Overview: Two hard-partying bros are forced to get their act together for their younger sister’s upcoming wedding and take dates, but the two women who agree to go aren’t as clean-cut as they seem. 20th Century Fox; 2016; Rated R; 98 Minutes.
A Prickly Myth: What kind of studio raunch-fest begins with the words “based on a true story?” It’s a question that Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates finger-diddles around with for most of its agreeably swift runtime, practically forcing the audience to squint in search of the ostensibly real people behind all the calcified cartoon madness. And while an answer is eventually provided, it’s a bit of a treacly one: “You don’t really wanna know.”
Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, like Magic Mike XXL and Everybody Wants Some (though it’s nowhere near as brilliant as those films), is a fantasy about some very nice people who probably aren’t quite as nice in real life. Watching a video afterwards of the actual Mike and Dave Stangle — perhaps enthusing about the virtues of “Shout” vis-a-vis its deployment as hip-slapping wedding-anthem — can’t really help being anything other than a letdown. Oh, they’re smart guys, for sure; often charming and blandly endearing in the manner of any other guest you might see on The Wendy Williams Show (with the obvious exception of ye mighty DJ Khaled). That’s the thing, though: they’re regular guys. “Where are my mythical slackers!” you want to scream. It’s hard not to feel a little duped.
Feminist? Well…: Funnily enough, the one true Mike and Dave (read: fake), played here by the predictably winning duo of Adam Devine and Zac Efron, are introduced doing just that. And while we do first meet the boys as they attempt to trick Marc Maron into buying a huge wholesale order of cheap tequila (good luck with that), deceit isn’t really in their lexicon; rather, chaos and destruction. See, every family gathering the brothers attend – regardless of good intentions – invariably ends with fire, blood, or some horrific combination of the two. Mike and Dave’s parents, naturally, are sick of having to play the role of party damage-control, and for the upcoming marriage of Mike and Dave’s sister, they’ve decided that it’s finally time to put a firm foot down. Their ultimatum? Uh, check the title.
So Mike and Dave deign to find nice girls for the wedding, and after posting a hilariously garish ad on Craigslist, the boys suddenly find themselves with thousands of respondents – to whom each is granted an interview at a local bar. The girls that finally get the gig, though, do so by flipping the script in their favor. And if the con that ex-waitresses Tatiana (Aubrey Plaza) and Alice (Anna Kendrick) pull off isn’t quite the stuff of David Mamet, it works like a charm all the same. Soon everybody is off to Hawaii for the big wedding, the boys none the wiser, the girls… not much wiser.
Lest this sound at all progressive, it is this writer’s sad duty to inform the reader that this is a reading that the film itself barely supports, even in its broad strokes. Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates is a film more interested in using tinder as a graphic analogy for fingering than it is an exploring the yada yada sexist dichotomy of the app yada yada. While that isn’t necessarily to its detriment – this is a funny film with or without forward thinking gender politics – it’s still tempting to imagine what could have resulted had everyone involved been just a little bolder.
The Nice Guys: Still, it’s the women who end up walking away with Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, as Efron’s natural shift into comedies no longer comes as a shock (this is already his third of 2016) and Devine has, at least at this point in his career, proven himself capable of playing only one character. Taking up the slack, Plaza continues to prove that her stock-in-trade deadpan is endlessly applicable to different character types, and Kendrick nails the best improv moment in the film with an almost deliriously clueless monologue about hedge-funds. Best of all is Sugar Lyn Beard, a voice actress with precious few live-action credits, who takes the seemingly thankless role of Mike and Dave’s sister, Jeanie and turns it into one of the most galvanizing comic-showcases in recent memory. All the more shocking when you consider that in just about any other film this character would have been conceived as a fun-vanquishing, male-panic hag.
In fact, the film doesn’t have any antagonists at all, the closest thing being Alice Westerlund’s sardonic cousin Terry, and all she really wants to do is get laid. Positive vibes are in no short supply, and even if debuting director Jake Szymanski doesn’t really know how to balance his characters (Aubrey Plaza says maybe two words to Zac Efron in the entire film), that doesn’t make them any less delightful to spend time with.
Overall: Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates is a breezy, affable Hawaiian-fantasy of a comedy. Just don’t expect to find much below the surface.
Featured Image: 20th Century Fox