License to Wed takes as its premise a situation that is filled with inherent natural humor, which it mostly shuttles in favor of absurd sitcom-y moments that bear little resemblance to reality. While not a complete and total disaster, this is nevertheless the kind of movie that makes you wonder why they chose to be ridiculous when they could have played it authentically to much greater effect.
This is a comedy about marriage preparation, that most nerve-wracking of traditions. John Krasinski (from TV’s “The Office”) and Mandy Moore play Ben and Sadie, a young couple in love who have just become engaged. Sadie tells Ben that it’s long been her dream to get married at her family church. He agrees, and even volunteers to go through the preparation program offered by Rev. Frank (Robin Williams). The reverend’s methods are so unorthodox that they give unorthodoxy a bad name. To help build “communication skills,” he blindfolds Sadie in a car, then has Ben give her driving instructions from the back seat. (What kind of minister endangers the lives of other people?) He also insists that they refrain from sex until the honeymoon. Assisted by an obnoxious kid (Josh Flitter) who is part of a “preacher-in-training” program, Rev. Frank even bugs Ben and Sadie’s apartment so he can make sure they don’t violate the no-sex rule.
I kept wondering: what church is this kook affiliated with anyway? A major problem with License to Wed is that Rev. Frank is much more creepy than he is funny, and that’s a curse for a comedy. In one scene, he lectures a bunch of kids about the Ten Commandments and, a moment later, he pounds on a vending machine hard enough to make a bag of cheese puffs fall out. Uh, doesn’t that violate the whole thou shalt not steal thing? In the movie’s comedic low point, Rev. Frank, having given Ben a bloody nose, tries to faith heal him by reciting MC Hammer lyrics. (Can you imagine a more desperate scene in a comedy?) In the moral low point, he encourages Sadie to graphically reveal her wildest sexual preferences to him. Can I get an ewwww?
Because of Rev. Frank’s antics, the movie left me with a bad taste in my mouth. Although the plot predictably tries to squeeze a happy, we-couldn’t-have-done-it-without-you ending from the Rev. Frank/Ben/Sadie situation, it seemed to me that the character was more evil than saintly. Let’s face it – he spends the whole movie trying to ruin what should be a special and meaningful time for this young couple.
I got married four years ago. I’m Catholic; my wife is United Methodist. We wanted to have the ceremony officiated jointly. That required two sets of marriage preparation requirements. Although we undoubtedly got something out of it, the experience was, by turns, enlightening, frustrating, incomprehensible, and arcane. (Who knew that you aren’t supposed to play “Here Comes the Bride” in a Catholic church because it comes from an opera where a woman married a pig?) All through the process, I found more opportunities for humor than I could ever imagine. At no point was my bride-to-be blindfolded behind the wheel of a car. Nor, as far as I know, did either of our pastors ever break into our house.
This movie would have been so much funnier had it stuck more closely with the truth. That would have felt real; observational comedy is always the most hilarious. There is, in fact, a six- or seven-minute scene in the middle of the film that indicates what it could have been. Ben and Sadie try to register for wedding gifts while watching a friend’s two young children and hauling around two “robo-babies” that Rev. Frank has given them to practice parenting skills. Watching the characters try shop while dealing with kids running amok and babies crying is hysterical because all of us have either been in that position or seen someone who has. There’s a ring of truth to the sequence that makes it hilarious. Notice too what Ben does with that scanning gun that lets you put items on your registry; I must confess that I did pretty much the same thing once.
To be fair, there are some other funny moments scattered throughout, just not enough of them to overcome the flaws. I particularly liked John Krasinski, who knows how to be funny with just a look. The screenplay doesn’t give him a lot to work with, but he has an inherently likeable quality that suggests he can be just as successful on the big screen as on the small. Several of his “Office” co-stars pop up in smallish roles: Mindy Kaling plays the wife of Ben’s best friend, Brian Baumgartner is a henpecked husband in Rev. Frank’s group therapy sessions, and Angela Kinsey is a jewelry store employee (in a scene that blatantly rips off the bank robbery scene in Woody Allen’s Take the Money and Run). All of these folks get laughs, or at least chuckles, as does Mandy Moore.
In fact, the least funny person in License to Wed is Robin Williams, who almost seems to be phoning in his performance. Sadly, this is what he appears to do when there’s no strong script for him to work from. Directors occasionally unleash him, hoping that his riffing and his improvisations will liven up an empty scene. It’s an approach that, after too many clinkers, has becomes stale. With as much raw talent as Williams has, he could have played a much more realistic – yet still quirky – man of the cloth. The film as a whole would have benefited. License to Wed has a potentially rich premise, a strong cast, and a nice pro-marriage sentiment. But I don’t think too many people are going to relate to it, and a fair percentage of them may find themselves repulsed by Rev. Frank.
( out of four)
Obviously, I wasn’t a huge fan of License to Wed when I wrote my original review. I sat down to watch it again for the DVD release and, while my opinion hasn’t really changed, I do feel that the movie plays a little better on TV than it did theatrically. The whole tone of the humor is very sitcom-ish, which feels more appropriate on TV. Some of the broader moments didn’t bother me as much the second time for this very reason; I’m used to watching sitcoms at home.
The DVD features the movie in both widescreen and fullscreen formats. There are only a few special features. One of them is called “Ask the Choir Boy,” which features young star Josh Flitter in character, taking calls and dispensing advice for a radio talk show. Most of his one-liners aren’t terribly funny but one or two do illicit a chuckle.
Much better is the selection of deleted scenes, which can be viewed with or without audio commentary from director Ken Kwapis. The scenes themselves are no great shakes; it’s easy to see why they were deleted. However, Kwapis’ commentary on them is nothing less than fascinating. He describes his approach to the movie’s tone in detail and really makes you understand why these scenes didn’t fit into the overall approach. He’s so interesting to listen to that I wish he’d recorded a commentary for the film itself.
License to Wed is also available on Blu-Ray and HD-DVD, which also contain the above-mentioned special features.
License to Wed is rated PG-13 for sexual humor and language. The running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes.
To learn more about this film, check out AskMen.com: License to Wed
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