sampras diva-tude that holds your attention each time you flip across The Wedding Planner when it’s playing on E! — the M&M’s scene was, according to Ellis and Shankman, a surprise breakout they never could have predicted.
ELLIS: “It didn’t occur to us that this would be the line that’s often quoted back to us most. At the end of the day, we’re not making a documentary; we’re trying to entertain an audience. Was that the most amusing way we could have [presented] that scene? Absolutely. There’s nothing more depressing than having the character say, ‘You know, the brown M&M’s are actually worse for you. They’re toxic and they kill you.’ That’s funny, too, but that’s a different character. The bottom line is, it’s said in a joking way. Mary knows it’s not true. She’s not a stupid character. She’s a self-possessed, smart woman [and she knows Steve’s] making a joke. In the end, she’s doing it, too, because she’s thinking about him. It’s not like she’s making that choice for nutritional reasons. She’s still thinking about Steve.”
SHANKMAN: “[To say I’m surprised by the reaction to this scene] is an understatement, because it feels like a moment that just sort of blows and passes in the movie. The line we always thought would stick is the line where Jennifer says Matthew smells like grilled cheese sandwiches. That’s so romantic and so sweet, but I never thought that the M&M’s thing would ever stick. When a movie is behind you, it really is just a job you did 15 years ago. It’s a job, and how it’s interpreted and how it stays with an audience is so out of your control that everything that occurs after is a mystery.
We all agreed that the thing about the character that makes the romantic comedy element work is he’s decisive about things, he’s a doctor, he’s forward moving, and then this girl disrupts his world. It seemed like a natural extension of him being decisive. What was more important about it is the way it endeared him to her. His feelings are very straightforward, and she reacts thinking, this guy’s cute but he’s a bit of a weirdo. I think it would be exactly the same [if it were written] today because it was based on what the writer did in real life. When writers are writing themselves and what they know and how they experience things, then it has a certain naïve charm no matter how absurd it might seem, so I don’t think, if we were thinking about things that were good for us, I don’t think anything would ever be written.”
So should we be getting our dietary information from hunky men in Hollywood movies!?
DEFAZIO: “Well, you know, he is Matthew McConaughey. He can be very convincing, but it’s good to be aware, and there’s no way to rationalize why M&M’s are going to be healthy. But it was a good try.”
GIBGOT: “I’m really disappointed to know that brown M&M’s are the least healthy. I feel very disillusioned now.”
SHANKMAN: “If you’re eating M&M’s in volume, they’re not good for you anyway.”
ELLIS: “I stand by the line, because it’s a comedy. We’re not putting out a nutritional value documentary for kids. Don’t get nutritional information from a romantic comedy. That should not be your source of information [laughs]. I think you should call a nutritionist, or call your doctor. That’s how you should find out.” [“But he’s a doctor in the movie,” EW responds.] “Well, he’s a pediatrician; he’s not a nutritionist. And he does not recommend it!”
The moral of the story
Don’t let those grilled cheese fumes cloud yo’ brains. You shouldn’t listen to a pretty man just because he’s pretty!