The entire cast of Picture Perfect is so viewer-friendly, in an episode-of-Friends sort of way, that I feel churlish picking at it. But I will. This attractive romantic comedy, directed with a slick, TV-trained hand by Moonlighting writer/exec producer Glenn Gordon Caron, is the only party around for folks who have attended My Best Friend's Wedding and are looking for any other summer movie in which a woman and a man have time for more than a quick exchange before aliens/apes/terrorists interrupt. It's as full of life lessons as an episode of Touched by an Angel.
It's also yet another contemporary movie based on a woman with a successful career who is punished with a really crappy personal life.
End of churlishness. In Picture Perfect, Jennifer Aniston plays Kate Mosley, an ambitious 28-year-old advertising director facing a few snags in an otherwise enviable life. For one thing, she's single and wishes she weren't. For another, her mother (Olympia Dukakis) wishes even more so that she weren't and noodges her daughter with a shrill nosiness not seen anywhere outside of Cathy comics. And for a third, Kate's boss (Kevin Dunn) won't promote her. Why? Because, he says, her very singleness makes her a bad bet for advancement. Without the entanglement of a mate, he suggests, there is nothing to keep Kate loyal to the agency's quest for a better tag line for, say, a mustard commercial.
Rather than filing a discrimination complaint with the EEOC, however, Kate and her office buddy (Illeana Douglas) come up with a movie-style solution: They invent a fiance out of Nick (Jay Mohr), a nice guy Kate met once at a wedding. This works well for a while: She gets her promotion, and the offstage suggestion of a boyfriend arouses Kate's colleague Sam (Kevin Bacon), the one guy she really digs but who only digs women who are not available. Soon enough, though, circumstances force Kate to actually produce Nick, whereupon she bargains with the fellow a stranger, really to appear as her beloved and then stage a breakup.
But Nick rocks the boat by actually falling in love with Kate. Whereupon everyone bursts into a Burt Bacharach song. Ah, wrong fantasy. Whereupon Kate is forced to grow up.
Kate is a smart role for Aniston in her first full movie lead, following supporting roles in She's the One and 'Til There Was You. Indeed, her sexy yet ''clean'' Friends persona makes her the obvious candidate for the throne abruptly vacated by Sandra Bullock, in the wake of Ms. Bullock's Speed 2 shipwreck, as Hollywood's gamest gal. Caron and his fellow writers Arleen Sorkin and Paul Slansky (who created the sitcom Fired Up) move the action efficiently, and, except for the hive-inducing mother-daughter scenes and one hackneyed interrupt-a-wedding climax in which Kate and Nick fight while the dearly beloveds watch like tennis spectators, there is nothing to wince at.
But that we must buy this premise at all, at this late date, is dismaying. Which is why I'm pinning all my romantic-comedy hopes on the appeal of a hero like Nick who, as played winningly by Mohr (previously a compelling weasel in Jerry Maguire), is direct, disarming, and substantial. Nick is the new thing in Gen-X boyfriends: a mature and stable man. The more of them around, the fewer interesting women characters will have to settle for lives of all work, no play. B