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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

License to Wed (review)

Hitched Up

I go to the movies to get away from sitcoms. I don’t like them on TV, with their cardboard characters getting corralled into and pushed around by the most absurdly artificial circumstances. So I sure as hell don’t need to see them blown up to feature-film size, from which there is simply no escape from the horrible generic blandness of it all short of walking out of the theater.

And oh, I was so tempted to walk out of License to Wed. And I have never walked out of a movie, not in my ten-year career as a film critic, not before. But I’d already had more than enough of the — what shall we call it? — new conservatism that’s springing up all over shoved down my throat by the disgustingly retrograde Knocked Up, and I didn’t need any more of it. At least, though, Knocked Up kept me engaged. Furious, but engaged. License to Wed could barely keep me awake.
In some of its particulars, this is far kinder and sweeter — if in a dully vanilla kind of way — a movie than Knocked Up. (Just so I’m not being misleading, License has a totally different vibe than Knocked Up, so don’t take my despising of both films as an indication that if you liked that one, you’ll like this one, too. I suspect you won’t.) Stars Mandy Moore (Because I Said So, American Dreamz) and John Krasinski (Shrek the Third, The Holiday) are charming enough, if instantly forgettable, as Sadie and Ben, a young couple madly in love and ready to get hitched. And the idea that even young couples madly in love shouldn’t rush to get married before they know what they’re in for with the whole marriage thing is a good one, too.

So what does License do? It rushes them toward the altar, but not before putting them through a retro gauntlet of busybodyish interference by a startlingly villainous man of the cloth. Sadie hasn’t been to her bestest, most favoritest, it’s-the-family-tradition church, Saint Augustine’s, in just about forever, but she simply must have her wedding there. And the only available slot for a wedding is in two years… or three weeks. So three weeks it is. But there’s a catch: No one gets married at Saint Augustine’s without first completing Reverend Frank’s patented pre-wedding prep course (he’s got his own Web site and everything!). Sadie agrees instantly. Ben, being merely the groom, has no say in the matter.

Are there lessons in how to argue constructively, how to negotiate the everyday ups-and-downs of not only sharing a bed but sharing living space? Presumably. That’s not much fun, though, so we don’t see that. Sure, we get to see Sadie and Ben have their first fight — right in Reverend Frank’s prep class! — immediately after another couple demonstrates the entirely wrong way to argue, because it’s much more hilarious, apparently, to listen to two people we don’t even know bicker and namecall. (Oh, and didn’t I say? Reverend Frank is played by Robin Williams [Night at the Museum, Happy Feet], so be on the lookout for his riff on the Ten Commandments. Thou shalt not laugh.) And it’s waaay more fun — not — to watch Reverend Frank and, rather disturbingly, his prepubescent student (Josh Flitter: Nancy Drew, Big Momma’s House 2) eavesdrop on Sadie and Ben in their apartment via the electronic bug the kid placed in their bedroom. Teaching a child to B&E in the name of God is okay, but sex before the wedding is a no-no in Reverend Frank’s book, even if you’re already living together. So listening in on the private conversation of a couple in love — and, ho boy, maybe catching them doing the nasty when they aren’t supposed to be! — is okay, too.

This is all really extremely creepy, and Reverend Frank would be the villain in any decent version of this tale. But he’s not: he’s the hero, and he’s the one we’re supposed to laugh with, and via his perspective, laugh at Sadie and Ben: Ha, ha, look at the idiot kids who don’t know nuthin’ ’bout marriage! The most repulsively conservative thing about License to Wed is that all of Reverend Frank’s nauseating, pervy antics turn out to be entirely justified in the end, and even Ben, who appears to have no religion at all that we can see, is completely suckered in by him.

But I’m making it sound like License to Wed is worth getting bothered about. It isn’t. Change the channel.


MPAA: rated PG-13 for sexual humor and language

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb
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  • dg

    Man, the trailer for this movie looked like a total dog. I’m not a fan of the neo-conservative pro-4th Century morality, and this film looks like it bolsters that mentality.

    Thanks for the heads up.

  • Wil

    You sound like an angry atheist.

  • is everyone who is angry about the over-bearing interference of every religious organization that gets itself a 503(c) tax exemption necessarily an atheist?

  • MaryAnn

    You sound like an angry atheist.

    What’s wrong with being an angry atheist?

  • Tigger Nitties

    “What’s wrong with being an angry atheist?”

    Well, it’s unprofessional to bring anger and atheism into a MOVIE REVIEW. Are you implying that Hollywood produces mostly conservative fare? What time are you due back at the hospital??

  • Josh

    Not even with this review could you refrain from throwing in political leanings and atheist tendencies?

  • amanohyo

    I think I may have discovered a pattern. When the movie is so bland, muddled, inconsistent, or just plain God awful that it is literally not worth writing about, MaryAnn sometimes resorts to underhandedly throwing in her vile socialist atheistic tendencies instead of excercising her good manners and hiding them in shame as any sane reviewer would. I don’t think we should blame her for straying off topic a little bit considering the trauma she has endured at the hands of said movies.

    I know what Josh and the unfortunately named Tigger Nitties (were Bink Challsacks and Dacker Cricks already taken?) mean though, I prefer that a movie critic first enter a Zen trance and purge their minds of all conscious thought before entering a theater. Then, once they have absorbed the pure essence of the film, they should meditate on its form for several hours, allowing it to float serenely within the emptiness of the void. Only then, will the true words of the review burst forth untainted by petty concerns for the material world.

  • Bink Challsacks

    I just can’t understand why in the hell she is considered to be a legitimate critic. RottenTomatoes.com, a great site, links to her as if she is in the same league as Ebert, for example.

  • MaryAnn

    Well, it’s unprofessional to bring anger and atheism into a MOVIE REVIEW.

    I’ll accept this when people start saying that it is unprofessional to bring ridiculous religious aspects into a MOVIE. Like the disgusting priest Robin Williams portrays here.

    I just can’t understand why in the hell she is considered to be a legitimate critic.

    You’re sweet, Bink. Thanks.

  • MaryAnn

    Wait a cotton-pickin’ second here. What the hell is “atheistic” about this review?

  • Joe

    Agreed, at what point did MAJ say anything dispariging about religion? Can I get a quote? There is nothing, just because a preist is involved does not make it necessarily religous, hell, plenty of southern baptists consider this brand (roman catholic)of christianity sacreligous. I am also deeply regretful that your comment section had no spellcheck……I apologize :(

  • Bink Challsacks

    “What’s wrong with being an angry atheist?”

    This is what seemed to indicate that she is an atheist. I never mentioned sacrilege. What I actually should have mentioned is that she thinks this movie portrays conservatives with all of their bugaboos about sex and what not. It’s not any more a reflection of conservatism (not Bush’s non-conservatism) in a true sense, any more than it represents Catholicism. I don’t know these things get so convoluted after a few posts.

    BUT Here is the chain of events as I see it. I read the review – someone accused you of being an angry atheist. You said “What’s wrong with being an angry atheist?”. I took that to mean that you are in fact an angry atheist, as it did seem to imply that. (If you did not consider yourself an angry atheist, it seems as if you would have defended yourself or questioned the commenter on that point). I then operated on the notion that you were admittedly an angry atheist (which is fine with me but unprofessional in this context) and submitted my opinion that it was inappropriate for those sentiments to be present in or simply influence your review.

  • “I then operated on the notion that you were admittedly an angry atheist (which is fine with me but unprofessional in this context) and submitted my opinion that it was inappropriate for those sentiments to be present in or simply influence your review.”

    She’s going to tell you that all movie reviews are subjective, and that it’s better for a reviewer to lay her biases on the table than pretend not to have any. And she’s probably right.

  • MaryAnn

    Binks, you still haven’t explained what is at all atheistic about my review.

  • Bink Challsacks

    Ok, as a big-shot reviewer, you should be able to understand this: I didn’t say your review was atheistic. I said you brought your bias (atheism) in to the review. Then, I thoroughly explained my reasoning and how I concluded that you are an atheist. Please reread this post and my previous post as many times as necessary – you should get it sooner or later.

  • MaryAnn

    You’re right, Bink: It was Josh who implied there was something atheistic about my review. I apologize.

    But I’m afraid you have not at all explained how I brought my atheistic bias to my review. You explained that you think it’s wrong for me to bring a bias, but you have not explained how that bias is present in the review. What, specifically, in my review, would have led you to believe I was an atheist if you hadn’t learned that I was in the comments afterward?

  • Bink Challsacks

    I probably would not have assumed that initially. You are liberal though, and I would not have guessed you were a huge supporter of religion or the Catholic Church in particular. (I’m not either).

  • MaryAnn

    So then my atheistic bias does NOT show through in my review? Is that what you’re saying?

  • Jaryann Mohanson

    Why do you care what some idiot like me thinks? I guess I don’t think atheism specifically shows through in your review. I imputed that notion when you said “What’s wrong with being an angry atheist” I thought it influenced your review. After being beaten into submission by minutiae and suffering a cross examination rivaling that of Alan Dershowitz, I must admit, I guess you were right in that specific point. I would ask some more questions, but I kinda feel guilty for hijacking this thread.

  • MaryAnn

    I find it fascinating that simply asking someone to justify his own unsupported — and unsupportable — statement somehow qualifies as “beating someone into submission” and subjecting said person to a “cross examination.”

    And people wonder why atheists are angry…

  • Jaryann Mohanson

    I find it fascinating that you can’t even win gracefully. I was exaggerating – relax bubba. You’re a literary person who takes things too literally.

  • Panda

    If this thread was a recently filmed Hollywood movie, you two would be rolling around on the floor panting and cussing between slobbery tongue kisses.

    Just an insight. Sorry.

  • Tofu

    Dammit MaryAnn, you somehow made this movie sound funny as hell. I’ve seen the trailer. The Williams preaching bits aren’t anything worthwhile, but even after all the scandals, somehow the young apprentice didn’t come off as too creepy.

    Honestly, is the Williams character a villain even in the end? The trailer hints to him gently not giving up on the couple for not passing his crazy ass course.

  • Wow

    I am amazed at how upset everyone is
    getting over this movie review. MaryAnn,
    you are right. This movie did stink;
    however, becoming this upset about someone
    questioning whether or not you may have
    been biased is childish and disgusting for
    any normal adult. Of course you had a bias.
    You can see it all through the review. But
    all of us have biases and we must accept
    that we have them and move on. Becoming
    this outraged because the movie was
    “conservative” is closed-minded, and being
    this upset because people who read your
    review are questioning it is idiotic.

    MaryAnn, it seems that you took this movie
    too literally. Writing about a young boy
    breaking and entering, as if it hasn’t
    happened in every pre-teen novel ever
    written. And to call the reverend creepy…
    is a stretch at best. Clergymen have always
    been given the benefit of the doubt in
    movies, and the fact that you don’t like it
    is biased. Your review wasn’t half bad,
    but your childishness in this thread is
    ridiculous. I would be ashamed if I were
    you.

  • MaryAnn

    Clergymen have always been given the benefit of the doubt in movies

    The mind boggles.

  • Drave

    I’m disappointed in you, MaryAnn. Listen to the wisdom of all the people who are clicking through from Rotten Tomatoes. It’s high time all you “big-shot reviewers” learned that personal opinions have no place in modern film criticism. *snrk*

  • As one of the few practicing theists who post here, I just have to say…

    You don’t have to be an angry atheist to hate this movie. But it helps.

  • MaryAnn

    I think I’d be way more angry with this movie (and with *Evan Almighty*) if I were Christian.

  • “I think I’d be way more angry with this movie (and with *Evan Almighty*) if I were Christian.”

    or even more so if you’re Jewish — after all, they don’t have Part II — the Noah myth plays a big part in the foundation of their belief system. although you don’t find too many jews defending creationism.

  • Hannah

    I am a Christian, and I agree completely with this review. If you people don’t want biased reviews, just go see the movie and make up your own mind.

  • Louis

    I am neither a Christian nor an atheist…I just wanted to voice my perplexity at the commenters here who say that the clergyman is Catholic,while the Catholic News Service’s review of this film says amid complaints that at least he’s not portrayed as a Catholic.
    As for the film,just about everyone concurs that it’s garbage!

  • Stephanie P

    This was a fun thread. Even though religion comes into the discussion only because the FILM IS ABOUT A PRIEST WHO EMOTIONALLY/PHYSICALLY ASSAULTS HIS PARISHIONERS, everyone gets into a holy war with the critic who identifies it as lousy. It’s like when two girls find out they’re dating the same guy and start fighting with each other. People, the enemy is the studio who produced this garbage in order to steal your money and make more garbage so they can steal more money. Let’s get angry at the proper people shall we. Mary Anne is performing a public service by warning us to stay away from this one. I’m seven dollars richer because of you Mary Anne. I’ll go see Once instead. Thank you.

  • Franklin Turdz

    “Listen to the wisdom of all the people who are clicking through from Rotten Tomatoes. It’s high time all you “big-shot reviewers” learned that personal opinions have no place in modern film criticism. *snrk*” THERE’S that disgusting elitist liberal smarm! I was waiting for it! Yeah, all us “little people” (I thought libs were supposed to stick up for them) who dare to visit rottentomatoes.com – we can’t have a legitimate opinion! Only the hollywood celebs with their millions of dollars have earned that right – that’s why you “people” need Barbra Streisand and George Clooney to tell you how to live, right?

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