Dir: Ken Kwapis. US. 2007. 90mins.
Two up-and-coming stars get left at the cinematic altar in License To Wed, a badly strained romantic comedy with enough plot contrivances to fill a reception hall. In a supporting role, Robin Williams delivers a (relatively) toned-down performance, but this bit of summer counter-programming lacks the necessary creative spark to break out of a crowded marketplace.
The Warner Bros. release opens July 3 domestically, catering to date audiences uninterested in the pyrotechnics of Transformers and Live Free Or Die Hard. A well-timed crowd-pleasing, matrimony-minded romantic comedy can be successful during the summertime, such as with Wedding Crashers, which opened July 2005 and garnered $209m in the States.
But while Knocked Up seems to be its main competition until I Now Pronounce You Chuck And Larry arrives later in the month, License To Wed will have to hope its two young leads, Mandy Moore and The Office's John Krasinski, can bring in enough patrons. This is Krasinski's first starring role, while Moore has had uninspired results with romantic comedies like February's Because I Said So.
A reliable draw for older audience members, Robin Williams has managed impressive box office of late playing supporting character, as demonstrated by the extremely popular Happy Feet and Night At The Museum. When the movie expands to foreign territories throughout the rest of the summer, Williams' name recognition will be extremely critical to help give the film any visibility. Ultimately though, curious couples may decide that Moore and Krasinski aren't quite big-screen talents and will wait to try License To Wed as a rental instead.
Ben (Krasinski) and Sadie (Moore) have just gotten engaged and are planning to be wed in the church Sadie attended as a child. The church's longtime patriarch, Reverend Frank (Williams), announces that before he can officiate their ceremony, they must satisfactorily complete his marriage-preparation course.
With their wedding three weeks away - the church is so in demand that they had to choose an imminent date or wait two years - Ben and Sadie start to question their decision as they undertake Reverend Frank's unconventional techniques for testing a couple's compatibility and commitment.
Directed by Ken Kwapis, better known for his work on television shows like The Office, License To Wed's surface has a breezy, agreeable feel, but once Reverend Frank begins interfering with Ben and Sadie's relationship, the film quickly implodes, relying on a series of implausible plot points that create artificial tension between the couple.
On the most basic level, Kwapis and his scenarists (three screenwriters and an additional story contributor) never have a grasp of the inner working of Ben and Sadie's love life. Before Reverend Frank arrives, these two embody all the sweet naivete of young lovers, overwhelmed but excited by their upcoming nuptials. But once the plot takes shape, License To Wed simplifies the two characters into stereotypical gender roles.
Sadie transforms into a bridezilla cliche, immediately picking on Ben's every action, while he inexplicably begins acting like a selfish oaf unable to treat her with sensitivity. Since there's no hint of unexpressed tension between the two initially, the radical shift in their personalities seems more the result of the film-makers needing to drive a wedge between the pair in order to keep the conflict going.
Reverend Frank is not unlike Jack Nicholson's equally unbelievable therapist character from Anger Management: both men are presented as reputable experts but who behave so preposterously that the movie can only succeed if the majority of the other characters go along with the ridiculousness.
No matter how outlandish Reverend Frank's exercises are, the movie treats them as zany comedy. At one point, in order to teach them the importance of communication, he has Sadie drive blindfolded through oncoming traffic and makes Ben direct her from the back seat. He also secretly bugs their apartment to monitor their nighttime activities.
License To Wed attempts to diffuse Reverend Frank's creepiness by hinting that his apparent ploy to ruin their relationship is actually part of his grand plan to bring them closer together. Ben rightly feels that the man is a lunatic, but the movie ensures that any efforts he makes to expose the reverend's extreme behaviour will be ignored or dismissed by those around him.
Both Moore and Krasinski struggle with their formulaic characters. Moore in particular feels adrift as Sadie steadily complains throughout the film, showing little charm or comic spirit. Krasinski's comic persona has been established in his endearing, sensitive portrayal of Jim on The Office, but too many of his facial tics and goofy mannerisms find their way into Ben, a more jockish, lackadaisical character. With the writing so schematic, Krasinski falls back on old tricks in the hopes of making Ben lovable, which rarely happens.
As for Williams, by this point he is a love-him-or-hate-him force of nature, his performances always the same bundle of wisecrack riffing and jive-talking shtick. While his Reverend Frank is more subdued than other recent characters he's played, he fails to get at the man's underlying goodwill, instead focusing on his maliciousness and irreverence.
Little of the comedy in License To Wed stems from toilet humour, pratfalls, or jokes about race or sexuality, which is something of a relief from the typical Hollywood fare. But, with that said, the film doesn't do much better gleaning laughs from musty gags about the horrors of commitment. License To Wed's tone-deaf depiction of relationships suggest that perhaps the film-makers are the ones desperately in need of a marriage counselor.
Village Roadshow Pictures
Robert Simonds Productions
Warner Bros Pictures
Arnold W Messer
Bradley J Fischer
Vince Di Meglio
Story by Kim Barker & Wayne Lloyd
Eric Christian Olsen