Last year, the crowd-pleaser movies were about pregnant women —"Knocked Up" with Katherine Heigl — and pregnant teens, as in "Juno".
This year, Hollywood, that town famous for flash marriages and ugly breakups, is throwing rice (and divorce stats) to the winds and serving up a slew of films about weddings.
So what's that about? Industry observers say in a summer beset by rising food and gas prices and ongoing wars overseas, "Tinseltown" is returning to a tried-and-true formula: happily ever after equals wedding.
Who better to explain this movie phenomenon than a true romance expert. Antonia van der Meer, editor in chief of Modern Bride magazine, says people love love. "In general, people love to see other people happy, and we love seeing weddings in movies because it makes us happy."
Less romantic observers say it has a lot to do with the growing economic clout of female moviegoers. But more on that later.
Take some of the blockbusters of the summer. "Sex and the City?" Less about sex, more about a wedding. "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull?" Snakes, skulls, Soviet spies, and it all winds up at a wedding. "Mamma Mia!?" A kooky wedding in gorgeous Greece, set to ABBA songs, opening July 18. (The new twist in all these: The romantic protagonists are over 40, a reminder that it's not just the young who buy movie tickets.)
Other wedding-dominated romantic comedies, or rom-coms, are filling theaters this year: "27 Dresses", "Made of Honor" and "What Happens in Vegas". Coming up: "Vicky Cristina Barcelona", "The Accidental Husband", "Rachel Getting Married", "The Proposal", "Bride Wars" and "When in Rome". Weddings are even in art-house films, such as the upcoming "The Stone Angel".
What gives? Well, the bottom line, of course. And gauzy romance, naturally. A bit of mythology, some literary history and heaping helpings of psychology.
It's a party, unlike pregnancy
Let's start at the newsstands, groaning with the 10-pound bridal magazines likely to reap some profits from Hollywood's marital bliss. It's a two-way street: The audience influences the movies, the movies influence the audience. Van der Meer says brides are so impressed by what they see at the movies that she predicts "Mamma Mia!" will send scores to the Greek islands next year for destination weddings.
At a recent early screening of the frothy musical, there was an audible gasp from the audience when the screen filled with a stunning panoramic shot of a Greek chapel perched on a craggy hill overlooking the sea, with a winding stone staircase lined with candles.
"We're all complete suckers for a wedding in real life. If you see a bride on the street, she's always surrounded by a crowd of complete strangers attracted to her," van der Meer says. "We're hard-wired to love a bride."
Hollywood, being Hollywood, is expert at recycling whatever is cool and hip at the moment. In this calculus, van der Meer says, weddings have more enduring power as a cool, hip topic than pregnancy because, after all, a wedding is a party. Pregnancy is so not a party.
"The simple answer is that audiences really like weddings," says Anne Thompson, film historian, blogger and deputy editor of Variety.com. "It isn't coming from Hollywood's soul; it's coming from where the boffo box office may lie."
But still. We're taking lessons about happily-ever-after from matrimonially challenged Hollywood because … why, exactly?