ZERO STARS/**** Image B Sound B+ Extras F
starring Robin Williams, Mandy Moore, John Krasinski, Christine Taylor
screenplay by Kim Barker and Tim Rasmussen & Vince De Meglio
directed by Ken Kwapis
by Travis Mackenzie Hoover License to Wed is one more piece of roadkill on the path to Hell that Hollywood has mistaken for normalcy. The idea of a wildly intrusive minister manipulating the lives of two aspiring marrieds is bad enough, but what's worse is that one of the lovebirds in question is a suspicious jerk who doesn't use his brain while the other is an airhead who turns on her man with the slightest suggestion from a totalitarian cleric. Watching these people do their stuff isn't just unfunny, it's downright creepy--a freakshow of gruesome embarrassments and gender politics that will have you covering your eyes at regular intervals. The filmmakers think that hateful attitudes and grotesquely inappropriate behaviour are somehow going to be smoothed over by feigning good intentions and a boring, brightly-lit aesthetic that squeezes anything eccentric out of the frame. Although License to Wed comes across like your favourite boring uncle, rest assured there's something under its raincoat you don't want to know about.
The chief problem is that Reverend Frank (Robin Williams) is an unappealing character by anyone's standards. In order to be married at his church, you have to endure several months of couples counselling to ensure the rock-solidness of your relationship. Alas, the earliest opening for Ben and Sadie (John Krasinski and Mandy Moore) is in three weeks' time, so they're fast-tracked through this insanely intrusive "counselling"--which includes orders to not have sex, Frank bugging their apartment, rounds of soul-destroying questioning, and the seizing of every opportunity to undermine a relationship that had no evidence of problems until the Reverend slammed on the brakes. Humiliation is the order of the day: the robot babies he saddles them with are designed less to deal with the pressures of parenthood than to excrete toothpaste and resemble the torturers from Brazil. Williams renders Frank in the same ad-libbing obnoxiousness in which he renders every other performance, making an already-dubious character seem smug and two-faced as well.
Still, when you look at the couple in question, it's not like you can muster much sympathy. Ben is one of those movie nebbishes with a repulsive alpha-male friend (DeRay Davis as "Joel") who dishes out terrible advice and teaches him to mistrust his fiancee; anyone who'd listen to this jerk is clearly not marriage material in the first place. And yet, the movie maintains some sort of sympathy for Ben: it's about HIS hilarious trials and not those of his fiancée. That Sadie is arrayed against him is obvious, as she's the one who's idiotically susceptible to Reverend Frank's Oprah/Satan dialectic. The woman is so unsympathetic to the needs of her partner that it's hard to work up much faith in the future of their relationship. (The fact that she wears atrocious Wal-Mart outfits is another clue to her undesirability.) The one-sided relationship--designed to flatter men, to give them a minuscule moral crisis and let them off the hook--is incredibly hard to watch and impossible to enjoy.
Of course, great movies have been made from unappealing characters; one imagines a Harold Pinter scenario in which Sadie gets it on with the Reverend as Ben fumes with cuckolded inadequacy. The movie's attitude, though, is that this snake pit of dysfunction is a perfectly normal way to while away an evening and an easy problem to smooth over with Hollywood smiles and pixie dust. Watching grown men and women offer these horrible people as lovable and redeemable is one of the most unpleasant experiences I had at the movies this year. I could complain that the banal cinematography and awful production design is uninteresting, but that would be like saying this movie can be judged by proper aesthetic standards. (The indifference to human behaviour will drive you to shut off the DVD long before the indifference to form.) One emerges from License to Wed amazed that mildly eccentric projects get turned down as too weird while a Bizzaro-world nightmare like this could be passed as the height of commonplace.
Warner's DVD presentation of License to Wed isn't exactly stellar, either. Offered in fullscreen/2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen incarnations on a single-sided/dual-layered disc, the compressed-looking transfer runs a little too chromatically hot: tones that were flat and banal in the theatre are suddenly flaming and vivid in ways that seem unnatural. The DD 5.1 audio gets high marks in the arena of general sharpness and potency, but the mixers haven't invested much in creating an interesting aural environment--and it shows. We don't really register anything that comes out of the surrounds even when it happens.
Extras begin with five deleted scenes appended by optional commentary from director Ken Kwapis. These include an unctuous credits sequence animated in the Terry Gilliam style, a coda with Reverend Frank walking off into the horizon with his prepubescent assistant "Choir Boy" (Josh Flitter), a basketball sequence with the Reverend and Ben (whose badness won't surprise anyone who's seen the movie), and two sequences involving would-be romantic rival Carlisle (Eric Christian Olsen), the discerning friend of Sadie who threatens the male lead. The second of these is most loathsome, with Ben rushing home from a meeting to interrupt Sadie's bachelorette party and fighting with a male stripper; it would be the worst thing about the movie had it actually made the cut.
Finally, "Ask Choir Boy" is a menu of 16 blessedly short (under 1 minute apiece) clips featuring the aforementioned Flitter, who offers romantic advice to people who call in. These range from the unfunny ("Should I tell my husband how much I spend on shoes?" "NO!") to the obnoxious ("My husband smells. What should I do?" "Don't put out"). Best of all, Flitter berates you if you take your sweet time in selecting one of his zingers. I should mention that trailers for Ocean's Thirteen, In the Land of Women, P.S. I Love You, "Seinfeld" Season 9, and a plug to watch "Ellen" begin on startup. Now excuse me now while I go disinfect.
91 minutes; PG-13; 2.35:1 (16x9-enhanced), 1.33:1; English DD 5.1, French DD 5.1, Spanish DD 5.1; CC; English, French, Spanish subtitles; DVD-9; Region One; Warner