Some will say the biggest question in the ether of the cinematic comedy-drama is if unsupportive boyfriend Nate (Adrian Grenier) or unforgiving Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) is the true villain of The Devil Wears Prada… (it’s Nate). However, I pose a more pressing but under explored question: is Julia Roberts’ character really the villain of My Best Friend’s Wedding or a lovable but misunderstood protagonist?
I fell in love with the 1997 anti-romantic comedy, which is hitting its 25th anniversary, a few years ago, and it has been my go-to for a movie night rewatch ever since. However, my friends' reaction upon showing them the film has always been an interesting experience. After the credits roll, some have looked at me in horror and proclaim, “Jules is the absolute worst!” They are not totally wrong. However, I can’t help but adore Julia Roberts’ character for her sense of humor, which is as dry as the white wine she sips, and her unbridled commitment to a romance that is doomed from the moment she starts chasing it.
Admittedly, the premise of My Best Friend’s Wedding paints Jules in a garish light. The film follows Julia Roberts’ Julianne "Jules" Potter, a 27-year-old food critic who realizes she's in love with her best friend Michael (Dermot Mulroney) and decides to try and win him even after he commits to marrying another woman (Cameron Diaz). So how could anyone warm to this woman whose monstrous actions span 105 minutes of dramedy?
Strutting in an oversized men’s Armani suit with her voluminous russet curls bouncing, Jules arrives in New York City with four days to destroy Michael and Kimmy’s (Diaz) wedding. Her composure, however, is swiftly tested as she’s ushered into being Kimmy’s maid of honor and flung into a sea of last-minute wedding preparations. It is in the nitty-gritty of My Best Friend’s Wedding that Jules’ unconventional relatability is revealed. From the beginning, her actions are rooted in her deep care for Michael. Even if misdirected, she is trying to do right by and for him.
The foundation of Jules as a character is pointedly real; initially, she’s not opposed to being single, she’s career-driven, and she lives a life of her own volition (it sounds too good to be true!). Her spiraling actions begin, quite simply, from her desire to cling to the life she has. As the ground begins to shift beneath her feet and someone she dearly loves is changing to an almost seismic degree, she digs in her nails and refuses to move on quietly. Fighting back against change, Jules’ love for Michael is both her armor and her weapon. There’s something deeply resonant about her failure to grapple with ricocheting emotions; unable to get her composure in line, she is left with an intense ardor that she is forced to act on.
Additionally, Jules’ relatable variant of jealousy is rare to see on screen. It’s not a pristine, composed sort of green air but a viscous, all-consuming burning that can’t be brushed away. This jealousy comes to a head in one of Jules’ schemes to humiliate Kimmy with a karaoke bar setup so Michael realizes that Kimmy is even more of a mess than her. It looks like it’s going to plan as Kimmy’s sharp voice wails through the bar — until she wins over the crows and has Michael staring at her in awe. The camera pans and Jules, surprisingly, looks impressed. It’s the first crack in her unhinged plan, exposing the softness that exists in her character. It’s not Kimmy she hates, but the situation.
Jules may be the chaotic protagonist of My Best Friend’s Wedding, but her journey results in a touching appreciation for platonic love. The film ends with Jules in the arms of George (Rupert Everett). He is her gay best friend (deserving of a sequel of his own) who has been a rock throughout the whole ordeal — bar the time he thoroughly embarrassed Jules and then serenaded her with "I Say A Little Prayer" in a packed restaurant — and the platonic love they share is something Jules learns to treasure. It’s a heartfelt dimension of her character that sees a deep appreciation for the facets of platonic love, realized with beautiful resonance.
Though Jules bristles with self-confidence, there’s an exposing rawness to the brutality of her actions. She may be a nightmarish whirlwind, but it’s almost impressive, dare I say aspirational, how far the "I don’t give a fuck" attitude gets her. Jules repeatedly acts on pure emotional desire in a way that would only ever exist in my daydreams. You get the impression that if it came down to it, she probably wouldn't start screaming as the priest states “speak now or forever hold your peace.” She might have come to terms with Kimmy and Michael’s relationship, but in that moment of bated breath, you know she’d be thinking about it.
A Hollywood sweetheart known for Pretty Woman and Notting Hill, Roberts embodies Jules with a magnetic charm. Though her actions may be questionable, she remains lovable as the credits roll. In retrospect, maybe there’s no villain at all in My Best Friend’s Wedding, just a collection of flawed characters trying their best to love each other as they crave the same love in return. In the end, I’d question whether Jules ever truly believed Michael was the love of her life because… well, it usually works out in the movies.