Movie Review: Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates
By Ben Gruchow
July 19, 2016

AKA Zac Efron, Anna Kendrick, Aubrey Plaza and Adam Devine go to Hawaii.

At the very least, we can express gratitude to director Jake Szymanski and writers Andrew Cohen and Brendan O’Brien, for so thoroughly investing themselves in a quaint old star-driven pitch and narrative. This may not sound all that special, and we did indeed just come out of a month that offered more than its share of quaint old star-driven narratives, but let us not take for granted the pleasure of seeing a film that is conspicuously created for and facilitated by the chemistry of the main cast.

And this is how we come by Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, a movie that has no reason to exist except for the ability to see the immeasurable talents of Aubrey Plaza and Anna Kendrick intermix with the measurable talents of Zac Efron and Adam DeVine. Other cast members appear on the periphery, but this is every bit an edifice built on the presence of these four. Like the Miss Congeniality movies from the early ’00s, the success of the thing is predicated on the onscreen participants turning bland and functional writing into something approximating successful broad comedy based on their ability to invest it with the right timing and expression. And in both cases, it winks out of relevant existence the moment you extract or replace the lead actor(s) and actress(es).

Unambiguously in the new film’s corner is the fact that this is the second time we've seen Efron and Plaza together in the same film this year, after January’s Dirty Grandpa, and praise be to every higher being in existence that this is light-years better as comedy and story than that dumpster fire of cinema. The titular characters here are brothers (DeVine and Efron, respectively) who operate an wholesale-liquor business and don't have much else to their name; their shared apartment looks not like the dwelling of late-twentysomethings in business but very recent college grads who haven't yet figured out what their place in the world is.

This turns out to be a significant story element when their sister Jeanie (Sugar Lyn Beard) and parents (Stephen Root and Stephanie Faracy) direct them to recruit dates for Jeanie’s upcoming wedding. The brothers being emotionally high-temperature singles, this results in an ad calling for two women to accompany them to Hawaii (there is a humorous exchange where they run through most of the dating apps that end with some contraction of words ending in ‘er’, only to finally settle on Craigslist).

There is a scene in this stretch of the film that sets us up more or less perfectly for what to expect as far as the screenplay’s reach and its grasp. A couple of female coworkers in an office are perusing the woefully unpolished Craigslist ad, and their male coworker elbows his way in; he wants a trip to Hawaii, too. The brothers are both straight, he's told. So what? That's not a deal breaker. And then we cut to the scene where the brothers interview him, and he's in shamefully poor drag, playing the part of a woman when nobody with the most rudimentary observational skills would fail to see through it.

We deflate a little bit in our seats. The stronger joke, and the funnier one, would have just been to have the man approach them directly, with the same blasé attitude he displayed earlier. The scene does eventually get to this point, but not comfortably; having shot itself in the foot with the lazily-contrived setup for the interview scene, it then slips on a banana peel and faceplants by having the brothers be legitimately fooled by the disguise, as evidenced by their reaction when the wig comes off. Does anyone really consider this kind of thing funny or daring anymore?

Our spirits lift a little when we finally get to spend some screen time with Alice and Tatiana, played by Anna Kendrick and Aubrey Plaza as cocktail waitresses every bit as developmentally arrested as Mike and Dave. Kendrick has a naturally subversive screen presence that always gives the impression that she can see something nobody else can, including the audience; Plaza can sell straight-faced comic misanthropy in her sleep, as anyone who's seen Parks and Recreation can attest. These are emotive, funny actresses, and if our first few scenes with them reveal that they're mostly going to be conniving punchlines for alcoholism…well, at least the material will be in the hands of professionals.

In their hands it is, and from the moment all of them are on screen together, something in the material of the movie clicks at least moderately, and we’re able to entertain the screenplay’s many contrivances by the sheer virtue of how likable the cast makes relatively unsympathetic characters. And unsympathetic they are; Alice is the only one with much of a shred of self-awareness, and even she is beholden to story and character developments that do yeoman’s work in attempting to undermine any identification with her that we might have.

It's actually pretty telling how relatively better the movie is in the presence of its female characters in general, without Mike and Dave around to play off of each other’s escalating emotional amperage. In the few moments we have alone with Alice, she gives indications toward unexplored layers of character that at least explain why she's merely the most sympathetic of an unsympathetic lot. And Alice Wetterlund, tasked with an impossible character in the bisexual, power-mad cousin Terry, operates with a kind of relentless vigor that brings every scene she's in to some kind of unpredictable life.

You know, more or less, what you're getting here. It's faint praise when the main pluses of a movie are that the filmmakers successfully mold it into the functional shape of cinema on a technical level (the Hawaiian sets and locations look truly lovely, the mechanics of which likely don't extend beyond rolling the camera and setting focus appropriately…but still, it's unabashed praise and it's well-deserved), and of how close the charismatic main actors come to constructing an enjoyable time out of such a standard and uninspired blueprint.