“The Decoy Bride” is a romantic comedy, so already you know that there’s nothing particularly original about the story. Then again, there’s nothing particularly original about most stories, so what I’m I complaining about? As with most such films, what it lacks in breaking new ground is made up for in humor, warmth, and the charm of the actors, all of whom have decent onscreen chemistry. And despite the filmmakers’ best efforts to depict a Scottish isle as rainy, gray, and almost entirely devoid of modern life, its green pastures and craggy seaside cliff defy the drabness. Most of the locations are quaint, in that irresistible old world kind of way. The only exception is an isolated bathroom stall, which, according to local legend, is haunted. It looks like it barely survived a nuclear holocaust.
Two characters are established during their own opening segments. The first is Katie Nic Aodh (Kelly MacDonald). She returns to her home village, the isolated island of Hegg, after a disastrous breakup with her fiancé. On the basis of how the locals speak in her presence, it would seem that this isn’t the first time this has happened to her. She eventually admits that she has always had rotten luck with men; all the ones she finds just aren’t able to commit for one reason or another. Her latest, a musician, had the audacity to tell her that she was merely a song and not an entire album. She moves back in with her terminally ill mother (Maureen Beattie), who runs the island’s only bed and breakfast hotel. She’s desperate to see the world before she goes. Her ultimate goal, she says on a couple of occasions, is to get thrown into a volcano.
The second character is James Arber (David Tennant), who has never been to Hegg but has somehow written a best-selling book about it – one that the locals hate for its glaring inaccuracies. He’s engaged to Lara Tyler (Alice Eve), the world’s most famous actress. Her dreams of settling down with James are repeatedly thwarted by the paparazzi, especially Marco Bellani (Frederico Castelluccio), who’s a bit on the obsessive side. Every time James and Lara try to have a wedding ceremony, the press always gets wind of it and turns it into a media spectacle. Desperate to marry in peace, the couple travel to Hegg, which is remote enough that no one, not even Bellani, should be able to find them.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a comedy if everything went smoothly. For some inexplicable reason, Bellani tracks Lara down. Katie’s mother, sensing him to be a journalist, refuses to let him have a potentially well-paying story, and so she calls the tabloid magazine he works for. Photographers descend in droves. While the locals take every available financial opportunity (a duo of elderly women paint faces and glue bits of fabric onto rocks), an understandably upset Lara goes into hiding. This sends her publicity and makeup teams into a frenzy. Her sassy, high strung agent, Steve (Michael Urie), devises a plan: Hire a decoy bride and make the press think the wedding has taken place. When they leave, the real ceremony can be performed. Here enters Katie, who has been recruited to be Lara’s stand-in. Needless to say, neither she nor James is thrilled with the idea.
When they first met during a chance encounter in the aforementioned bathroom stall, it was under false pretenses. Now that Steve has them both locked in the honeymoon suite of a historical castle (renovated under Steve’s direction exclusively for the wedding), they both know who they are, and they don’t like what they see. Not at first, at least; although they initially bicker like immature siblings, they realize as they become acquainted that their perceptions of one another may be correct. They also realize that they have more in common than it first seemed. For one thing, Katie is herself a writer, albeit for a men’s clothing magazine. Her real talent has yet to be seen. She’s currently working on a new book about Hegg, one that will obviously be much more accurate than James’.
It doesn’t take a great leap of imagination to see where this is going. But even the most predictable films can work with a likeable cast. Tennant and MacDonald are a natural fit, and even when their characters fight, they exude such charm that you can’t help but root for them. I was pleasantly surprised by Eve, as her character, though indisputably beautiful, is not the shallow Hollywood typecast I assumed she would be. As for Urie, he is a bit of a one-note caricature, but then again, it’s pretty much common knowledge that all romantic comedies require at least one example of pure, uncomplicated comedy relief. That’s part of what makes them alluring. “The Decoy Bride” is by no means original, but I have to give it credit. It works well with what little it has.