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.