Erin Clements recently published this article in TODAY about what we can learn about giving wedding speeches from Hollywood movies. Her compendium was too good to pass up, so I’m publishing it here, with a few tips and comments of my own.
From the April 27th edition of Today:
Anyone who’s had to give a wedding toast knows how stressful it can be, especially if public speaking isn’t your forte.
You want to strike the right balance of humor and sentimentality, making your speech sufficiently thoughtful, but wrapping it up before guests begin to nod off.
Fortunately, Hollywood has provided plenty of examples of how wedding speeches can go right — or very, very wrong. Here are seven pointers we’ve pulled from pop culture to get you through your next toast:
1. You only get one turn at the mic
The dueling speeches delivered by Annie (Kristen Wiig) and Helen (Rose Byrne) in 2011’s “Bridesmaids” are a hilarious demonstration of what not to do (which includes trying to impress the crowd with your rusty high school Spanish).
MZ: Resist the impulse to one-up anyone; this is not a competition. It doesn’t really matter whom the bride or groom really considers “closest” to them on this special day. And if it’s you, it’s not necessary to announce it to the world.
2. Gracefully ignore interruptions
When Carrie is asked to give a wedding speech for Miranda’s friends in the “Sex and the City” episode “The Chicken Dance,” she writes a surprisingly touching poem for the occasion. Big nearly ruins the moment when he rudely rushes out to take a call, but Carrie remains poised, passing off tears over her own relationship shortcomings as “tears of joy for the happy couple.”
MZ: And a word about handling hecklers: try responding to the entire audience so that you don’t engage the offender in conversation. Don’t make direct eye contact, which may seem as if you are ready to be aggressive. Just gracefully try changing the subject, possibly by making a joke, and then swinging the focus back to whatever your next point is.
3. Make it genuine
After attempting to sabotage the nuptials of Michael (Dermot Mulroney) and Kimmy (Cameron Diaz) in the 1997 rom-com “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” Julianne (Julia Roberts) offers a truly heartfelt apology. “I dreamt that some psychopath was trying to break the two of you up,” she tells them. “Luckily I woke up and I see the world is just as it should be. For my best friend has won the best woman.”
MZ: Sincerity trumps all. If the audience relates to you, empathizes with you, is charmed by you, it doesn’t matter how mundane the sentiment is you’re expressing. They’ll say you did a great job!
4. Inject some humor
Charles (Hugh Grant) turns his speech in “Four Weddings and a Funeral” into a standup routine about the unfortunate circumstances of his last best-man gig. “The divorce came through a couple of months ago. But l’m assured it had absolutely nothing to do with me. Paula knew Piers had slept with her sister before I mentioned it in the speech,” he jokes. But after a few zingers, he gets sentimental, telling the couple, “I am, as ever, in bewildered awe of anyone who makes this kind of commitment that Angus and Laura have made today.”
MZ: What can I say? I could watch this clip of Hugh Grant at his most charming over and over again. But…warning: humor is very tricky to pull off, so don’t try to be a stand-up comedian. Self-deprecating humor, not a joke at the bride or groom’s expense, is what we’re after. This is NOT a roast!
5. Don’t mention exes
In 2012’s “The Five-Year Engagement,” Tom (Jason Segel) is less than charmed when best friend Alex (Chris Pratt) performs an inappropriate parody of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” complete with a slideshow of his many past girlfriends.
MZ: Self-explanatory! I can’t envision any scenario in which mentioning an ex girlfriend/boyfriend/husband/wife/partner is going to turn out well!
6. Keep it short and sweet
In “The Hangover Part II,” set in Thailand, Alan’s (Zach Galifianakis) cringe-worthy list of “fun facts” about the country (whose name he mispronounces) prompts Doug (Justin Bartha) to wisely advise, “Why don’t you skip to the last card there, buddy.”
MZ: You’ve been asked to speak because of your special relationship to the bride or groom. Presumably, you have something of value to say about that relationship. Say it, as charmingly as possible, and sit down. Do not wing it; be prepared (but not over-prepared in the wrong way, as Alan was in this clip,) and respect the audience by not holding them hostage.
7. Focus on the couple — not yourself
During Chandler and Monica’s wedding on “Friends,” Joey attempts to impress Chandler’s mom’s date, a Broadway director, by showing off his acting skills. “I realized I’ll always be their friend, their friend who can speak in many dialects and has training in stage combat and is willing to do partial nudity,” he awkwardly proclaims.
But as Joey demonstrates, even if you mess up, just raise your glass to the happy couple and all will be forgotten.
MZ: Again, this is not about hogging the mic and trying to bend the audience to your will. It’s about honoring the couple who have honored you by entrusting you with a duty on this special day; think about them and what they would want to hear. In this case, by the way, bending the truth a little in order to be complimentary is permissable! It’s their day, not yours!
Have you learned from or enjoyed other notable film wedding scenes? Used any to model your own toasts? Please share them and I’ll add them to the film library of memorable wedding speeches!