My Best Friend's Wedding: About The Production

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My Best Friend's Wedding was filmed entirely in Chicago. Director P. J. Hogan utilized the big, bold, beautiful city as have few filmmakers. He says, "Chicago's center is a show room for the world's great architects. It is a great metropolis, charged with excitement. It represents Julianne's challenge. Its grandness is a symbol for what she's up against."

Indeed, The Windy City's highrise structures are a wedding of heaven and earth, two things Julianne intends to move in order to turn events to her liking.

"Chicago is a character in the film," says Oscar®-winning production designer Richard Sylbert. "The action begins when Julianne arrives at massive O'Hare Field, one of the biggest airports in the world. This is a gigantic windmill the lady is attacking. The city grows ever bigger as her task turns more difficult and she gets more desperate, until it becomes almost surreal with the wedding and reception."

Sylbert, previously associated with cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs on Shampoo, Frances and Ruby Cairo, is referring to one of the most lavish weddings ever staged for a motion picture. Filmed at the splendid Fourth Presbyterian Church on Michigan Avenue, a fairy tale ceremony worthy of royalty is planned boasting 7,000 white Teniki roses flown in from Ecuador, representing every single Teniki rose blooming at that time. "Movie weddings are tricky," notes P.J. Hogan. "They are judged harshly. Some people go primarily to see the wedding, and some rate the film by the ceremony. Everyone has a concept of a wedding. So it is important to try to be inventive. A lot of work should go into staging a movie wedding, because it is a ritual guaranteed to produce a certain amount of madness.

"I've learned that couples often borrow from movie weddings. Believe it or not, I've met people who came down the aisle to the sounds of ABBA," he laughs, referring to the music in the much-loved Muriel's Wedding. "However, I can't guarantee that any of them are still married. Muriel's Wedding was the fantasy of a provincial girl who hadn't seen much of the world. Kimmy's planned ceremony is the dream of a girl who owns a big chunk of the world."

Speaking from his perspective, costume designer Jeffrey Kurland says, "Julianne enters a rarefied atmosphere not very familiar either to her or to the audience. We intensified the Wallace world to, let's say, a heightened reality. There had to be a feeling that she was constantly off balance in a strange. insulated land of excessive wealth and privilege. There had to be a sense that she is in the Land of Oz. Look at the costumes and sets and you know for certain that Dorothy definitely isn't in Kansas anymore!"

The dream wedding gown designed by Kurland was styled off the shoulder and double-bodiced, constructed of white silk gazarre and silk satin, hand-beaded with Austrian crystals and detailed with silk roses. The silk tulle veil, piped in silk satin, flowed 20 feet over a 14-foot train.

Between O'Hare Field and Fourth Presbyterian Church, upscale locations included the exclusive Union League Club, the Conrad Hilton (Presidential) Suite at the historic Hilton Hotel and Towers, the Drake Hotel's rich Gold Coast Room, as well as monumental structures such as Union Station and the stunning 77 West Wacker office tower.

If Julianne had any doubts about how outmatched she is in her quest, the massively exquisite home of the intended bride's parents says it loud and clear. These scenes were shot at the magnificent Cuneo Estate and Gardens, built in 1914 by Samuel Insull, Thomas Edison's partner and first president of Commonwealth-Edison. The home and grounds were subsequently enhanced and polished by publishing giant John Cuneo, Sr.

In addition to landmarks such as Lake Shore Drive, Comiskey Park was also utilized. That's because the bride's father, as a little sideline, owns the Chicago White Sox. One intimate scene was filmed on a boat moving up the Chicago River, displaying some of Chicago's famed towers.

Production designer Sylbert elaborates, "We have lots of food, lots of eating, many kitchens, restaurants and bountiful celebrations. We shot in several lovely restaurants, including the renowned Charlie Trotter's. In fact, Charlie Trotter, himself, appears in the opening scene. And while we weren't doing a travelogue, we utilized a number of windows with spectacular views of the city as a backdrop to the romance and comedy."

Part of the charm and energy of Muriel's Wedding resulted from director P.J. Hogan enthusiastically weaving the '70s music of ABBA into its fabric. "I love music," he says. "I feel that people express a lot of emotions they can't put into words through music, and that's why we all find sappy love songs so affecting."

In My Best Friend's Wedding, he continues to punctuate his work with memorable songs. Among the numbers that color the comedy and the poignancy are "I Say A Little Prayer For You" and "I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself," made famous by artist Dionne Warwick, "I Am Woman," "Annie's Song" and Rachmaninoff's rousing "Praise The Name Of The Lord."

Julia Roberts, heard singing a bit in her two previous pictures, points out, "I'm the lucky person in the movie, the only one who never has to sing."

P. J. Hogan explains, "Julia's character is much too constricted and driven ever to live in the moment and burst into song. Actually, her journey involves not only attempting to get the groom, but possibly becoming free of the emotional ball and chain she drags around."

With the invaluable assistance of the Chicago Mayor's film office and the State of Illinois' corresponding commission, the movie makers were unhampered by any production balls and chains. One of the few, albeit brief, impediments was the exuberant citywide presence of the 1996 Democratic National Convention.

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