LICENSE TO WED
Director: Ken Kwapis
Cast: Robin Williams, Mandy Moore, John Krasinski, Josh Flitter, Christine Taylor, Eric Christian Olsen, DeRay Davis, Peter Strauss, Roxanne Hart
MPAA Rating: (for sexual humor and language)
Running Time: 1:30
Release Date: 7/3/07
Review by Mark Dujsik
Robin Williams sure has an intriguing career, doesn't he? I thought his sappy "melodramedy" phase of the late '90s was a low point, but now the actor is relegated to comic roles that seem to hinge solely on the filmmakers' hope that the audience will remember that at one time he was really, really funny. See, this is him doing comedy again. Ain't it great? Remember he's zany and all over the place, and ad libs a lot of pop culture references and impersonations? Here he is doing it again. Aren't you amused? Aren't you delighted? Aren't you remembering how much fun you had laughing at shtick like this during his earlier career? And we just kind of grit our teeth. Yeah, he's got a talent for that kind of comedy, and it's sort of amusing just watching him. But License to Wed is too dependent on Williams to fill in the humorless gaps here, and the humor itself just isn't funny in the first place. The movie forces the jokes, and Williams overcompensates for his character's general creepiness by laying on the shtick heavy and belabored. So, yes, I remember Williams being funny, but I remember it in vehicles that actually worked.
Williams plays Reverend Frank, who is—you guessed it—incredibly frank. He compares marriage to being a kid and watching all the kids stick their tongues on a frozen flagpole. "It looks like fun," he says (Really?), but then, you're stuck. He's made a business in good, working marriages by setting up a prenuptial course to teach couples the ropes of a life-long commitment that has a 100 percent success rate for those who finish it. Sadie (Mandy Moore) and Ben (John Krasinski) are such a couple. They meet, date, and fall in love, and Ben proposes to Sadie at her parents' (Peter Strauss and Roxanne Hart) thirtieth wedding anniversary, where we get to watch the fun of family in-fighting in complete discomfort. Sadie wants to get married at St. Augustine's by Rev. Frank, who sets up Sunday school like a game show, complete with a board that reveals the 10 Commandments ("Chill, don't kill," says one slide, and other "hip," "clever" catch phrases appear too). The next available opening is in three weeks, so there's a lot to be done. Frank's course is mandatory and includes the couple writing their own vows and abstaining from sex until the honeymoon.
Think you see where this is going? You're probably right. Ben procrastinates writing his vows and has a difficult time with the no sex rule. Those are absolute givens, as is the inclusion of Sadie's friend Carlisle (Eric Christian Olsen), to whom she goes for advice and by whom Ben becomes sort of threatened. These are such obvious elements, it's not worth discussing in any more detail how clichéd they are, so let's move on to the less obvious ones. Ben has a friend Joel (DeRay Davis), who's completely desensitized by marriage. He talks about how horrible it is as his wife yells at him to watch their child instead of sitting on the roof with Ben drinking beer. That's a customary character in material like this, but then the script gives him this misogynistic edge on top of it (talking about women getting jobs and offices). Ben actually listens to this guy, too, but fortunately, like Carlisle and Sadie's family, he's a peripheral character and appears as major annoyances somewhat sporadically. A slightly more recurring character is a young boy played by Josh Flitter who serves as Frank's assistant. Who this kid is, why he apparently lives with Frank, and what purpose he serves other than to be a constant nuisance are questions best left unexplored.
The course itself and Frank's untraditional ways of imparting traditional advice make up most of the movie, and each gag that results is more tedious than the last. Frank and Ben play catch, and Frank ends up hitting him in the face with the ball, which results in an incredibly awkward moment of Williams acting like a faith healer (there's lots of similar stuff from him, so just hold tight). Ben and Sadie have to watch a couple improvise an argument and then do one themselves, which leads to a lame pratfall and a "fat guy really wants food" joke. Sadie is blindfolded and has to drive down the streets of Chicago with only Ben to guide her, which is just a really pointless scene. The only one of Frank's lessons that is kind of humorous involves two exceptionally freaky robotic babies that cry, burp, poop, and other baby activities. The robots are so grotesque, they're inherently funny. It's a lot better than a scene at a maternity ward where Wanda Sykes is completely unused and a superfluous scene at a jewelry store where Bob Balaban and others try to argue that Ben really meant the rings to read, "Never to fart," instead of "part." Oh, that scene is monotony and inanity at its finest.
Rev. Frank's course certainly does teach worthwhile lessons for this bland couple, but License to Wed doesn't care about what they learn until they've had the typical fight and strained effort to get back together (watch how her family goes from loathing Ben to understanding him completely in the course of a day). When it finally gets to those lessons underneath the dull comedy, the movie's not ashamed to blatantly spell it out for us in big letters. And I mean that literally.
Copyright © 2007 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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