Like so many young lovers embarking on the adventure that is marriage, LICENSE TO WED begins well, full of hope and the promise that this will be a trip to the moon on gossamer wings fraught with fun. Alas, as with 50% of all marriages in this country, this film breaks down irretrievably, leaving all concerned feeling hurt, angry, and not a little betrayed.
The young couple is Sadie (Mandy Moore) and Ben (John Krasinski). They meet cute and get more adorable as they move from flirting to true love, to co-habitation, and then to finally taking the big step into matrimony. It’s all going swimmingly, and disarmingly sweet, until Sadie and Ben have their first teeny little disagreement. He wants to wed in the tropics. She wants to walk down the aisle at the family church, and have her childhood minister, Reverend Frank (Robin Williams) perform the service. Naturally, he assents. This is where the fun is supposed to begin in earnest, what with Williams playing the quirky minister insisting on them taking a crash course in marriage preparation that is more like an emotional boot camp, complete with bloody noses. But, further alas, instead it marks the end of the good times and the long hard slog to the final credits.
The Reverend has an unorthodox approach to preparing his charges for the commitment of marriage (else why cast Williams?), shadowed by a solemn, pre-pubescent minister-in-training (Josh Flitter), while taking a game show approach to Sunday school, and holding his group marriage classes in the back of a bar. The script, instead of loosening up from the understated humor of act one, and breaking loose into a full-scale farce, dives headlong into a series of highly contrived, painfully inert, situations that creak under the weight of their ineptitude, and show off no one to their best advantage. Sadie’s sole purpose for the rest of the film is to fret in reaction to everyone around her. Moore, an actress of laid-back charisma, is lost. Krasinski, with is shaggy everyman quality and a rapscallion twinkle in his eyes, has a similar problem as the script goes from cute to chaos, and not in a good way. Let me put it this way, creepy twin robot babies that poop blue goo. Williams seems like he is in a straight-jacket instead of a clerical collar, with only the faintest gleam of his anarchic humor in view, and serving only to point up the failures in the script he is working from and the director he with working with. When, inevitably, the film re-invents itself as a heart-warming family drama, the entropy is complete, dragging down even the deft humor of cameos by Krasinski’s co-stars from “The Office.”
Sadie’s family are stock characters so faintly drawn that is requires a truth session over the wedding buffet tasting to indicate that they have any personalities as all, much less anything interesting about them. The exception is Lindsey Taylor as Sadie’s embittered, newly divorced sister. It’s a character so deep into cliché territory that even Taylor’s wry sensibility can’t save it. As for Grace Zabriski as Grandma, this veteran of some of David Lynch’s best work, purses her lips, rolls her eyes and cashes the paycheck.
Rather than a romp, LICENSE TO WED is a trainwreck, where humor is jackknifed, fun is DOA, and the romance is just so much blood on the tracks.