There’s nothing really exceptional about 27 Dresses, which turns ten this week. The movie itself is somewhere between Bride Wars and Something Borrowed: If it’s on USA Network and my roommate and I have a bottle of wine open, sure, I won’t change the channel immediately. Jane (Katherine Heigl) is the perpetual bridesmaid that New York Journal writer Kevin (James Marsden) is secretly profiling. His cover is that he’s writing a regular column on the wedding of Jane’s bratty sister to Jane’s boss, whom she just happens to be secretly in love with. But 27 Dresses does have something none of those other romantic comedies have to offer: the “Bennie and the Jets” scene.
There should be a word for what happens when a perfect song is paired with a perfect romantic-comedy scene: “I Say a Little Prayer” in My Best Friend’s Wedding, “Lovefool” in Romeo + Juliet, “Rollin’ With My Homies” in Clueless, and “Bennie and the Jets” in 27 Dresses. (Merriam-Webster, get on this.) You know how these sorts of scenes usually go, but they’re still a delight to watch: Girl and boy share an adorable meet-cute. They’re diametrically opposed in the same way every time — she’s uptight and driven, he’s relaxed and one pair of dirty New Balances away from looking the part of an over-30 fuckup — so they bicker furiously. But then, when they’re at the right party, or they’ve had just enough to drink, their hearts soften, the perfect song plays, and voilà! They get a glimpse at their own potential happiness.
In the 27 Dresses version of this scene, the usual mid-aughts hijinks ensue: Judy Greer is playing the underrated best friend. Our female lead doesn’t know how to use fancy phones. She frowns as she overhears her sister lie to the man of their dreams. And then it happens: A thunderstorm traps Jane and Kevin in a dive bar in the middle of nowhere. Kevin decides to order a drink. And then … “Bennie and the Jets” plays.
There are so many important elements at play here, all of which happen to work perfectly: First, “Bennie and the Jets” is a song that you recognize immediately, as soon as “Bennie and the Jets” begins. It’s not like a Justin Timberlake song, where you have to give it a couple seconds to make sure you’re not confusing it with that other Justin Timberlake song, or an Aretha Franklin song, which requires precise levels of drunken shameless for one to even attempt to pull off her notes. “Bennie and the Jets” unfurls so sexily and specifically; this gives our fair leads time to remark on the perfectness of the moment. Once Elton John’s nonsense lyrics start, they’re given free reign to interpret them with feeling. It’s the perfect “drunken rom-com scene” song, because it’s okay to sing the wrong words to this song; who even knows what the right words are?
Cut to: Kevin and Jane dancing on the bar, really feeling themselves. And as an audience, we’re all feeling ourselves, too. Because haven’t you wanted this to happen to you? Haven’t you begged to be at the right bar with the right crowd at the right time, when a song as easily lovable as “Bennie and the Jets” plays, so you can tower above them, sliding around gracefully on the slippery bar, a diva for the night?
“Bennie and the Jets” belongs to 27 Dresses like “Kiss Me” belongs to She’s All That, or the way the “I’m just a girl” scene belongs to Notting Hill. It’s just as memorable, even if its movie isn’t as good. Even now, ten years out from the day this perfect moment in cinema history came down from on high, the meticulousness of the moment is burned in my memory. It would work even outside of the context of the film itself: Here are two lovers stranded in a shitty bar with cheap drinks; “Bennie and the Jets” plays, and they react as any other living beings would. Hey kids, shake it loose a lemon — something something something — gonna make a feather! Bliss.