One sign of a decent comedy is that even the bit players have memorable roles. That’s just one of the things that the disarmingly funny Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates does right, but it underlines why it’s much more enjoyable than most studio backed summer dude-bro-raunch-coms. From top to bottom the cast comes packed with actors hired primarily to be funny. Everyone has a chance to shine regardless of how long they’re on screen, and the material gives them all plenty to work with and room to try big, and potentially fail huge. Thankfully, most of Jake Szymanski’s debut feature doesn’t fail, and the results are much better than expected. It’s a stupid comedy that pays attention to the small things that make a comedy enjoyable.
Based very, very loosely on a far douchier “true story” than the film portrays, Zac Efron and Adam Devine star as Dave and Mike Stangle, respectively, a pair of New York booze wholesalers who find themselves at odds with their family just before the wedding of their younger sister (Scarborough native Sugar Lyn Beard). Dad (Stephen Root) has grown sick of his idiot sons ruining every family get-together by hitting on every woman in sight and delusionally believing they’re the lives of the party. He gives the best friends and roommates an ultimatum: they either show up to their sister’s wedding in Hawaii with dates or they don’t come at all. Using their puerile sense of showmanship to try to score chicks, they float a sort of casting call on Craigslist to see if any “good girls” want to take an all expenses paid trip to paradise. The ad captures the attention of Tatiana (Aubrey Plaza) and Alice (Anna Kendrick), a pair of irresponsible, recently fired waitresses who will say anything for a chance to go on a vacation.
The set up to the story, courtesy of Neighbors scribes Andrew Jay Cohen and Brendan O’Brien, sounds on a surface level like a riff on Wedding Crashers, a film that Mike and Dave openly call out here for being wholly unrealistic, morally reprehensible, and admittedly funny in parts. In practice and execution, however, Szymanski (who recently made the hilarious HBO mockumentary 7 Days in Hell) proves more indebted to the anarchic glee of Adam McKay’s Step Brothers. Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates knows it’s a movie despite the “true story” caveat off the top. There’s no pretense here. Szymanski and the cast aren’t trying to dupe people into believing anything here can happen on any plane of reality, but at least they try to make everyone within this crazy world worthy of being watched by a paid audience. It’s nothing if not perfectly equitable in its stupidity. The girls have a large amount of agency, and are never solely blamed for the film’s eventual comic breakdowns and misunderstanding. That alone sets this film apart, and that’s a sentence I wish I didn’t have to write when it comes to this kind of comedy.
Efron has proved in the past to be particularly adept at comedy, and in other films he has proven to be quite charming, but here finally gets the chance to do both things at once as the less idiotic, more sympathetic brother. Similarly, Kendrick gets the chance to showcase her comedic chops here as a once jilted bride-to-be still wounded by rejection, further proving that she can almost never do anything wrong. Plaza gets the chance to further shake off the sarcastic types she usually gets saddled with here, throwing herself with great gusto into the role of an unflappable, tempestuous dullard with a high degree of self-confidence. While TV and sketch comedy veteran Devine is a bit of an acquired taste, he undoubtedly lands his break-out role here as a constant, unconscious ruiner of fun who thinks every idea he has is a great one. Of course there’s romance and sexual tension, and the pairings of Efron with Kendrick and Plaza with Devine are no-brainers.
The audience knows that these four will ruin the wedding somehow. If they didn’t, there wouldn’t be a movie. So Szymanski, O’Brien, and Cohen instead focus on how these characters interact with each other. The character arcs and how they intersect are more intriguing than the story itself, which is a simple morality tale where four selfish people learn to love themselves and others in equal amount. But with every layer the script and the cast bring to the material, a genuine lived in quality develops. The members of the Stangle family feel like an actual family. The girls feel like best friends who have lived through shared experiences. The gags inform who these people are and how they’re related instead of being stand alone set pieces. Even in its most tossed off moments – the best of which involve Mike and Dave’s hyper-competitive bisexual cousin (Alice Wetterlund) – everything that happens is tied into how these characters move through their circumstances and how they come together and push apart. At a time when most studio comedies are already low-brow, high-spot-fests, it’s refreshing to see one willing to go somewhat of an extra mile.
This ability to go above and beyond a baseline call of duty means that no one gets let down by the film. Only at the very end does the film make a pair of missteps regarding Tatiana and Mike’s relationship, but not enough to derail the high note the film goes out on. It leads to a place of sweetness and earnestness that’s earned and doesn’t feel false regardless of how ludicrous the whole affair feels. It doesn’t have to feel realistic. It has to be funny and emotionally resonant enough to hold together. It’s not a work of art that would give Chaplin or Sturges a run for their money, but Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates is a perfect bit of summer fun. Sometimes, that’s good enough to be memorable.