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Non-Review Review: Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates

There is something subversive lurking at the heart of Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates.

The film’s single best gag comes very early in the film, putting a wry twist on audience expectations. The movie’s opening credits feature the eponymous characters at a number of family occasions; birthday parties, weddings. Like any pair of overgrown manchildren, Mike and Dave imagine themselves to the be the life of the party. And, for the length of the opening credits, the audience is invited to see them in that manner. Their dance moves look impressive. Their costumes are fabulous. They brought their own fireworks. These guys, they know how to party.

More like "Wedding Crushers", am I right?

More like “Wedding Crushers”, am I right?

In another comedy about arrested masculine development, that would be the end of it. The credits would establish the pair as the life and soul of any social gathering and maybe need to learn to balance that with some maturity. It is to the credit of Mike and Dave Need Weeding Dates that the film returns to that montage quite quickly. Insisting that the boys behave themselves at their sisters’ wedding, the duo object and insist that they are the party. “We thought you might say that,” remarks their father, reaching for the home media system.

The film then proceeds to demonstrate what happened directly after the impressive shots from the opening credits. There is devastation. There is catastrophe. There are broken bodies. Dave protests that this is not at all representative, and demands that their father edit back in the “epic tracking shots” that showcase how cool they are. It is the movie’s strongest moment, a skilful subversion of a comedy standard that suggests Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates might have a much better sense of irony than its two lead characters.

Mike and Dave need to have a long conversation about the direction their life has taken.

Mike and Dave need to have a long conversation about the direction their life has taken.

In mounting a defence of a film as ironic, it is important not to stretch the argument too far. After all, Poe’s Law demonstrates how flimsy such a defence can be. Parody and subversion are often difficult to discern from the objects of their mockery. It is easy to forgive something that is regressive and backwards by hiding behind the defence of “irony.” However, “irony” cannot immunise art against criticism. It is entirely possible that Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates is a shallow “dude bro” comedy with more than a whiff of sex panic to it.

After all, the “true story” that inspired the comedy is hardly inspiring of itself. Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates takes the loosest form of inspiration from the story of Mike and Dave Spangler, who (in)famously posted an advertisement on Craigslist to recruit a pair of girlfriends to accompany them to their sister’s wedding. The real Mike and Dave managed to spin this amusing anecdote into something akin to a literary career, publishing all manner of dating and advice books. There is little sense of irony in their sexist commentary and advice.

Having their cake and eating it, too.

Having their cake and eating it, too.

It is immediately clear that Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates is unsympathetic to its protagonists. These are two guys who concoct an elaborate quick-fix solution to their family’s request, one that has dire consequences for everybody involved. In fact, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates is surprisingly frank in how it handles the “deal” that Mike and Dave strike with the two ladies they decide to bring to Hawaii. Any notion that Mike and Dave are victims is dispelled in a sequence of Mike yelling at Tatiana, “You were supposed to have sex with me!”

With that line, every piece of suffering and humiliation imposed upon Mike and Dave becomes justified. Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates seems quite horrified by the depths of Mike’s immaturity, an immaturity that is consciously and clearly articulated in terms of the Judd Apatow emotionally stumped manchild comedy machine. When Dave is (justifiably) horrified by Mike’s plan to poison a relative to give him an advantage at the rehearsal dinner, Mike cites his inspiration. “But you love The Wedding Crashers!”

Trapped in a bad bromance.

Trapped in a bad bromance.

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates makes a point to laugh at Mike and Dave, rather than with them. On the surface, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates plays very much as a “laddette” comedy in the style of something like Bridesmaids. Mike and Dave invite Tatiana and Alice, who promptly make as much of a mess of things as the boys normally do. The pair get hyper competitive while driving ATVs. Alice pops drugs with reckless abandon. Tatiana gets involved with a hypersexual member of the family. All the things guys normally do in a comedy like this.

However, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates makes a point to boomerang all of this around back to Mike and Dave. As Mike rambles about how Tatiana and Alice are “the twins from The Shining!”, Dave chuckles to himself. “That is exactly how dad talks about us,” he observes. Later, Tatiana has a conversation about how much she resembled Mike. At the very end of the film, both guys and girls seem to hit on the same essential revelations at exactly the same time. They are very clearly funhouse mirrors. Tatiana and Alice serve to call Mike and Dave out.

Mega happy ending.

Mega happy ending.

Nowhere is this more obvious than the way in which Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates deals with sexuality. The film repeatedly pushes the duo outside of their own comfort zones, with a recurring suggestion that the pair have difficulty thinking of their female relatives as women. Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates features female nudity, but in a manner that is anything but exploitative. The scenes of female sexuality exist purely so Mike and Dave can have overblown reactions to them, the joke being the awkwardness with which this pair react to women.

This plays out in a sequence in which Mike struggles to articulate the “female equivalent” to “jerking off”, while casually describing a graphic (and grotesque) sex act known as a “push pop.” It is reflected in the awkwardness with which Mike reacts to his cousin Terri, which even Tatiana recognises, and his later freakout at seeing her nipple. Both Mike and Dave struggle repeatedly with the fact that their sister has a sexual identity, as if Mike and Dave are unable to fathom that women have sexual lives outside of the pair.

Dates with destiny.

Dates with destiny.

Director Jake Szymanski is careful to shoot these sequences in a manner that is understated and not exploitative. Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates is structured so the joke is always on Mike and Dave. The female body is never sexualised; even Tatiana’s sexual encounter is portrayed as generic rather than titillating. The most sexualised body in Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates belongs to male comedian Kumail Nanjiani, who strips down and covers himself in lotion. There is no equivalent male gaze moment.

It helps that Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates has assembled a top-notch ensemble. Zac Efron is very much channelling the same performance style that worked so effectively in Bad Neighbours. Adam Devine helps to convey the idea that Mike really isn’t a nice guy beneath the smile and energy, which helps carry the film. Aubrey Plaza is the film’s most valuable player as Tatiana, helping flesh out a character who could easily seem one-note. Anna Kendrick is charming as ever in the role of Alice.

Face off.

Face off.

There are issues. Most obviously, the third act rather rigidly adheres to the formula for these sorts of comedies, with catastrophe followed by reconciliation. Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates offers a particularly bleak catastrophe that makes no effort to excuse the leading pair of responsibility for their actions, but the script still contrives to make sure the film doesn’t end on too sour a note. It all feels a little rushed and contrived. The script does try a last-minute gag suggesting that the characters have learned literally nothing, but it does not have a strong enough bite.

Sill, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates is a smart little comedy. Much smarter than it initially appears.

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6 Responses

  1. Lol i wanted to watch this. Seems like a hilarious mess! 😏😝

  2. I love the cast so I’m definitely going to see this.

    I do think if fairness (if that is the right word) that the ladette genre (and more broadly womenchild characters) and its less crude sisters have taken on a life of their own in recent years so I wonder if a deconstruction like this wouldn’t have been more timely a few years ago. After all we live in an age where Rebel Wilson enjoys a successful career playing the crude, sex-obsessed best friend role that even ten years ago would have been pretty exclusively male.

    • Watching it, I was honestly surprised at how little focus there is on the two female characters. Their raunchiness/drug taking/troublemaking is never really treated as anything out of the ordinary or particularly sensational. (Indeed, what I really like was one of the moments that could easily have been crass and sensationalised involving Tatiana leans so far in the opposite direction that Mike’s reaction to it becomes the joke.) The film kinda treats the behaviour not as the result of two particularly “laddish women”, but instead as the logical result of promising a free trip to Hawaii via a megaphone to a random stranger who has to be your date.

  3. I was surprised by the low critics score for this movie. Not a classic by any means, but it does plenty of interesting and relatively unusual things for a comedy to make it worth a watch. Plus, Anna Kendrick is great playing against type.

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