By Simon Whitlock
Marriage and wedding days carry with them a great deal of expectation to abide by traditions set by families and/or society, and nowhere is that more symbolic than in the wedding dress, the decorative centerpiece of the big day. If you ask me, the whole thing feels a bit old-fashioned, and it looks like writer-director Stefanie Davis is inclined to agree, judging by her first film.
“Hot Mess in a Wedding Dress” tells the story of Bella (Yvelisse Cedrez), a reluctant bride-to-be who, in the process of preparing for her quickly approaching wedding day, accidentally stains her wedding dress during an alcohol-fuelled evening with her bridesmaids.
From that point, and after a very abrupt, physical reaction to the staining of her dress, Bella leads herself down a path that sets her immediately in contrast against the expected look and behaviour of a bride.
Writer-director Davis has described the film as “not your average rom-com”, and she’s not wrong. There are no overly choreographed comedic set-pieces during which Bella and her two best friends and bridesmaids Hannah (Lexi Balestrieri) and Corey (Chelsea Wolf) get into ridiculous predicaments, and there are no melodramatic tensions between Bella and her future husband Victor (Sean Michael Gloria) which threaten their relationship.
The whole film is played more as a low-key character study, where Bella’s greatest concern is her inability to get her wedding vows completed in any way that she finds satisfactory; the fact that her dress becomes stained quickly becomes a matter of fact, where other films would have run with that conceit for all it was worth.
“Yvelisse Cedrez’s performance and Stefanie Davis’ direction both manage to hold the film up surprisingly well given its budgetary constraints.”
It’s that challenge to the genre’s conventions, and the focus on Bella the person rather than Bella the bride, which makes “Hot Mess in a Wedding Dress” particularly interesting. Cedrez is rarely off-screen for the duration of the film’s 91 minute running time, and Davis, who is also credited as the film’s editor, has decided on a cut of the film which is heavy on long takes, which really gives it a feeling of a one-woman show for the most part.
Bella’s devil-may-care attitude towards her wedding day is initially a little bit grating, but Cedrez’s performance is charming enough that that Bella quickly becomes an endearing figure, and as the film moves toward its endpoint, any hint of caricature in the character is all but wiped away. The emotional highpoint of the film involves Bella, still in her tarnished gown, going to a library for inspiration for her vowels and sharing a conversation with a married man, and it’s easily the best scene in the film thanks to Cedrez’s complete sincerity and investment in the moment.
Yvelisse Cedrez’s performance and Stefanie Davis’ direction both manage to hold the film up surprisingly well given its budgetary constraints. There are some areas where the film sadly falls short though, and it’s a shame but these problems are rather glaring.
“After watching “Hot Mess in a Wedding Dress”, it’s evident that Stefanie Davis is a filmmaker with a great deal of potential, and that potential does shine through at times here.”
Davis has made short films before, and the transition to feature directing doesn’t seem to have been entirely a smooth one. There are scenes which feel like they’ve been included to pad out the film’s running time: extended sequences of Bella putting on her make-up, or watching a table setting tutorial on YouTube don’t really go anywhere. Although Davis’ employment of long takes proves effective at certain parts of the story, scenes such as these threaten to render the whole exercise a somewhat tedious one.
The other issue – and it’s a big one – is that “Hot Mess in a Wedding Dress” isn’t really funny enough to justify its comedy label. Davis is a decent writer and she can definitely put a good gag together on-screen; without spoiling the best joke in the film, there’s a great visual bit where the wine bottle responsible for the fateful dress staining is introduced, which provoked the film’s biggest laugh. Beyond that though, the film’s comedy, unfortunately, falls flat; the exchanges between characters aim for naturalistic but feel forced and awkward, and it quickly became a question of ‘where’s the punchline?’ for a lot of the film.
After watching “Hot Mess in a Wedding Dress”, it’s evident that Stefanie Davis is a filmmaker with a great deal of potential, and that potential does shine through at times here. With the debut film now done, it’ll be really interesting to see what she makes from here. Hopefully, it’s something a little bit more cohesive.