The Wedding Ringer begins with a tracking shot that could almost be called “bravura.” The camera starts in a kitchen, following a dish’s journey from a prep station, to a waiter’s tray, to a crowded hall where a wedding reception is in full swing. Standing at the center of the soirée is Kevin Hart, who, no matter what disguise he dons, can never veil his obvious Kevin Hartness. In the wedding, as in the film, he’s playing a part, for which he makes a sincere toast to the gathered revelers before marching off for a private conversation with the groom, collecting payment for services rendered, and driving off into the night.
Hart is Jimmy, The Wedding Ringer’s Will Smith equivalent; he’s a cool, smooth-operating professional who offers his talents in image recalibration to dorky guys at a premium price. If you’re a groom-to-be and you don’t have anyone to call “friend,” Jimmy will pretend to be your best bud (and man), and fabricate a chummy history to buttress the lie. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy. Enter Josh Gad’s character, Doug, who fits that description to a T. He’s the king of all lonely schlubs. He lacks friends of all measures, and so he calls on Jimmy to stand by his side and assemble a crack team of lying scumbags to sub in as his pals.
Remember that word “bravura”? The Wedding Ringer’s introduction hints at a movie that wants to tackle a bunch of real ideas in earnest: the canards and pageantry of the wedding industry, “nice guy” syndrome, platonic male relationships. For a moment, the film gives the impression of well-intentioned shagginess. But as The Wedding Ringer progresses full steam ahead, the only daring it shows is in its willingness to offend with ignorance. Some of its infractions are, in fact, hilarious, at least if puerility tickles your funny bone (and why shouldn’t it?); this is a movie that smothers Gad’s ‘nads in peanut butter and sics a hungry beagle on him. It’s gross, and when that grossness is divorced of the film’s social politics, it’s easy to forgive yourself for engaging it—but oh those social politics.
In fairness, The Wedding Ringer wouldn’t be a particularly good movie even if it wasn’t steeped in regressive gender roles and didn’t have a cynical mean streak. Its badness is the result, mostly, of its storytelling, which would be best qualified as “underdone.” Watching the movie’s events unfold gives the lasting impression that writer/director Jeremy Garelick and co-scribe Jay Lavender caught a double feature of Hitch, the afore-hinted-at Smith joint, and I Love You, Man and immediately got to work splicing the two films’ DNA. The Wedding Ringer is their malformed baby, a movie with a narrative only in a strictly nominal sense. Instead of using plot for mortar, it uses resentment—probably because it’s cheaper.
In a way, that’s appropriate to the film’s distaste for matrimonial commerce. Everything exterior to the process of Doug’s wedding is fake. That everything substantial about his wedding ends up being fake, though, says a lot more about Garelick and Lavender than about marriage as an institution. They validate Doug’s self-doubt by painting his fiancee, Gretchen (Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting, whose history on The Big Bang Theory makes her casting here frustratingly obvious), with shrewish brushstrokes. The Wedding Ringer’s conflict stems from Doug and Gretchen committing to each other, but she’s sketched out as a grotesque caricature instead of a character. Shouldn’t she matter, too? Isn’t she as integral to her nuptials as Doug?
To the film’s credit, it doesn’t lean on lazy faux-homoeroticism for laughs as heavily as other bromance flicks. Gad and Hart don’t wink and nudge, while James Franco and Seth Rogen can’t make a movie about killing Kim Jong-un without engaging their latent, fake attraction to one another. But the leads’ chemistry doesn’t erase The Wedding Ringer’s problems; it’s a rom-com concocted by misogynist swineherds. Listen carefully: between the barking of bad behavior and the hand-wringing of male anxiety, you’ll hear the braying of barnyard animals.
Director: Jeremy Garelick
Writer: Jeremy Garelick, Jay Lavender
Starring: Kevin Hart, Josh Gad, Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting, Ken Howard, Olivia Thirlby, Affion Crockett, Cloris Leachman, Mimi Rogers
Release Date: Jan. 16th, 2015
Boston-based critic Andy Crump has been writing about film for the web since 2009, and has been contributing to Paste Magazine since 2013. He also writes for Screen Rant and Movie Mezzanine. You can follow him on Twitter. Currently, he has given up on shaving.