“That outfit looks like Jimmy Buffett’s dust ruffle … or the wallpaper in a Long John Silver’s bathroom.” Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates

Mike-and-Dave-Need-Wedding-Dates-2016-Comedy-Movie-Inspired-by-a-true-storyI daresay we see too many Zac Efron movies in our household (evidence here and here and here). Perhaps an intervention is required. His cinematic output is not exactly transcendent, but it ain’t bad either. Efron has become the poster boy for pleasant-diversion, middlebrow-comedy, derivative filmmaking. And I suspect it’s a lucrative and easy life, with just an inordinate number of sit-ups and bench-presses required.

Efron can sing. He’s cornered a unique underdog, alpha-himbo comic niche. He’s man-pretty, in a distracted, dissipated, vacuous way. He can dance. Before the advent of sophomoric gross-out rom-coms, he would have probably been John Davidson. (If you’re under 40, Google him.)

But here we are. Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates. We saw it, ‘Murica, in a need to go see something stupid and funny and palate-cleansing after a busy theatre month. And it did the trick.

Throw Wedding Crashers, Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, Bridesmaids, Meet the Parents, and an episode of Animaniacs into a Cuisinart, and you’d get something approximating this flick. And that’s not a bad thing, because, what all of those influences have at their core (beyond the Post-Its and the poop jokes) is an inherent sweetness, an appreciation for the absurdity of the human condition, and a wily distaste for both the clusterf*ck ostentation of modern weddings and the phony pretense of “growing up.”

Based on a hyperbolic “true story” as can only exist in post-millennial internet-obsessed America, Mike and Dave tells the story of the Stangle Bros, puckish siblings locked in a self-destructive cycle of privilege, self-absorption, and arrested development. You see, these boys, as played by Efron and Pitch Perfect‘s Adam DeVine are sawed-off li’l Hollister-wearing muscle jocks whose daily life is spent in package liquor sales and whose evenings are occupied trying to make family gatherings more fun through a healthy heaping of fireworks, chemical influence, and general mayhem.

We all know these guys. They view themselves as not just the “life of the party” but the party itself, not realizing they leave scorched earth, tears, and exhaustion in their wake – their pursuit of spontaneity at all costs actually driving everyone in their orbit into increasingly rigid anxiety. The film sets this up in a clever way with an opening credits montage demonstrating the Stangle Bros’ “fun” like a glammed up highlights reel from the Jackass television show, juxtaposed later in the film with a grainy, home-movie montage showing what really happened.

The boys’ beloved sister Jeanie (Sugar Lyn Beard, a comic elf with nitroglycerine in her veins … hope she gets more work!) is getting married in one of those cost-prohibitive, vulgar “destination weddings” only seen in film … or on Facebook. Given the brothers’ propensity to ruin everything, Jeanie, her fiance (Sam Richardson, a wry and reserved powder-keg), and parents (the always dependable Stephen Root and Stephanie Faracy) insist that Mike and Dave bring actual dates to this event, under the false assumption that having women to “monitor” their foolish impulses will make any difference at all.

Of course, this being the world in which we now live, Mike and Dave post an ad on CraigsList (nothing bad ever happens via CraigsList, eh?), and a pair of lightning rods Alice and Tatiana answer the call (chiefly because they want the free trip to Hawaii). Into the Woods‘ Anna Kendrick (as Alice) and Parks and Recreation‘s Aubrey Plaza (as Tatiana) are dynamite. I don’t think I could (or should) go so far as to suggest this trifle of a movie is feminist, but the way these two rip up the screen and any shred of dignity the brothers have left is a sight to behold. Needless to say, they do not take to their roles as “baby-sitters” and proceed to demolish the nuptials in ways the boys could only dream about.

Plaza particularly is a revelation, her banjo eyes and sardonic delivery bespeaking a world of hurt that someone so young should not yet have experienced. And don’t get me wrong, there is no poignancy in Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates – like zero, like no attempt even made – but Plaza (and Kendrick too) do great work beyond the thin confines of the script to represent fully developed if utterly misdirected minds onscreen, giving the film a lift and, dare I say, import that is likely 100% accidental.

Oh, and the film adds a meddlesome cousin (Terry), who seems to exist simply to provide unnecessary narrative complication, but Alice Wetterlund (who could play Kate McKinnon’s sister) tears into the role with a fire that is delightful and necessary. The raging Id to Mike and Dave’s SuperEgo. She sizes up the boys’ wedding ensembles, reducing them to ash with one of the funniest lines in the film: “That outfit looks like Jimmy Buffett’s dust ruffle … or the wallpaper in a Long John Silver’s bathroom.”

There are about three cringe-worthy scenes, the kind which always seem to be plopped into these enterprises solely to create Tweet-worthy shock value, all easily excised when aired on TBS in two years. Just muddle through those sequences, and focus on the sparkle at play between Plaza and Kendrick and the way their work enhances and critiques the more heavy-handed bro-comedy of, say, DeVine, in particular. Efron remains a cipher in his own film, and I think that’s a conscious decision on his part. He is funniest in befuddled observation, and he has a lot of that to do here.

Now, if only Hollywood had been brave enough to make Alice and Tatiana DON’T Need Wedding Dates. I’d RSVP for that.

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Mike-and-Dave-Need-Wedding-Dates-MovieReel Roy Reviews is now TWO books! You can purchase your copies by clicking here (print and digital). 

In addition to online ordering at Amazon or from the publisher Open Books, the first book is currently is being carried by BookboundCommon Language Bookstore, and Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room in Ann Arbor, Michigan and by Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, Michigan.  

My mom Susie Duncan Sexton’s Secrets of an Old Typewriter series is also available on Amazon and at Bookbound and Common Language.

On behalf of the American people…this movie is freaking hilarious: The Campaign

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On behalf of the American people, I just want to thank the filmmakers of The Campaign for NAILING beyond a shadow of a doubt the shallow, overproduced, manipulative, hypocritical circus that politics have become in the post-millennial U.S. of A. Regardless whichever end (or hopefully middle) you sit on the political spectrum, this film should be required viewing to help us all regain our senses as we head into the fall. Oh, and by the way, this movie is freaking hilarious.

Director Jay Roach, whose career has run the gamut from the farcical and absurd (Meet the Parents and Austin Powers trilogies) to the incisively au courant (Recount, Game Change), marries both worlds beautifully here. I will admit that I am not much of a Will Ferrell fan, and I’ve begun to grow tired of Zach Galifianakis’ whimsical man-baby-isms. However, both actors are on top of their games here, and Roach uses them, their cumulative screen personae, and their particular quirks to great, inventive delight. You will see threads of John Edwards, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and even Sarah Palin in both performances, but, while broadly drawn, both actors show a sweetly grounded, yet irreverent respect for any and all who are vainglorious enough to “throw their hats in the ring.” They are all of those famous political names wrapped up in the guise of the great Looney Tunes pairings: Elmer Fudd and Daffy Duck; Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner; Bugs Bunny and Marvin the Martian.

The supporting players are all fine, though I felt John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd phoned in their parts a bit as the uber-rich Machiavellian political manipulating Motch brothers (thinly veiled spoofs of the truly scary Koch brothers). Dylan McDermott has quite a bit of fun as some mad hybrid of Karl Rove and Kenneth Cole. (I loved the fact that the filmmakers were cheeky enough to give him the alias “Dermot Mulroney” at one point – I admit I often get the two actors confused myself). Rounding out the cast, Brian Cox does his winky, mellifluous, “aren’t I above it all” thing as Galifianakis’ dad (which works here); Jason Sudeikis does his exasperated, panting, “aren’t I above it all” thing as Ferrell’s campaign manager (which works even better here); and Sarah Baker does her good-natured, wryly comic “aren’t I beneath it all” thing as Galifianakis’ oft-suffering wife (and nearly steals the movie).

I loved that no topic was off-limits for the film, and that they bravely (and pretty warm-heartedly) went after every superficial pose co-opted in modern politics: religious pandering, macho swaggering, family values, hetero-normative sexuality, liberal self-righteousness, drummed up political scandal, small town/big business “job creation,” and even “let’s go kill some helpless animals but actually shoot each other” hunting. And the fact that the film ends with a sweet affirmation that good may just conquer all was a happy little surprise. The Campaign is a late-summer delight, and I’m glad that in its second weekend, it has already nearly doubled its production budget in box office receipts. Do go see it, and laugh yourself silly…and, perhaps, like I did, you will get a nice little gut check on how far afield we have all gotten in this current presidential race. I think I may just write in Ferrell/Galifianakis on my ballot come November….