Never mind the trailers – not even the title of Mike & Dave Need Wedding Dates is representative of the movie to which it has been assigned. A better title would have been Wedding Crashers, which could be why the 2005 movie of the same name comes in for so much flak for its ridiculousness during one of the big scenes. Either way, you’re not prepared for how Anna Kendrick and Aubrey Plaza play for top billing from the very first moment they appear.
To be clear: Mike (Adam Devine) and Dave (Zac Efron) most definitely need wedding dates. Tired of their thoughtless partying ruining family get-togethers, the two brothers’ long-suffering parents (Stephen Root and Stephanie Faracy) decree that they must find themselves a pair of nice girls to bring to their sister’s wedding in Hawaii.
But the film is most interesting when focusing on friends Alice (Kendrick) and Tatiana, (Plaza) who catch wind of an ad that the Stangle brothers have put on Craigslist and conspire to present themselves as the ideal dates. Tatiana’s mainly in it to get Alice, who has recently been jilted at the altar, out of her funk, but while Mike and Dave are on their best behaviour, the two girls are much more than they bargained for.
The film presents itself as ‘based on a true story, sort of’, which is one way of saying that screenwriters Andrew Jay Cohen and Brendan O’Brien (who previously co-wrote the Bad Neighbours movies) have taken a scripting assignment for a movie based on a Craigslist advert and turned it into a surprising showcase for funny women.
Kendrick and Plaza have a great time playing a pair of drunk slobs who are more ideally suited to Mike and Dave than they realise while they’re trying to be nice boys. It’s an enjoyable subversion to see Alice and Tatiana get into all the really outrageous stuff while the guys are left tutting and gawping at them. A more clean-cut Efron is much better at playing that side of a fledgling romance than he has been in other recent comedy roles, and Devine clowns well as the more naïve of the two brothers. Of the two girls, Kendrick seems to relish the opportunity to break type after a string of more buttoned down roles – here, she’s funnier than she’s ever been.
But alongside Kendrick and Plaza, the real breakout star here is Sugar Lyn Beard as Jeanie Stangle. As with the leading ladies, the trailer seemingly reduced her role to being hit in the face with a quad bike in a misjudged bit of comic violence, but Beard steals every scene she’s in and alongside Nanjiani, she’s the main mover in that aforementioned centrepiece. Jeanie heals from her “burn victim Barbie” injuries at Wolverine rates over a number of subsequent scenes, but somehow, Beard is more than funny enough outside of that to distract from that measly continuity problem.
The movie is only revolutionary relative to every other bro-tastic raunchy comedy of the last decade or so, in which women are more often the exasperated love interests watching the men cock about. It still hews to certain clichés of this particular sub-genre whenever it gets half a chance, like pop culture references, exhaustive improvised line-o-ramas, saying ‘hashtag’ out loud and some dreadfully unfunny outtakes at the end, but there’s a marked difference in approach that sets this apart.
Even if for some unearthly reason you don’t care about equality, it’s still funny as hell all by itself. Efron and Plaza both starred in Dirty Grandpa earlier this year, a movie that demonstrates worse than most any movie ever made how shock value isn’t funny in and of itself. Their latest project gets them out of the doghouse for that one a little bit, because it’s inventive with its setpieces in a way that hasn’t really been seen since the Farrelly brothers in their heyday.
First time feature director Jake Szymanski came up through Funny Or Die and gives us so many erotically creative bits here, including a spectacular sequence in a spa whose breadth has only been hinted at by a glimpse of Silicon Valley‘s Kumail Nanjiani in the red band trailers. However, he keeps leavening it with the more obvious story beats like he’s playing Bad Hollywood Comedy Bingo. One character who keeps jumping from one side of that line to another is the brothers’ predatory cousin Terry, (Alice Wetterlund) who’s introduced as “bisexual Fonzie” and lives up to that throughout as a progressively more comical wildcard.
But there’s nothing in the film that typifies its two minds better than the very ending. Sandwiched between an inevitably showy finale, (look at Efron and Kendrick’s respective franchise roles and see if you can’t guess what they might do together) and the aforementioned blooper reel, there’s a final ingenious sight gag that I wouldn’t dream of spoiling and couldn’t even begin to describe in writing. I might be able to draw it at a push, but you’re best off seeing it for yourself and then evacuating the cinema before the more conventional impulses kick in again.
All of our expectations were low for this one, but believe it or not, Mike & Dave Need Wedding Dates is the year’s filthiest little surprise, both smarter and funnier than it looks. It keeps zigging when it’s supposed to zag and although it would undoubtedly be more memorable if it could just resist that zagging urge every once in a while, it’s revolutionary in comparison to virtually any other so-called raunchy romcom of the last decade or so. Just run out of the cinema before the outtakes get going, and you’ll be laughing.