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'License' should be revoked

'License to Wed' has a creepy subtext for a family comedy.

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Just as it is with some people, there are movies that are completely devoid of self-knowledge. What they are supposed to be about and what they are really about are miles apart.

I have rarely seen a movie with less self-knowledge than "License to Wed," an awful comedy made ever so slightly fascinating because of its dual personality.

Sadie (Mandy Moore) and Ben (John Krasinski) are two cuddle bunnies who find true love at Starbucks and, after a brief courtship, get engaged. The imminent wedding will be officiated by Reverend Frank (Robin Williams), who insists that the couple first go through his obligatory "marriage preparation course" in order to make sure they are doing the right thing.

Aided by a creepy pint-sized kid (Josh Flitter) whom he is mentoring in the Ministers For Tomorrow program, Rev. Frank puts Sadie and Ben through a series of rigorous test apparently designed to test their love. Declaring that they forgo sex, he checks up on them by bugging their bedroom; he presents them with twin robot babies that cry and throw up.

On the surface, Frank is simply preparing the couple for the worst, but in fact he seems intent on breaking up the engagement. His bedchamber espionage is, at best, smarmy – the little kid joins in on the eavesdropping – and so is his barely suppressed ogling of Sadie. Director Ken Kwapis and his screenwriters don't seem to be aware of what they are perpetrating here. They want us to embrace Frank as a lovable eccentric who wants only the best for Ben and Sadie. He's a cutup with a collar – a do-gooder.

If Kwapis had mined the material for what it actually is, he might have made a decent black comedy, or horror film, about an interventionist priest who lusts after the bride-to-be. But whether by choice or cluelessness, he opted instead for this bizarro family entertainment package.

Sadie and Ben are such dim bulbs that it never really dawns on them what their pastor is up to. As for Frank, his would-be good-heartedness is belied by Williams's performance, which is full of tics and sneers. Williams is too sharp a comic not to know what's going on here but the script requires him to be lovable. So he ends up trying to have it both ways: He's a huggy bear with sleazeball vibes.

Even if one buys the ostensible premise of "License to Wed," it's still a sham. Putting a couple through a series of prenuptial tests in no way guarantees the safety of the marriage. Unless, of course, the bride and groom are as plastic and predictable as a pair of mewling robot babies. Grade: F

Rated PG-13 for sexual humor and language.


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