Nearly fifteen years in the making, The Wedding Ringer comes to theaters this weekend starring Kevin Hart and Josh Gad. Despite the trailer leaving me flummoxed, I decided to see how this January “bromantic” comedy tackled the concept of renting a best man…but gaining a best friend. (Oops, should I have said spoilers?)
With only 10 days left before his wedding, nerdy loner Doug (Josh Gad) feels the walls closing in as he is still without the best man and seven groomsmen he promised for his super-lavish wedding to Gretchen (Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting). At his wit’s end, Doug, who is supposed to be shy-but-lovable, but instead seems more spineless and annoying, learns from his wedding planner about a specialty service for those in need of friendship – The Best Man, Inc. Proprietor Jimmy Callahan (current cinematic comedy superstar Kevin Hart) rents himself out as a best man for tens of thousands of dollars a wedding. Over the next week-and-a-half, Doug and Jimmy spend nearly every minute together as their relationship blossoms, and both of them learn a little bit about themselves and a lot about love.
Despite a premise ripe for tomfoolery, one of the biggest problems facing The Wedding Ringer is that it’s really not that comical. Even its R rating seems less for naughty antics and more for dialogue, which sprinkles in plenty of profanity. Although unnecessary, the bad language has the disconcerting effect of making the characters sound more “realistic” in a film that otherwise seems anything but. However, those expecting a high energy romp will be sorely disappointed, as the film tends to keep things more “crowd-pleasing” than humorous. It’s as though we’re supposed to genuinely like watching the camaraderie between Doug, Jimmy, and the Groomsmen more than laugh at/with them. That might work for movies featuring casts which a natural chemistry (e.g. Judd Apatow movies, Simon Pegg/Nick Frost fare), but definitely not for The Wedding Ringer.
The only sequence that tries to capture the manic energy generally associated with a comedy like this is a bachelor party gone awry, which could have been the centerpiece rather than just another thing that happens (*cough*The Hangover*cough*). But beyond that and other similar but all-too-rare moments, the movie seems strangely focused on making us try to feel for its one dimensional characters. Combined, Doug and Jimmy have no fewer than five sob stories about their respective misery. There’s a limit to how much (particularly redundant) wallowing in self pity we can handle in a movie, particularly a comedy, and this movie stretches us too much.
Afflicted by a condition that plagues too many movies, The Wedding Ringer also suffers from “because it has to” syndrome, as in a certain plot point happens because it has to fulfill the structure/our narrative expectations rather than because it’s true to the characters. Although a bit of a Bridezilla, Gretchen never seems particularly malicious or bothered by Doug … until she randomly rails against him to Jimmy during the wedding ceremony. Is this out of character? Well, ignoring the faulty assumption that Gretchen has a character in the first place, yes. It’s one of those moments that exists because it has to. While there is no reason for us to want Doug and Gretchen to be together, there’s also no reason for us to root for them to break up. (Though the film does shoehorn in a supposed better match for Doug in Nadia (Nicky Whelan), a woman paid by Jimmy to pretend to be a Russian prostitute(?) whom Doug falls for during a drug-and-alcohol-fueled bender. Are we supposed to believe they were “meant to be” despite them barely having 30 seconds of “honest” on-screen time?)
Surprisingly, The Wedding Ringer doesn’t do as much with the “almost caught in the lie” aspect as you might expect. The closest Gretchen comes to discovering the truth on her own comes in a sequence that calls to mind the ending of The Usual Suspects but is played a tad too straight, and none of the rest of the movie shares the same sort of pop cultural awareness. Honesty eventually reigns supreme, but it’s through soul-searching, not from being backed into a corner. With a movie like this, it seems a bit unfulfilling not to bring it out with a sitcom-esque madcap sequence. But isn’t expecting a movie like this to be fulfilling just lying to oneself anyway?
The Verdict: 1 out of 5
Despite my dislike of The Wedding Ringer, I have to admit that the audience I saw it with seemed to enjoy some parts. However, the tendency towards low energy rather than mania, particularly without any meaningful plot development or interesting characters to pick up the slack, kept this movie from achieving that rush that makes laugh-a-minute movies like The Hangover into successes. Maybe fans of Kevin Hart (as well as Josh Gad) will find some enjoyment in just watching them do things, but there isn’t much value outside of that. Alternatively, watch Saving Silverman for a bromantic comedy that actually has fun with the overused countdown premise, or this Newsreaders segment for a generally funny take on a wedding.