Amid all the excitement, Judge Dennis Prince barely remembers the details of his wedding day. Similarly, he believes he'll faintly recall this excursion but for all the wrong reasons.
First comes love…then comes Reverend Frank.
While License to Wed took a quick bow on the big screen, apparently enough folks saw it to effectively raise quite a ruckus about it. Almost universally dismissed by those who officially reviewed it or simply took the time to impart a water-cooler warning, it appeared this latest Robin Williams outing was yet another strike against the accomplished actor-comedian. With my expectations so low, then, would it turn out that I, too, would join the ranks of detractors, citing this as an unfunny and mean-spirited misadventure of a young couple eager to tie the knot if only they can survive Reverend Frank's fight club? Let's see.
Facts of the Case
Ben (John Krasinski, The Office) and Sadie (Mandy Moore, Because I Said So) are a young couple ready to make the big step into the wonderment of wedded bliss…but first they must survive pre-marital assessment at the hands of the mild-yet-menacing Reverend Frank (Robin Williams, One Hour Photo). The marriage preparation course will help the young lovers be certain they truly know one another and have a healthy respect for the implications of matrimony and likely family life to come. Of course, neither Ben nor Sadie saw this coming, a trail of tests and intrusions at the hands of Reverend Frank, those that explore the intricacies of managing in-laws, surviving arguments, and delving into the gory depths of child bearing and rearing. As the tests progress Ben begins to believe that smiling Reverend Frank isn't all he says is while Sadie begins to wonder if Ben is the man with whom she wants to spend the rest of her life.
Certainly, Robin Williams is offered in License to Wed as audience bait, certain to deliver another side splitting, knockout performance.
The premise here is well-explored but always ripe for a re-visit, especially by a filmmaker with the sort of skills that can crack open the human condition in its day-to-day drudgery (see The Office). This feature film, however hard it tries, just can't stay on message long enough to make a refreshing and renewed statement at the dizzying endeavor of matrimony. Much like the aforementioned corporate lifestyle, energy draining and soul stealing to many, so too is the "wedding industry," a business built upon frightening the daylights out of naïve young couples then robbing them blind in a whirlwind of pricey arrangements and accoutrements, all pitched to ensure a perfect day and start of a perfect life.
Been there, done that, walked down that aisle.
The fact is, a wedding and a marriage are about the farthest things from perfection and, seemingly, that's what License to Wed set out to proclaim, in appropriately funny fashion. But, the film wasn't funny enough when compared to the ample material that lay at its feet like the pointless scattering of rose petals that only to become ground into the chapel runway and render any sort of deposit entirely un-refundable. But this isn't to say the movie is as pointless as the wilting flower petals and it has some fun similarly scattered within its 91-minute running time, best taken in a mindset of "for better or for worse." For the better, Robin Williams makes the most of the limited material given him, maintaining a satisfyingly reserved performance with moments of breakout silliness (see the Jeopardy version of the Ten Commandments). He's warm and friendly as we might expect but also maintains an unsettling creepiness in his lack of compunction about meddling in Ben and Sadie's affairs. For the worse, however, is that Williams is clearly working under the oppression of the reverend's collar and the curiously cautious script. Whereas he could easily have given this one the Mrs. Doubtfire double-barrel treatment, he can only occasionally sneak in a quick innuendo when the director isn't looking—too bad.
Through the obvious constraint of a teetotaled PG-13 compliance, the film is predictable and often pedestrian in its delivery, betraying first-time theatrical director Ken Kwapis' (The Office) attempts to appear "legitimate" behind the big camera. It shows moments of near-brilliance in its unflinching expose of true-to-life realities that typically bring any doe-eyed honeymooners off their cloud of bliss. Unfortunately, these moments aren't explored deeply enough to eke out the rest of the comedic potential that Kwapis leaves at the table. He begins to take on some content challenges—especially the sequence featuring the disturbing robo-babies—but it plays these to a trite sophomoric finish, missing the opportunity for memorable moments, end to end.
John Krasinski works hard to give Ben some level of appeal but clearly can't offer much more that we've already seen in The Office. Subsequently, his dopey facial shrugs of perpetual resignation can't offer enough measurable depth or arc to make his character anything more than a butt of most of the gags. He looks appropriately beleaguered as most any groom-to-be would, but it's not enough fill the bill in a feature-length setting. Similarly, Mandy Moore gives in to a plainly one-dimensional character profile, allowing Sadie a simply exist as a malleable pawn to Reverend Frank's unusual methods, this in inexplicable opposition to her presumably beloved Ben. This is probably the most damning flaw of the screenplay—that neither Ben nor Mandy can rely upon their professed love for one another to guide them in spite of (or more appropriately, away from) Reverend Frank's twisted tutelage. While it's understood that the characters must remain entrenched in the unpleasantries of the pre-marital assessment in order for the film's premise to work, the viewing audience isn't given much credit when asked to believe that two young people would remain so impotent to act in such a situation. It's farcical, yes, but the comedy would work better if reasonable efforts were made by Ben and Sadie to extract themselves from the situation, those then becoming fodder for additional assault. But no.
Oh, for the worse, also, is the role of the grating little "Choir Boy" (Josh Flitter, Big Momma's House 2), half-sized henchman to Reverend Frank and wholly unnecessary here (unless you buy into a snide subtlety of a pastor who maintains the company of a young boy—that would be edgy although likely tasteless; rest assured we're never given blatant indications to suggest such an arrangement—thank God).
Appearing in a HD DVD / DVD Combo release, License to Wed looks as good as you should expect from such a film. The 1080p / VC-1 encoded transfer is clear and crisp with great color and well managed contrast levels, suitable to the production design. Since it's not a production overflowing with intense visual detail, though, don't expect any sort of eye-widening experience. It looks clean, the colors are bright, and it's the sort of image we now expect to see in a run-of-the-mill HD presentation. The audio is presented in a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix but this appears to be in name only. Never is the audio track extended to its potential—never even comes close—so don't expect to find any reference-quality material here. The track is clear and properly balanced, front-heavy and with clear dialog, but what else should you expect for a film of this sort, right? As for extras, this disc again fails to seize an obvious opportunity: a director's commentary is missing here. Kwapis has come under fire for the film and should have taken the opportunity to explain his intent, the resources available to him, and any undue constraints that may have been imposed upon him. Instead, we get only brief commentary from him during the four deleted/alternate scenes here, those that provide different settings for a couple of the final-cut situations plus a few excised scenes that weren't very compelling and, thus, suited to be left out. And, then, we're commanded to spend more time with Choir Boy in a mock call-in advice setting where we choose a marriage-relevant question and he imparts his precocious prescription. Put another way, it's best to avoid this feature.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
As much as this case began in visible defense of License to Wed, it's understood that the preceding testimony would be damning in final analysis. True, this is not a favorable revelation of the situation and the facts bear out this is not "Robin Williams at his best," as the cover quote asserts. Even though you could entirely miss this picture and not be the poorer for it, there is still merit in the film—as a mild experience in comedy—and worthy of a look if convenience and happenstance should occur. You could do much worse than this, that's for certain.
In the end, License to Wed is contrived and somewhat conventional in its delivery, never breaking new ground to the degree possible. Even so, if you have a spare 90 minutes and the neighbor's NetFlix delivery winds up in your mail slot, then give this a look.
Certainly guilty yet afforded forgiveness by this court, which finds the sins committed here are not nearly as carnal as others' testimony may have indicated.
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