It has been over a week since I saw Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, the new comedy that stars several talented folks, and my feelings about it have waned. On the most fundamental level, the film is a success because it made me laugh. Some of the laughs are cheap, others are shocking, and others are painfully obvious. That’s how I felt last week, except now I recall even fewer scenes fondly. Directed by Jake Szymanski, this is a two-tiered buddy comedy that also opts for romance and a few gross-outs. There is something for everyone, which is another way of saying it is broad – painfully so. A few transcendent moments notwithstanding, this is a comedy that leaves me feeling that the cast deserves better.
Mike (Adam Devine) and Dave (Zac Efron) are brothers, the sort who cause mayhem at every family function. Their father (Stephen Root) stages an intervention: now that Mike and Dave’s sister Jeanie (Sugar Lyn Beard) is getting married, the brothers need to find “nice girls” who can be their dates and keep them in check. Before I continue, I want to talk about how regressive and stupid this sounds. We see a montage of Mike and Dave’s destruction, and respectable dates are not a solution to their antics. They need medication, sedatives, or to miss the wedding entirely. By implying that dates can civilize the young men, the script by Andrew Jay Cohen and Brendan O’Brien conforms to dumb gender stereotypes of both men and women.
Nonetheless, Mike and Dave put an ad on Craigslist in order to find dates and placate their father. The ad goes viral because the wedding comes with an all-expense paid Hawaiian vacation. But the dates do not go well – cue another familiar montage – yet Mike and Dave attract the attention of Alice (Anna Kendrick) and Tatiana (Aubrey Plaza), two foul-mouthed waitresses who are “bad girls” because they drink, swear, and dye their hair. Still, Alice and Tatiana successfully arrange a meet-cute, one where they act nice, and soon they’re on their way to Hawaii. The “nice girl” routine goes against their core nature, and so hi-jinks ensue as two pairs of friends ruin the festivities at every conceivable opportunity.
Devine, Efron, Kendick, and Plaza are all likable actors, having previously shown off their chops in shows/films far better than this one. Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates is at its best when Szymanski trusts his actors, letting them riff and relax. While “nice” and “bad” are clumsy character stereotypes, they still give the film a mistaken identity skeleton, and there’s a reason it’s been so reliable. Alice and Tatiana offer questionable advice, cavalierly joke about sex, and are charming enough so that Mike and Dave are clueless about them, anyway. In the film’s most brilliant scene, Kumail Nanjiani appears as a masseuse who gives Jeanie more attention than she expects (Alice bribes him). This leads to bizarre choreography – with more nudity from Nanjiani than Beard – and it’s hilarious to watch them lose themselves in the pursuit of, um, massage-driven ecstasy.
Still, there are other sight gags that land with a dull thud. In addition to the massage, Alice gives Jeanie MDMA on the night of her dress rehearsal. This leads to more nudity, but here Jeanie is the punchline. Szymanski asks us to laugh at her body, not the situation where she finds herself, and the gag disengaged me from the movie. Come to think of it, the scene where Tatiana fingers Mike and Dave’s lesbian cousin is worse because it’s embarrassing for Plaza, and it implies that only transgressive behavior can get the guys to figure out Tatiana’s ruse. They’re not complete idiots, and the film would be more successful if it chose its set-pieces carefully.
Part of the reason we must accept the premise of Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates is because it’s true. There is a real Mike and Dave – they’re more handsome than Devine and Efron – and they really used Craigslist to find dates for their sister’s wedding. The real Mike and Dave seem like utter douchebags, so we know the writers took license by making them likable. Devine riffs on his man-child persona from Workaholics, while Efron plays Mike with the manic seriousness he honed in Neighbors. Indeed, all the actors have strong instincts, including Sam Richardson who nearly steals the show as Jeanie’s mild-mannered, long-suffering fiancé. When a film undermines the talent of its actors, then it’s time for rewrites. After the laughter dies down, you’ll end up wishing they would make better choices, or fire their agents.