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Within the first minute of License to Wed, Revered Frank (Robin Williams) looks directly into the camera and says, “Good marriages are my business.” Unfortunately for Reverend Frank, his freaky choir boy (Josh Flitter), and the rest of the churchgoers, good movies are not. If License to Wed resembles anything remotely close to what it takes to get married in a church, I must say that I have never been happier to proclaim that I am single and Jewish.
Sadie Jones (Mandy Moore) and Ben Murphy (John Krasinski) are eager to get married – so eager they decide to take a wedding date at Sadie’s dream church three weeks after the proposal (it was more logical than waiting two years). While their engagement is going to be shorter than expected, they are sure that their love is true and they are meant to be with one another forever. This love, however, is put to the test through a “marriage preparation course” perfected by the irreverent, boundary-challenged Reverend Frank, who is the minister of the church. His course is rather unorthodox, pushing couples to their breaking points by having the couple watch after two creepy robotic babies, bugging their apartment, showing up wherever they go, and not allowing them to have sex until after vows are taken.
Reverend Frank’s course is much like the entire movie - it’s nothing you’d ever want to sit through. It is literally like watching 91-minutes of Williams doing stand-up routines that were never good enough for his act while dressed as a priest, and doing a toned down imitation of Bill Murray in What About Bob? . And just like Murray’s character always carries around a fish, Williams carries around a freaky 10-year-old little helper that seems more like a 50-year-old accountant who has a thing for picking locks, planting bugs, eavesdropping, and yelling psalms when ticked off after things don’t go Reverend Frank’s way. Part of the reason Williams is so bland and unfunny for most of this film is because he’s teaming with a child (bad choice by the filmmakers considering all the legal problems priests are facing around the world) and he sucks the funny right out of him – Williams is brought down to a childish, immature level in an attempt to be edgy and funny.
The other reason Williams’ and other performances fall flat is due to a poor, over-the-top and totally preposterous script. I understand director Ken Kwapis, whose credits include Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and several episode of The Office, is going for off-the-wall, leave-your-brain-at-the-door zany humor, but he fails miserably. Having a man of the cloth bug a couple’s apartment so he can barge in moments before they’re about to have sex is not funny – not even if the priest starts talking about sex with the couple. The best humor comes from real situations, or situations that could feel real. Could you ever picture your pastor, rabbi or spiritual guide talking to you about your sexual likes and dislikes? Have you ever been a part of a Sunday school where the clergyman jokes about sexually transmitted diseases while playing a Family Feud style game to teach the Ten Commandments? Would your pastor ever let you drive through Chicago blindfolded as a communications test? If you answer yes to any of those, I suggest you find a new church.
While Krasinski is very likeable and shows he has the ability to carry a movie, his comedic timing is not used in the right way. Instead of letting Krasinski and Williams flow, Kwapis and his team of writers try to force them into unfunny situations – like a word association game, where Ben allows his true feelings about Sadie’s family members come out. Kransinski is like a young Ben Stiller or Steve Carell, having a constant look of discomfort and an aura of self-doubt matched with sensitivity, great physical humor, and the ability to perform Chevy Chase-like outbursts from his National Lampoon’s days. With the right script he could be an outstanding comedic force.
Moore’s talents are also not on display. She is absolutely useless in this film, playing a beautiful, over-organized wiffle ball – meaning the character of Sadie has nothing but air in that round thing she calls a head. While she is absolutely gorgeous and it can be assumed there are men, like me, who will put themselves through a prep course like Reverend Frank’s for a chance to be with her, Moore’s talent is put to waste playing what turns out to be a fluff role.
If a film's funniest moments happen when robotic babies are on screen or when the blooper reel rolls with the films ending credits, chances are no matter what kind of awkward situations the characters are thrown into, it’s not going to be funny. And it’s a shame, because with Christine Taylor, Eric Christian Olsen, Grace Zabriskie, Mindy Kaling, and DeRay Davis rounding out the cast, this has the potential to be an outstanding comedy. Unfortunately, License to Wed never has a prayer.
When clicking the button to activate the special features section, do not begin to pray for another gag reel or three hours of Robin Williams’ stand-up. Do not pray for Mandy Moore to sing you a song, do a striptease, or have a sing-a-long with Reverend Frank. In fact, don’t expect much of anything because all you will receive in return for your prayers are two features that suck equally. Sorry, I mean three features that suck equally – one of the features has a commentary.
The main feature is referred to as “Additional Scenes,” which is just apparently the Godly way of saying deleted scenes. This is a 13-minute feature that runs through six scenes that didn’t have a license to pass Kwapis’ course on how to make a zany comedy. If you like to live dangerously, you can listen to Kwapis’s commentary where he gives reasons why each scene was deleted from the film, despite the fact that he loved each one.
The first two are alternates to scenes that actually make it into License to Wed, for better or worse. The first scene is an alternate opening sequence, which is a Monty Python-esque animated sequence that lasts a little more than a minute. It is actually kind of funny, but you can tell from watching that it is obviously not a fit with the rest of the film – largely in part because it actually garners a few laughs. The next scene is an alternate one-on-one sequence with Ben and Reverend Frank, where they play basketball instead of baseball. It’s a good thing they didn’t include this in the film because it kind of reminds me of Slam Dunk Ernest with a better cast.
There are two scenes, however, I feel should be in the film in one way or another. One is a scene between Ben and Carlisle (Olsen), who is Sadie’s best male friend – a guy she leans on for every problem in her life. In the movie, the relationship between Sadie and Carlisle is not an issue when it could be a source for humor and conflict. Most of the supporting characters are good sources for laughter, but the movie focuses on the Reverend wreaking havoc on the lives of two boring people so much that the supporting cast utterly useless, almost like they have no roles at all. Scenes like this one, while it may not help the movie as a whole, could add some balance to why some of the other characters are standing around looking pretty. The other scene is a bachelor party scene where the relationship of Sadie and Carlisle is touched upon further and pushes Ben over the edge. Yes, Revered Frank is in the scene and is a catalyst, but there is finally a reason for Ben to be upset with Sadie for something other than dealing with the marriage course. There is real emotion and even a little humor in these scenes, but, of course, it’s left for the crap pile.
Speaking of a pile of crap, there is another feature on this disc called “Ask Choir Boy.” The feature not only focuses on the creepy little Reverend Frank sidekick, but it also has its own theme song of sorts. The feature becomes even more annoying when an animated phone starts ringing on your screen. There are 16 phone lines to choose from – if you don’t pick one Choir Boy starts getting impatient and says things like, “Today,” or, “We’re still waiting.” The object of the feature is to select one of the phone lines and listen to Choir Boy give advice to callers on a radio show. For instance, if you choose line three, you will hear a man ask for advice about what to do when his mother-in-law comes for a 6-week visit. Choir Boy starts by giving a sentimental answer, but quickly switches to suggesting earplugs and tequila. It might sound funny, but the delivery of the joke is terrible. It’s the same thing for all 16 lines, making this kid even less funny, and even more scary because he truly has the look and feel of the uncle from your dad’s side of the family that no one likes because he always smells like cigars and is always trying to get a laugh by removing his teeth. You know, that crazy uncle that got drunk at your sister’s wedding, hit on your mother and accidentally used the champagne fountain as a bathroom? Don’t you just love weddings?
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