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Nothing Bold, Nothing New, Boyfriend Stolen, Best Friend Blues

Something Borrowed is being marketed as a romantic comedy, but if the idea of maintaining a relationship with your best frenemy from high school well into adulthood sends a shudder down your spine, then it might actually be a horror movie.

That's because Rachel (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Darcy (Kate Hudson) have been best friends even longer, since their Indiana childhood. Now they’re all grown up and living in New York City (romantic comedies have to get a special permit to be set anywhere else). Even though these two have nothing in common but their shared past — Rachel is hardworking, accommodating, and reserved, while Darcy is a bawdy, high-maintenance party girl — they are still, inexplicably, best friends, even now as Rachel turns thirty.

Naturally, because they’re best friends, Rachel is serving as maid of honor in Darcy’s upcoming nuptials to dreamy Dex (Colin Egglesfield), Rachel’s best friend and secret crush from law school whom Darcy swooped in on years before. And because this is a Hollywood romantic comedy, we are meant to understand that the single Rachel — despite being attractive, highly educated, and gainfully employed — is rather pathetic; in her words, she has “wasted her twenties,” presumably because she ended them without a two-carat diamond on her left hand. But after a few too many beers at her birthday party, Rachel, the lifelong good girl, starts an affair with Dex.

Now, if this were Big Love, the HBO series in which Goodwin portrayed one of three “sister wives” married to a polygamous businessman, this transgression might not seem like such a big deal. But this is a romantic comedy, so that sort of thing just won’t fly, even in Manhattan. (There’s even a reference to Fatal Attraction, just in case you don’t get it.) So in the two months before the wedding, Rachel has to decide whether to pursue her own happiness or leave Darcy’s fairy tale intact.

The film hews relentlessly to romantic comedy conventions, even adding them when they weren’t present in the source material — for example, converting Rachel’s friend Ethan (John Krasinski) from platonic confidant to lifelong secret admirer. In fact, most of the characters bear little resemblance to their novelistic counterparts, which is a point in the film’s favor. Hudson’s Darcy is considerably more nuanced — vulgar and none too bright, to be sure, but not the unrelievedly shallow and self-centered flirt of the book, and certainly more convincing as a best friend. The characters of Marcus (Steve Howey) and Claire (Ashley Williams) — other friends in Rachel and Darcy’s circle — are also transformed, providing some laughs with their over-the-top antics, and Krasinski brings some much-needed energy to the film as Ethan fiercely trying to force the situation into the open.

Unfortunately, the characters of Rachel and Dex are almost as bland here as in the book, and Goodwin and Egglesfield, despite their attractiveness, generate no romantic sparks despite the risqué setup. The filmmakers have constructed a back story for Dex to make his motivation a little clearer, but the elements are so formulaic (domineering father, needy mother, a secret desire to be a teacher) as to be completely unconvincing. And Rachel remains almost a complete cypher, although Goodwin’s screen version has a little more backbone than her literary counterpart, showing some initiative and occasional flashes of anger and jealousy instead of just mooning and dithering, a passive spectator to her own life.

Despite breaking no new cinematic ground, Something Borrowed does manage to upend the conventional wisdom that “the movie is never as good as the book.” In this case, the screen version is marginally better than the novel, but that’s a low bar indeed.

Something Borrowed. Ginnifer Goodwin, Kate Hudson, Colin Egglesfield, and John Krasinski star in a film directed by Luke Greenfield, written by Jennie Snyder, and based on the novel by Emily Giffin.

Rated PG-13 for sexual content, some profanity, and one instance of suggested drug use; running time: 103 minutes.

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