Reviewer: Philip Price
Director: Jake Szymanski
Stars: Adam Devine, Alice Wetterlund, Anna Kendrick, Aubrey Plaza, Jake Johnson, Kumail Nanjiani, Marc Maron, Mary Holland, Sam Richardson, Stephanie Faracy, Stephen Root, Sugar Lyn Beard, Wendy Williams, Zac Efron
Released: August 10th, 2016
One might call Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates director Jake Szymanski’s feature debut and to a degree I guess that’s correct as this is his first film getting a wide theatrical release (and his first that runs over an hour), but Szymanski is no stranger to comedy or the space in which it occupies in Hollywood. In fact, Szymanski turned Andy Samberg’s rather thin idea for a 30 for 30 parody, 7 Days in Hell, into a rather entertaining forty-five minutes last summer. All of this doesn’t necessarily mean thatMike and Dave is anything more than one might expect it to be (it’s not) and despite sounding like one of those straight to VHS American Pieknock-offs where you might find Tara Reid and the chubby kid from The Sandlot working not-so hard to earn a paycheck, Mike and Dave actually delivers on the promises and premise that have been set up in its marketing. Though it might seem obvious that 20th Century Fox would like to make something of a comedic brand out of Mike and Dave (Mike & Dave Go to London, Mike and Dave Take the World) it somewhat feels as if Szymanski and writers Andrew Jay Cohen and Brendan O’Brien feel the opposite. Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates is very much a contained story that gives our main cast of characters defined arcs that take them from one clear point in their lives to the next. What is nice about what both the writers and Szymanski do though is that they don’t allow this transformative period to completely define these characters. The titular siblings are still very much who they were in the beginning of the movie at the end of the movie save for the fact they’ve learned a few lessons and earned some perspective. What I’m saying is that Mike and Dave doesn’t turn into a fable of some kind where the intent of the film is to teach its characters and audience a lesson, but rather is more about the challenges and obstacles presented in a certain situation and how a specific type of person deals in the messes they’ve made. This is undoubtedly the films strongest trait in that it doesn’t become wholly what we expect though it is mostly the obtrusive and familiar raunchy comedy you hoped it would be if you bought a ticket in the first place. That said, Mike and Dave delivers some modest pleasures for, despite largely adhering to the beats of the genre, it excels in hitting those beats through a likable and appealing cast.
In something of a strange twist this latest R-rated Zac Efron comedy is actually based on a true story. Mike and Dave Stangle really do exist and really did place an ad on Craigslist in order to acquire dates to a wedding. The story goes that the Stangle’s party habits had become so notorious the idea was they’d be less likely to cause a scene if they had dates to keep them busy. In the true story the Stangle’s were instructed by their cousin to bring dates to her wedding and the wedding took place in the boys hometown of Saratoga, New York, whereas in the movie version it is the Stangle sister who is getting hitched and is doing so with a destination wedding in Hawaii (allowing even more allure for the women responding to the Craigslist ad). The real-life Mike and Dave also attest to the fact that the formidable duo of Anna Kendrick and Aubrey Plaza were not like the dates they ended up taking to the wedding but instead the movie’s pick for who they ended up with were more inspired by the barrage of women who responded to the ad and the dating experiences they had as a result. That we’re even talking about this outlandish comedy in terms of how much of it is rooted in reality feels insane, but it certainly takes that “so crazy it must be true” saying to whole other level. In the film, Efron plays Dave who is the more artistic and understanding of the brothers whereas Adam Devine’s Mike is the self-conscious party animal who’s always turned up to eleven in order to compensate for his lack of self-esteem. When together, the two can’t help but rile one another up and have turned so many past family gatherings into outright catastrophes that their parents (played by Stephen Root and Stephanie Faracy) call an intervention of sorts so that their sister, Jeanie (Sugar Lyn Beard), and her fiancé Eric (Sam Richardson) can request they bring nice, accomplished women to their nuptials. Cue the introduction of Alice (Kendrick) and Tatiana (Plaza) who are more or less the female versions of Mike and Dave, but put on facades as a school teacher and hedge fund manager in order to look respectable and score themselves a free trip to Hawaii. That the crux of the film comes not from the brothers trying to keep their act together, but from finding themselves outsmarted and out-partied by the uncontrollable girls they brought allows for Mike and Dave to become more a comedy of manners than the comedy of errors it seemed destined to be.
Upending expectations results in more appreciation for a given product, especially movies, due to the fact it seemingly gives us more than we expected from it and no one has ever complained about getting more for their money than anticipated. While Mike and Dave is commendable for going the route not easily traveled it still doesn’t make the film unique or compelling enough to make it stand out in a genre whose exceptions are characterized by how many moments they have that can be turned into conversation pieces able to be recited again and again. That is to say that somehow, despite laughing consistently throughout, it just doesn’t feel as if Mike and Dave will stick around in the cultural zeitgeist for longer than the few weeks it does better at the box office than expected. I wouldn’t mind if I were proven wrong in this regard as I’ve already said I enjoyed the film more than I expected and there are definitely a few lines of dialogue and a few moments of physical comedy that stand out even a few days after seeing the film, but overall the feeling that surrounds Mike and Dave is one of indifference. In the moment, what makes the film so massively appealing is the charming cast. To be honest, the only thing that made me not initially dismiss Mike and Dave because it did in fact feel like one of those American Pie knock-offs was the quality of the cast. With his third raunchy R-rated comedy in seven months Efron is seemingly hip to his meal ticket. Of course, he has to realize he won’t be able to play the frat guy/twenty-something screw-up his entire life, but while he can he seems intent to take as much advantage of it as he can. At the very least, he’s honing his improv and comedic skills for later on down the line and Mike and Dave is a prime opportunity to do just that. It’s easy to see that Efron has become more comfortable in this role and has begun to take the lead in many a situations even when next to a seasoned pro like his co-star Devine. While Devine has been a consistently funny presence on his own Comedy Central show for years now he has created a movie career out of bit and supporting parts. Going full blown lead with Mike and Dave the actor, who always seems to be on, could potentially turn grating for those not familiar with his temperament, but I enjoy his manic outlandishness to the point every time he was on screen I was laughing.
The duo of Efron and Devine make it clear from the outset they have formed a chemistry worthy of kinship as the opening scene in which the brothers are consulted by the rest of their family lends insight not only to their relationship, but the dynamic between them and their individual relationships with the rest of their family. Dave is the one his father feels he can talk to and get through to while Mike is the one who will never understand and never mature. Dave is the sweet, sensitive type when not influenced by Mike, but Mike is always asking Dave to live up to his antics. Dave is the center of attention without trying and Mike is always striving to be that main attraction. These boys clearly need a little leverage in their lives and with the idea to make the movie not about the fantastical and absurd nights they spent trying to narrow down and find dates Cohen and O’Brien have instead forced Mike and Dave to come to their senses with who they really are and want to be through two equally rambunctious and outrageous women. Cohen and O’Brien never ask that Kendrick’s Alice or Plaza’s Tatiana apologize for the way they are or choose to lead their lives despite the point of the film being for Mike and Dave to do just that. While this is a very movie-world thing to say and do-Alice and Tatiana allow Mike and Dave to realize their own flaws and embrace them as much as they realize they balance one another out. Most of the time, this existential thinking doesn’t seep too much into the fun, but when it does Mike and Dave feels completely out of its depth and even worse-it brings the light tone and breakneck pace to a halt. And though the world these two couples end up living in isn’t as admirable as the idea that spurns it given the film deteriorates more into a fantasy as no one is made to answer for their actions it is the point and approach that counts. Kendrick and Plaza have the roles mastered and Plaza is especially hysterical in a handful of scenes, but it is Beard who comes to steal many of the scenes she participates in. The massage scene you’ve likely seen highlighted in the red band trailers featuring Kumail Nanjiani is a stand-out for sure, but even in the smaller, more subtle moments Beard elicits laughs from this cheery, bubblegum persona she’s perfected. And speaking of Jeanie, I wouldn’t be surprised if both Beard and her on screen fiancé, Sam Richardson, come away from Mike and Dave with the most to gain as both only solidify the fact that much of the excess charm on these familiar grounds come from genuinely charismatic character moments. Though it may not live on in the pantheon of great summer comedies, Mike and Dave is a fun enough diversion to enjoy once or twice which is probably along the lines of how one would feel after hanging out with the titular party crashers.