The best thing about “License to Wed” is that John Krasinski and Mandy Moore have enough of that ever-elusive quality — chemistry — that an impending marriage seems possible if not likely. They easily get us on their side. The chemistry even spills over a little into their paper-thin characters, Ben Murphy and
Sadie Jones. But a little chemistry, a few genuine laughs, and a premise that is adequate if not inventive only barely make up for flip-flopping, underdeveloped characters and a storyline that refuses to surprise, even given multiple opportunities.
The path to wedded bliss begins when Ben proposes to Sadie in front of friends and family, who then support her request to marry at a church that has family significance. The minister of the church, Reverend Frank (Robin Williams) has one stipulation for all couples he marries: They must take — and pass — a premarital course designed specifically to subversively test the limits of their relationship and also to develop and strengthen the bond they share. Potential for
ulterior motives, cheesy but thoughtful lines, unexpected actions, and accomplishment abound, but sadly the film takes the low road through all the above territory, rendering the motives unexciting, the lines simply cheesy, the actions numbingly predictable, the slapstick uninspired, and the accomplishments nothing more than satisfactory. The trials Ben and Sadie go through are nothing compared to the obstacle course inflicted on the audience, who has to work very hard to find anything entertaining or enjoyable.
Ben loves Sadie for the standard Hollywood reasons: she’s Smart, Funny, Attractive, etc, but really, when was the last time a movie
character wasn’t? Now, apparently. Sadie works through the course with trust, sincerity and such lack of personality that it’s hardly believable (at least not believing it is preferably to thinking she
really could be that devoid of character). Her puppy-dog loyalty and blind devotion to the program and its teacher are made all the more incongruous given Ben’s description of her as independent, “smart, so smart” and a “take charge” personality. Ben on the other
hand, is blessed with the good-natured expressions Krasinski employs as Jim in NBC’s The Office, and comes across as lovable, trusting, happy and kind without being a pushover. He makes a great romantic lead, but in a film that remains so run-of-the-mill, the thrill is quickly gone. It’s not a union that anyone would be unhappy to see, but in a world where romantic comedies can be so much more than simply romance and comedy, it’s hard not to crave a film that is, dare I say,
Smart, Funny, and Attractive.
Parents should know that the film is aimed at adults, and while not often raunchy, does include discussions of sexual fantasies and
depictions of women in labor. Reverend Frank is offbeat and at times more than a little off-color, and makes jokes about adultery, sexually transmitted disease, and murder. His tactics include having couples simulate fights, which result in name-calling and verbal abuse.
One of the most purportedly humorous tasks involves a pair of purposely ugly
mechanical twins Frank gives to Ben and Sadie, and most scenes with the twins involve their ugliness as a running gag. At one point, however, Ben shakes the robo-baby violently and repeatedly, making for
an uncomfortable allusion to shaken baby syndrome.
Families who see this film will want to discuss the commitment of marriage, and what couples should be sure of before entering into marriage. The concept of needing someone and respecting his or her opinion is pivotal in the film; how can people toe the line between independence and sharing a life with someone else? Child rearing is also explored — what types of responsibilities, large and small, might come along with having children? How might a couple or an individual best prepare for the demands, sacrifices, and joys of having a child? What type of support system might one reach out for?
Families who enjoy this film might also enjoy 2002’s A Walk to
Remember, also starring Mandy Moore, and The Runaway Bride with Julia Roberts and Richard Gere.
Thanks to guest critic AB.