By Jeff Walsh
"Wedding Wars" (airing Monday, December 11, 9 p.m. ET/PT, on A&E) is the story of two brothers. Shel is a gay party planner hired to plan his brother Ben's wedding. Ben is marrying the daughter of the Governor of Maine. It's an election year, and the governor ends up going on the record that he opposed gay marriage, which offends Shel. Shel goes on strike and causes a nationwide movement of gays who refuse to go to work.
OK, I'll go on the record right up front that it isn't the most realistic movie, if you're looking for politics. But, that said, if someone like me, living in the Castro in San Francisco, watched this and thought it really hit the mark... then people that really need to see it would hate it completely.
The problem with politically themed movies is they always run the risk of alienating both sides of the audience. So, if a movie is getting national attention and star power to focus attention on, and make people think about, gay marriage, then sign me up!
Shel (John Stamos) is not a gay activist. He lives with a partner, but is not out to his parents. He takes the wedding planning job in the hope of healing the rift with his brother Ben (Eric Dane, McSteamy on Grey's Anatomy) that began when he came out. Shel is full of life while creating the dream wedding for them, and getting caught up in the spirit of the moment when the Governor (James Brolin) publicly supports an amendment banning gay marriage, in a speech written by Ben, who is also the governor's campaign manager. Shel goes on strike as the wedding planner, which eventually becomes a national media event that divides the families.
I'm not really big on crediting straight actors for playing gay (or else I'd have to do the reverse, which is equally silly), but Stamos plays a likeable character here. He's guided entirely on instinct, doing what he feels is right, even if it is a bit misguided. Dane plays the heavy, trying to smooth things over with his boss and future father-in-law, his gay-friendly wife, and the brother from whom he'd grown apart. It's a thankless role, since we're all rooting for Stamos, but he gives it as much depth as such a premise allows.
I think the battle of hearts and minds starts with conversations, and anything that makes people think about an issue they'd rather avoid, like gay marriage, is a welcome addition to the dialogue. There are people who will automatically watch this movie because of Stamos or McSteamy, whereas a random movie or special about gay marriage would never attract their interest. The movie has its heart in the right place (no surprise, given it was directed by Jim Fall, who brought us Trick), and if you go in with the right expectations, it's a cute farcical comedy.
As it airs throughout the month of December, it can also be a perfect movie to "accidentally" find when scrolling the channels, for anyone who needs extra help coming out or somesuch over the holidays. It can also be a good litmus test for people who want to test the homosexuality waters with their family for coming out in the future.
Change doesn't happen overnight, and every little bit helps. Speakers about gay marriage at pride events resonate stronger, but reach no one who isn't already convinced. "Wedding Wars" doesn't preach to the converted, and focuses more of its attention on the comedy than the politics.
That could potentially be its greatest strength, sneaking politics in between the laughs.