It took two-thirds of the movie for me to figure out what was bothering me about Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates.
It didn’t have much to do with my sense of good taste being offended, to be honest. Primarily, I felt that there were mixed messages being sent about Tatiana (Aubrey Plaza) and Alice (Anna Kendrick). They’re the titular trainwrecks that hear about a Craigslist ad that Mike (Adam Devine) and Dave Stangle (Zac Efron) place after they’re forced to find dates to their sister’s wedding in Hawaii, promising to pay all expenses. The Stangle brothers don’t really have any female friends, but their family hopes that if they bring a couple of nice girls with them, they’ll be forced to curb the traditionally awful behavior they’ve displayed at past family gatherings.
Of course, all Tatiana and Alice hear is “free trip to Hawaii.” So the “bad girls” impersonate “good girls,” convince Mike and Dave to take them along, and I’m left wondering if I’m supposed to appreciate two funny women being allowed to be hard-partying badasses without “needing” to be brought to heel (at least, not any more than the guys do), or if I should cock my eyebrow over the two of them being somewhat vilified for being so duplicitous in the first place—even though they’re taking advantage of what is, from any angle, a monumentally stupid idea, brought on by an already asinine assumption that two jackass party animals can stop being jackass party animals just because they’re bringing women along.
Less ambiguous is the character of Cousin Terry (Alice Wetterlund), set up as a one-dimensional rival to Mike, perpetrating the cliche of bisexuals being hormone-drunk assholes. At one point, Terry convinces Tatiana to fingerbang her in a steam room in exchange for Rihanna tickets. Mike walks in on them, and topless Terry proceeds to beat the crap out of Mike. Imagine Me & You this ain’t.
Now, I don’t like to attack comedies on sensitivity grounds because A) most of the time it’s not my battle to fight, and B) I can just as easily praise a comedy for being edgy. I’ll be honest: I laughed at that scene, because of the shock of it and for Wetterlund going full Pepe lé Pew with her initial approach to Tatiana. While there were laughs like that here and there throughout the movie, though, nothing struck me as funny in a way that would stick, and I couldn’t figure out why. Not until I hit that third act.
We find Mike Stangle sitting alone and drinking from a vodka bottle because it’s the third act and that means he and his brother, with no small help from Tatiana and Alice, have truly, seemingly irrevocably ruined his sister’s wedding. Tatiana comes up to him; up to this point they’ve been at each other’s throats. He invited her to the wedding with some expectation of sex (because he thinks that’s how this works), while Tatiana played along because, dude, it was a free fucking trip to Hawaii. Once it became clear to Mike that nothing was going to happen between the two, things got tense between them. But now she’s here in the smoldering wreckage of his sister’s wedding, and they’re passing a vodka bottle between them, and Tatiana admits that she sees a lot of herself in Mike, and like Mike, she’s afraid that her life won’t amount to anything.
That’s when I figured it out, because nothing about this movie seemed to be leading to that kind of breakthrough. It was just there, like the writers were just about to send this script out to prospective actresses, and just as the courier was five minutes away, one of them said “Shit! We need to give Tatiana some pathos if we’re gonna attract anyone worth a shit!” So one of them stalled the courier with an improv puppet show while the other quickly added the speech in and printed out the new pages.
Very few of these gags feel grounded in anything resembling honest emotional response, save for Anna Kendrick because she’s one of those actresses who can spin shit into gold. Her character, Alice, has been a complete mess ever since she was left at the altar, and Kendrick does her level best to make every insane thing her character says and does feel like it came from that place of raw pain. The movie pairs her up with Zac Efron, and his strong self-awareness and goofy energy makes him a great match for her. The movie finds a pleasant rhythm when it’s focused on the two of them, however predictable it all feels.
Adam Devine, on the other hand, is a huge drag. He plays Mike Stangle as an unrepentant douchebag even though the movie is flailing around to try and make him a clueless yet charming rogue. Devine’s been a fantastic supporting player in the past, but in a lead role, he can’t really garner a lot of sympathy and quickly wears out his welcome. Aubrey Plaza is game to shed her sardonic image and go full “woo” girl as Tatiana, but as suggested earlier, she can’t really do anything with it. She’s supposed to be a classic hot mess, because Mike is apparently driven by the equal parts sexual and situational frustration she inspires. (Or, “You’re such a bitch, UGH, why are you so hot?”) But, putting aside the issues with a female character who serves that function, she’s all mess and no heat.
This is especially fascinating because I thought she did a fine job of it in (let’s be clear, the mostly terrible) Dirty Grandpa. In that movie, Plaza was able to sell Lenore’s attraction to Robert DeNiro’s Dick Kelly (and, in turn, helped DeNiro sell Dick’s attraction to Lenore), and that at least gave the film a solid ground to mount some funny (if ultimately forgettable) jokes about the two of them. Here, any notes of eroticism in the interaction between Plaza and Devine, notes that would normally build the foundation for their rapport, are ignored to pack in more jokes that either wear out their welcome or flat-out do not work, and part of the reason for that is because, yeah, I get that Tatiana feels nothing for Mike and is playing him at first, but there’s no point in the early stages of the movie where I understand what Mike or even Terry sees in Tatiana. There’s a moment near the end where Plaza manages to pack a stunningly sexy punch with a single line, and whaddaya know, that helps to sell a solid pre-credits gag focused on Mike and Tatiana. Too bad, by then I was mostly absorbed by my watch.
Here’s what kills me about Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates. That moment I described, where Tatiana admits her fears and opens up to Mike for no discernible reason, is an awful execution of what was honestly a great idea. Despite lacking any context to make it truly connect, Plaza nails that single dramatic beat. Within that beat, I saw a better movie about two party animals who go looking for nice wedding dates in a well-meaning but misguided attempt to ensure they don’t fuck up the most important day of their sister’s life. They accidentally meet their matches and turn the wedding into an epic clusterfuck, but better each other in smaller, perhaps more important ways.
The movie, instead, goes for cheap laughs. And while I don’t have a problem with cheap laughs, the thing is there’s not enough of them here.
Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates is now playing.