Coming off a high from the magic of early 2000s romantic comedies like 13 Going on 30 and Bridget Jones’s Diary, my middle school self became enamored with stories featuring women who struggled with work crises and relationship dramatics. Though I was neither dealing with a work crisis or a relationship, there was something about these films that I was simply obsessed with. So it was only a matter of time until I sat down to watch the next rom com on my list after failing a pre-Algebra quiz: the beloved Jennifer Lopez film, The Wedding Planner.
Since deciding to take my college classes remotely for the fall semester, I haven’t had much of a social life and I’ve been feeling restless. In a recent effort to make myself feel better, I decided to treat myself spiritually — by rewatching my favorite middle school classic.
There is so much that is ridiculous about this movie, from Lopez’s character, Mary, lying to her client by embellishing how much her fiancé loves her so she will not make a French exit on their wedding day, to her father convincing an Italian immigrant to offer her his hand in marriage so she won’t end up alone. Even though I haven’t watched Mary make unprofessional decisions and embarrass herself since 2011, one detail has stuck with me for nine years: the M&M scene.
During an old-movie screening at Golden Gate Park, Mary’s love interest, Doctor Steve Edison (Matthew McConaughey) picks out all of the brown-colored M&M’s from his candy bag and throws the rest on the ground. He tells Mary that he does not eat any of the other M&M colors. He refuses. Thankfully, he offers an explanation for us: “I figure they have less artificial coloring, cause chocolate’s already brown.”
Watching this as an 11-year-old who had recently worn blue jeans under a plaid skirt to school because I saw it on Disney Channel, I thought Steve’s opposition to M&Ms that weren’t brown was an admirable and quirky character trait. His penchant for brown M&Ms helped show how amusing and spontaneous Steve was. Now, when I watch this as a college student, it just seems absurd. First of all, it doesn’t make sense. The coating around the outside of M&M chocolate is also artificially colored brown, just like every other M&M color. This might be reasonable if he would rather eat one candy flavor more than another, but M&Ms are all the same flavor.
In other romantic comedies, the love interest is usually the person who grounds the heroine by serving as the dependable moral compass that offsets her poor choices until she finally realizes he has “always been there.” Yet in The Wedding Planner, despite being a caring pediatrician, Steve has the opposite effect. Pre-Steve, Mary is a role model. She is a stylish, calm, and collected career woman. Post-Steve, Mary is someone who cheats with married men and risks her professionalism as a wedding planner by breaking her client’s trust. In the opening scene, she does tell one of her bridal clients that she “looks 10 times better” than Whitney Houston did on her wedding day, so we can assume her grip on reality was shaky to begin with. Can a good-looking doctor really make you lose all sense of self and suddenly be anti-food dye? According to The Wedding Planner, yes.
This weird trope where characters have preferences about a specific candy color has popped up in other movies and TV shows. In an episode of Freeform’s The Bold Type, Sutton Brady’s (Meghann Fahy) best friend asks her “what’s wrong?” after catching her picking out only the green M&Ms at a craft services catered photoshoot. In a 2010 Family Guy episode, Brian complains that all of his M&Ms are gray after specifically asking for no gray M&Ms, a play on the fact that dogs are color-blind. In 13 Going on 30, Jenna and Matt famously bond over their “razzle red” tongues.
Are candy color preferences something everyone has but me? On Passover, should I be telling my grandma, “Sorry, but I only eat the yellow jelly fruit slices”? Or is this something that lives exclusively in the realm of spunky television and movie characters? Although I personally have never handpicked all of the cotton candy jellybeans from my candy pack, I can understand why someone would. Eating the same food over and over can bring a sense of comfort. This repetition helps us feel safe when other parts of our lives are unpredictable.
Which brings me back to The Wedding Planner.
While in quarantine, I realized that Mary and Steve’s shared inside joke about the M&Ms was actually incredibly sweet. I haven’t been able to see so many people that I love in person for months. Instead of being surrounded by family like usual, I spent the last two major holidays with just my mom and stepdad. As I rewatched the 2001 film, the ending — Steve finding Mary at the park eating only brown M&Ms — made me sentimental about my own relationships and the inside jokes I have with my friends. Because what is more comforting than your friend noticing your strange food habit, and picking up on your quirks? It shows, ultimately, that they care.
This is not to say I would date a man like Steve; I am pretty much against someone who makes me feel dumb for not questioning the color of candy I’m eating. Yet, The Wedding Planner helps me feel less overwhelmed by the chaos around me and reminds me that I can always focus on the pure ridiculousness of romantic comedies.
How I Keep Calm is our series featuring different ways people manage anxiety. If you have a pitch for this column, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with “How I Keep Calm” in the subject line.
Image of The Wedding Planner in header via Columbia Pictures/Getty Images