For the second time in two weeks, I’m reviewing a film I have mixed feelings about. As a film, Taken 3 failed on several levels, forgetting about what made the original film a solid thriller (and the second a fun diversion). But because it was already part of an established franchise, it relied heavily on brand recognition, hoping everyone — myself included — would lower their expectations and enjoy it as a brainless action piece. The Wedding Ringer, however, doesn’t have the luxury of a namesake to fall back on, which means it needs to try harder to prove they can put together a winning formula, provide laughs beyond what was shown in the trailers (a hard task to do in this day of TMI overload) and tell a well-written story that speaks to their target audience. On some level, they succeeded, despite the inability to find a consistent voice.
Director Jeremy Garelick does a very good job setting up the main characters, telling you almost everything you need to know about them in the first ten minutes. Opening on Doug Harris (Josh Gad), we are introduced to a desperate loner (or loser, as it were) calling pretty much everyone he’s ever talked to in his life to be groomsmen at his upcoming nuptials to an out-of-his-league hottie, Gretchen Palmer (Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting), who has eight bridesmaids of her own. He’s insecure and stressed, unable to accept he doesn’t really have any “Best Man”-caliber friends. Jump to Jimmy Callahan (Kevin Hart), the exact opposite of Doug — a confident ladies-man who talks as good as he looks. Jimmy is the guy everyone wants to hang with, but he’s also a bit standoffish, mostly because of his profession as a Best Man for hire. He doesn’t want his time with the groom to become more than business, detaching himself from any real relationships. Together, Gad and Hart share a kinetic chemistry that carries the film as they try to pull off the impossible “Golden Tux” option of Jimmy’s services.
This is where the film hits a bit of a wall. Though most of comedy between Gad and Hart is fun, the rest of the film is a roller coaster ride of hits and misses, with an uneven tone that never quite figures itself out. Half the time, it feels Garelick is trying to represent a quiet realism, while the other half resorts to odd slapstick and cartoonish buffoonery that not once is able to capture the same energy or spark that Gad and Hart provide. This includes all seven guys Jimmy hires to be Doug’s groomsmen. They are all nerdy and have unique quirks (and could be considered a little off, mentally) however, instead of treating them like normal people who happen to be geeks, their personalities are heightened so far, they break the mold of insanity that feels far removed from the world Garelick is creating.
And he only has himself to blame. Garelick also wrote the film (along with Jay Lavendar) and along with the chaos of the comedy styles, the references to other movies, wedding related or otherwise, he embeds are just as uneven. When these references are used subtly, they work really well. Getting to hear the rousing score from Rudy during a football game between Doug and his “groomsmen” and Gretchen’s father’s (Ken Howard) old teammates, is an awesome touch, as is the very last line of the film, which I won’t spoil here, but is probably the best line in the movie. When the references are as blatant as bad product placement, they fall incredibly flat, even when there’s a clear meaning behind it. My eyes rolled during the introduction of Doug and Gretchen’s wedding planner, Edmundo (Ignacio Serricchio), who is a shameless ripoff of Martin Short’s Frank from 1991’s Father of the Bride. Garelick does eventually pay it off in a small twist that doesn’t have much effect on the piece itself, but it still felt incredibly lazy and unoriginal.
Where the film sings is in the dramatic undertones, which raise the film above its mask of ineptitude. Doug is scared to death about losing Gretchen, someone he never thought would ever talk to him, much less marry him. In trying to cover that fear up and hide from the truth, he withdraws heavily within himself, using it to direct all of his choices and actions, a delicate theme that hovers over the entire film like a cloud ready to break free with buckets of rain at any time. On the flip side, Jimmy’s confident bravura masks a much deeper internal sadness he’s afraid to connect with. As he tells all of his clients, they’re hiring a best man, not a best friend. But deep down, that’s exactly what Jimmy is missing, whether he wants to believe it or not. One of the most most eloquently written and acted scenes in the film is when Jimmy gives his toast at Doug and Gretchen’s wedding. Not only is the speech incredibly moving, but it shows the cracks in his armor with incredible emotion. This one scene alone proves why Hart is such a hot commodity at the moment.
When you have hints of intelligent writing being overridden by such heightened surrealism, it’s hard to find a solid footing. If it wasn’t for Gad and Hart (who has another movie coming out this year where he helps another white boy deal with something they aren’t ready for) the film would have bordered on ludicrous, but with Garelick’s ability to speak to some universal truth’s (and make light of the unrealistic pairings we are constantly seeing on screen, which leads to an honest twist in the final act), The Wedding Ringer finds a way to keep you invested in what’s happening on screen, even when the party does get a little too out of hand.
My Grade: B+
Next week, new movies include Strange Magic, The Boy Next Door, Mortdecai and Black Sea. If you would like to see a review of one of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.