Every movie requires some level of suspension of disbelief. Comedies, farces especially, ask a lot of us, considering how their subjects would have a high likelihood of imprisonment, grievous bodily harm, and/or death were they to exist in the real world. But we just accept it, move on, and let hilarity unfurl around us. However, the trailer for one such movie set to be released in doldrums of January has broken my relatively lenient standards and left me asking more questions than any movie since Prometheus. That movie is The Wedding Ringer.
The genre of Cyrano de Bergerac-inspired fare is such a standard that we accept the premise without question – so long as the film in question operates within already-established logic and conventions. Typically the Sweetheart doesn’t know the Schlub from Adam when the movie kicks off, so the Schlub reinventing himself in an attempt to woo her makes a certain amount of sense. Sure, the relationship is built on such a horrid foundation of lies that any real world woman would head for the hills as soon as she learns the truth, but because she has no frame of reference we can understand why she becomes a mark. Similarly, the Schlub is a Schlub, often at such a low point in his pathetic-ness that we can understand his desperation in trying anything to break himself out of his slum
At first glance, The Wedding Ringer looks like the poor man’s Hitch – schlubby white guy learns how to be cool from suave black guy with a dance sequence as a centerpiece. But unlike the Will Smith/Kevin James romcom and similar fare, The Wedding Ringer takes place long after the courtship phase of the central relationship. In this film, the Schlub (Josh Gad) is already a winner. Despite being horror-of-horrors “shy,” he already has most everything he could want. A decent job. Some level of a social life. The descriptor “lovable” applied to him. The ability to dance. And most importantly, the Sweetheart (Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting) – a fiancé he loves so much, he has a picture of her photoshoot from Men’s Health on his desk. He’s starting at the end of the previous movie.
So instead of the expected storyline and the mountainous task of wooing the Sweetheart, this movie revolves around the Schlub’s need to get a best man and seven groomsmen to complete his wedding party – without the Sweetheart being any the wiser to his lack of friends. Enter The Suave (Kevin Hart), who has a business for just such an occasion – The Best Man, Inc. As its proprietor, he will masquerade as anyone’s best man (for a price), but don’t expect actual friendship (except when the plot calls for it). (Probably.)
The Schlub generates audience sympathy in traditional stories because he’s generally passive and weak-willed, and is being encouraged to be different (because he needs to be…until he learns that being himself is the key) by a more dominant personality. In The Wedding Ringer, we in the audience must start under the presumption that the Schlub is already lying well enough on his own because otherwise he wouldn’t be living a life where his future wife would expect him to have seven groomsmen. This means, in essence, we’re forced to assume he’s a terrible guy from the beginning, which makes it hard to buy into the “lovable” image that he’s trying to project. Understandably, everyone puts a “best foot forward” when trying initially to attract someone (whether romantically or platonically), but by this stage in the relationship, shouldn’t the Sweetheart be aware (and comfortable with the idea) that her Schlub has no friends?
Which leads us to the problem of the Sweetheart. Generally a thankless role in “bromantic” movies like this, she’s put in a particularly strange position in The Wedding Ringer. She should know the man she plans to marry well enough to know that he doesn’t have one (let alone eight) people to fill these slots in their wedding. And if she doesn’t, whose fault is that? Hers, for not caring enough to learn that her future husband doesn’t have a particularly active social life; or his, for apparently lying to her so convincingly over the course of their entire courtship? And when he finally introduces the crew – shouldn’t she be severely concerned? She agreed to marry this man and there’s this entire side to his life that she has no clue about. The trailers show him feigning/having adventures such as skydiving and mountain climbing, things he presumably never did and thus would never have occasion to talk about with her before hiring this service. This goes beyond, “Isn’t it strange?” to, “This is legitimately frightening me.” This, in turn, should make her wonder if she is such an overbearing shrew that her fiancé can’t feel comfortable revealing this side of himself to her, why he feels he’s got to hide it away, and what she needs to change to become a better person. Alternatively, she could be the henpecking villain, but the trailers don’t paint her in that light.
And all of these issues have nothing on the catalyst of the film itself. The Best Man, Inc., makes no sense as a business. It appears to be, and, based on the services it offers, it has to be a word of mouth business for reasonably well-to-do individuals, presumably ones in the same general geographic region. So at minimum, it’s viable only in an area with an undue number of friendless, wealthy geeks. But wouldn’t there also be a fair number of crossover guests between weddings due to the service’s niche quality and geographic limitations? All you need is a couple of the same people to recognize that all of their loser friends have the same exact best man, but that said best man has an entirely different backstory every time he shows up. And we haven’t even touched on the idea that if someone’s close enough to recommend The Best Man, Inc., revealing the ruse, they’re probably close enough to that person to be a groomsman in a pinch. Reasonably, The Best Man, Inc., could have a group of potential best men, kind of like a best man bordello, but the trailer shows The Suave struggling to come up with Groomsmen, which should be able to be filled by his stable of Besties, were there one.
I fully acknowledge that judging any movie solely on its trailer is unfair on my part. I honestly have no idea why The Wedding Ringer, of all horrible comedies to come out every year, has me rejecting its premise so strongly. The ads are meant to highlight the moderately-passable-I-guess chemistry between Gad and Hart, as well as preview the “hilarious hijinks” that are sure to follow. I’m even sure the film will hang lampshades on some of these issues in the form of throwaway lines. But when you’re more interested (read: obsessed) in questioning a business plan than laughing, the movie’s facing an uphill battle that very few can overcome.
Of course, I could be entirely wrong. Maybe The Wedding Ringer will offer greater insights into relationships than I’m giving it credit for. It could be about lack of communication between people. Or it could be about the fake personas we devise for ourselves and the lies we must create and maintain in order to live up to our significant others’ and friends’ impressions or expectations. Or it could be about how, due to an increasingly anti-social society that has made real-world interactions fewer and farther between, people do not have actual people whom they can trust in an actual life situation. Or it could just be another horrible movie shoved into the cesspit of January.