Review: Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates (2016)
Anna Kendrick, Aubrey Plaza, Adam DeVine, Zac Effron. Directed by Jake Szymanski.

mandd1If you can’t disconnect your brain and just enjoy four good actors being goofy and stupid, there’s really no way to appreciate a film like Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, unless, like me, you are a deep admirer of the actors themselves. My fan-love for Anna Kendrick and Aubrey Plaza is so deep that it almost doesn’t matter what the film is, and I know for certain that many people feel this way about Zac Efron.  A movie like this isn’t so much a story as a witness to an execution of comedic over-the-top acting chops, if there is such a thing, and if you can appreciate Anna Kendrick sobbing her poor young heart out while George Clooney awkwardly pretends to sympathize in an Oscar-nominated performance in Up in the Air, why not go along in the opposite direction as she shares a bunch of MDMA with the bride the night before a wedding, and then takes her clothes off so she can cavort with a corral of hotel-owned horses she decides to set free?

mandd3Adam DeVine and Zac Effron are Mike and Dave, two idiot brothers whose younger sister is about to be wed. They’re warned by their family—the bride included—that they are expected to have dates for this wedding, because they have a history of coming to family events stag, and then embarrassing everyone with life-endangering stunts and guest-insulting flirtation. The family hopes that dates will keep the young men in line. Because they’re idiot horndogs, at first they resist, but because they love their sister (nearly as much as they appear to love each other), they acquiesce, putting an ad on Craigslist, searching for dates to the Hawaii wedding.

mandd2The Hawaii part of the deal inspires a lot of responses, as well as an appearance on The Wendy Williams Show where Tatiana (Aubrey Plaza) and Alice (Anna Kendrick) see them. The ladies are having problems. Alice, recently abandoned at the altar, repeatedly shows up for her waitressing job drunk. Tatiana, her best friend, joins Anna in her drunkenness, and they are both fired. A trip to Hawaii could help them reset their lives, so they make up fake identities, Tatiana declaring she’s a teacher, and Alice claiming to be a hedge-fund manager. Just the sort of nice girls Mike and Dave know will please their family.

My friend Dawn (holding the drink) is an extra in several scenes.  Another reason to see this film.
My friend Dawn (holding the drink) is an extra in several scenes. Another reason to see this film.

All that setup seems unnecessary for a pretty thin story, but I suspect it serves to loosen a viewer’s brain, a kind of focused stretching before a basketball game. First, get to like the characters, understanding that they’re basically nice people, if stupid and misguided. Then, get used to the possibility that their likeable stupidity means they are about to do some really stupid, unbelievable stuff for the sole purpose of making you laugh, or (alternately) be reminded that Kendrick and Plaza are super cute, and that Effron is a hunk. You paid for the rental; you might as well stick around for that.

This is the second Kendrick-Plaza movie and the third Kendrick-DeVine movie, and these are good team-ups, and this is where the film mostly works, because goodness knows there aren’t a lot of genuine laughs. The hope that there might be some singing, with three of the four principals starring in hugely successful musical projects, might be another appeal, and some of that is delivered as well. There’s a happy pleasure in seeing this young talent get a little crazy and have fun, and if one can forgive the characters for promising more than they deliver, shallowly motivated by a trip to Hawaii, one can certainly excuse the actors for doing the same thing.


PS: This is not Pitch Perfect or High School Musical. Screen it before you watch it with your kids.

Review: Rocket Science

Rocket Science (2007)
Reece Thompson, Anna Kendrick. Written and directed by Jeffrey Blitz.

rocket6“It’s one of those two, love or revenge,” says ninth-grader Hal Hefner in explaining his motivation. It’s the kind of rationale that can turn a nice, lightly absurd teen comedy into something dark or cynical, but Rocket Science tiptoes on the tipping point, does a couple of those oh-no-I’m-losing-my-balance arm-waving things, then floats gently back to earth, its parasol of earnestness setting it down right where it should, in the land of hope and optimism.

rocket4Hal is a stammerer. It’s not fair: his mother, father, and brother have all kinds of problems, but their problems don’t cause them ridicule or loneliness. Hal can’t speak up in class even when he’s the only one who knows the answer his teacher is trying incompetently to wring out of her students. His counselor doesn’t know what to do with him, saying, “It’s really a shame you’re not hyperactive, because that I know well.” When he’s presented in the lunch line with the choice of pizza or fish, he can’t spit the word “pizza” out, and is stuck with an unidentifiable piece of fish.

But then Ginny Ryerson recruits him for the debate team. She’s won every award in high-school policy debate except the state championship, and she wants him to be her partner in her final chance at that last trophy. She’s a senior, and she’s smart and pretty, and she convinces him that his brains and insight are exactly what she needs in a debate partner. That stammering stuff will work itself out.

rocket7That’s a heck of a premise. Add excellent acting, smart direction, a silly but realistic presentation of high-school campus life, and a script that remembers how bizarre any fifteen-year-old’s existence feels to the fifteen-year-old and to everyone around him, and you get a pretty good teen movie. If you can look at this film and feel the slightest compassion for its characters – all of them – you can understand why I loved teaching ninth-graders for sixteen years. Director Jeffrey Blitz also directed one of my top-five documentary films of all time, Spellbound, about the National Spelling Bee, and it’s clear he gets this weird place young people occupy, crammed somewhere between their upbringings, their environments, and their emerging, independently thinking selves. Figuring out where their places are and finding their voices shouldn’t be rocket science, Hal suggests, but Hal doesn’t know yet that rocket science is a piece of cake compared to “all this, you know? Everything.”


Review: Life After Beth

Life After Beth (2014)
Aubrey Plaza, Anna Kendrick, Cheryl Hines, Dane DeHaan, John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon, Paul Reiser, Garry Marshall, Alia Shawkat. Written and directed by Jeff Baena.

labLife After Beth is a silly, semi-stupid zombie movie, and even though I’m tired of zombies and their recent ubiquity in entertainment media, I felt it my duty to watch it because c’mon it has Aubrey Plaza and Anna Kendrick in it, and Cheryl Hines too, and any one of those sweet actresses is reason enough to see anything, and—I’m not kidding—it really isn’t that bad, with kind of an engaging story and a really sweet emotional payoff despite its grim and sorta gruesome plot, so as long as you’re not expecting anything great, you might find this enjoyable, especially if you love Anna Kendrick the way I do, because she’s the highlight even though she’s only in two scenes for a total of about five minutes of screen time.