And what a dream of a cast. Zac Efron has emerged as a true movie star. He’s like some Greek demigod, both a boy-next-door and an untouchable force, distilling wit, charm, pathos, and lunacy with apparent ease; Adam DeVine, who’s emerging as a noteworthy comic force in the movies, combines the manic energy of the Road Runner and the drunken wit of a Bugs Bunny dissipated by years of gaming and partying. They’re paired with Anna Kendrick, an actress who tempers her pixie-princess vibe with wit and intelligence, and Aubrey Plaza, whose droll, deadpan mannerisms deflect and complement the fizzy raw energy of the other three. This is the stuff of great formula comedies. You don’t need a complicated plot so much as actors who can dream up crazy antics that propel the movie forward and simultaneously develop their characters into real human beings, albeit movie comedy versions of real human beings.
The film is about two brothers who have a habit of ruining family gatherings on a grand scale. (We see flashbacks of a Fourth-of-July celebration going up in flames, of a wedding where their grandpa suffers a heart attack and falls face-first into the cake, etc.) The boys’ younger sister is getting married in Hawaii, and their parents (played by Stephen Root and Stephanie Faracy) present Mike and Dave with an ultimatum: find nice girls to accompany them to the wedding (and keep them in check), or don’t come at all. There’s much rigmarole as Mike and Dave search for girls who will fit this admittedly unusual bill, including a guest appearance on Wendy Williams and countless cringey meetings with women (and a few guys) all vying for an all-expenses-paid trip to Hawaii. (This little seed of the movie is based on a true story.)
The writers and Jake Szymanski, making his feature directing debut (he’s worked previously on Saturday Night Live among other shows), have concocted a modern-day screwball comedy of sorts: A misfit group of weirdos gathered at a luxurious resort for continued hijinks. The only thing missing is a subplot about their being on the lam, pursued by the mob. Mike and Dave even plays a little of the mistaken identity game, because Alice and Tatiana are only pretending to be good girls. In reality they’re as screwed up as the guys. Both of them live in a state of perpetual adolescence: Tatiana is a hot mess, although she’s better able to deal with her insanity than Alice, who was jilted by her fiancé, right at the middle of their nuptials. Now Alice watches the video of their doomed wedding on her phone over and over again. This trip represents both a form of therapy and masochism for her.
With Mike and Dave, finally we have a movie in which it’s not just the guys who are adult children. It’s all four of the main characters, equally stuck in the throes of arrested development. They come from stable, prosperous upbringings that provided too many options and not enough urgency in their lives to make difficult (read: adult) choices. But unlike so many similar-minded comedies of late, Mike and Dave revels in its characters’ bold, often ribald immaturity. It tacks on a jokey lesson about growing up, at the end, only the lesson itself is the joke. We’re not meant to treat these characters as real people, even though they become increasingly human, expanded far beyond their clichés. Because the film doesn’t care about giving us some dumb message, it remains true to the essence of all great screwball comedies, where character reform was rarely the point. What mattered instead was having a ball, and looking terrific, and who cares if the necklace is stolen? It’s a beaut! Did Barbara Stanwyck have a good time conning hapless and rich Peter Fonda in The Lady Eve? You bet. And did she change at the end? Nope. Did Myrna Loy and William Powell of The Thin Man films enjoy drinking too much at their hotels and letting their mysteries sort of solve themselves? By all means. The mysteries got solved, didn’t they? Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates embraces a similar kind of anarchy. It's a stick of dynamite, and I loved every minute of it.
With Sugar Lyn Beard, Sam Richardson, Alice Wetterlund, Lavell Crawford, Mary Holland, and Kumail Nanjiani, as a massage therapist who gives the bride a particularly erotic working over.