In Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising from earlier this year, co-screenwriters Andrew Jay Cohen and Brendan O’Brien (both of whom wrote the original Neighbors) offered something of a feminist angle in its depiction of sorority girls who argued for their right to be as unapologetically sex-crazed and party-hearty as fraternity boys. Their latest screenplay, for Jay Szymanski’s Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates—based, believe it or not, on a true story—presents a scenario in which the two female leads turn out to be even crazier than the two male ones. Perhaps in their next film, Cohen and O’Brien will leave the bros behind altogether and put their own ramshackle spin upon the all-female raunch-fest territory recently pioneered (at least as far as mainstream cinema goes) by the likes of Bridesmaids.
The catalyst of the film is the Stangle brothers Mike (Zac Efron) and Dave’s (Adam Devine) need to find dates to their sister Jeanie’s (Sugar Lyn Beard) wedding in Hawaii—a demand she and their parents (Stephen Root and Stephanie Faracy) impose on them after countless other weddings they’ve ruined. The Craigslist ad they post to find those dates ends up going viral, leading to an appearance on The Wendy Williams Show that catches the eye of Tatiana (Aubrey Plaza) and Alice (Anna Kendrick), both recently unemployed and desiring a vacation from their own messy lives. Alice, especially, is in a fragile emotional state, coming off being jilted at a wedding.
These two women, it turns out, put even Mike and Dave’s anarchic immaturity to shame. Tatiana’s literally life- and limb-risking plan to get the Stangle brothers’ attention—jumping in front of a moving car, inspiring them to rescue her—is merely the tip of the iceberg. The high point in that regard comes during an impromptu Jurassic Park tour in Hawaii in which the two women challenge Mike and Dave to a contest driving their ATVs down a curved ditch and then back up into the sky before landing on the ground—a stunt that both women pull off without a moment’s hesitation, to both Mike and Dave’s alternately impressed and horrified chagrin. (Mike, the more rational of the two brothers, never gets a chance to try: When Dave attempts the stunt, one of the wheels of his ATV hits Jeanie in the face, bruising half of it.)
Inevitably, romantic feelings tentatively sprout between these characters, with Alice finding some solace from her recent aborted marriage in Mike’s relative solidity, and oversexed man-child Dave finding something of a devil-may-care match in Tatiana. Cohen and O’Brien’s screenplay climaxes in the expected gestures toward maturity—in this case, the realization on all four characters’ parts of just how self-absorbed they are. It’s pure bro-comedy formula, which wouldn’t necessarily be a problem if the lead characters had been developed in coherent, convincing ways. But beyond the bare-bones details of its set-up—crazy boys shown up by even crazier girls, with hints of sibling loyalty and lingering personal traumas thrown in—Mike, Dave, Tatiana and Alice come off as more quirk repositories than flesh-and-blood people, which flattens the film’s insistent attempts at redeeming them towards the end. It’s a bit of a joke, for instance, that we’re meant to take seriously the idea that the callow Mike has artistic aspirations of any sort, especially based on the handful of goofy if technically proficient sketches he shows Alice. Meanwhile, Efron isn’t imaginative enough an actor to suggest an inner life brewing underneath the pretty-boy exterior.
The best way to enjoy Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, then, is as a shaggy series of comic episodes pitting four wildly different performance styles against each other. Seeing Zac Efron’s blandness, Adam Devine’s hyperactivity, Anna Kendrick’s perkiness and Aubrey Plaza’s deadpan occupying the same frames does offer some incidental pleasures beyond the vigorous raunchiness, and one’s response to this film may well depend on how willing you are to hang out with these performers as they riff. If only the filmmakers had lavished as much thought on giving these actors actual characters to play.
Director: Jay Szymanski
Writers: Andrew Jay Cohen, Brendan O’Brien
Starring: Zac Efron, Adam Devine, Anna Kendrick, Aubrey Plaza, Sugar Lyn Beard, Stephen Root, Stephanie Faracy
Release Date: July 8, 2016
Kenji Fujishima is a freelance film critic, contributing to Slant Magazine, Brooklyn Magazine, The Playlist and the Village Voice. He is also Deputy Editor of Movie Mezzanine and former editor-in-chief of In Review Online. When he’s not watching movies and writing and editing film criticism, he’s trying to absorb as much music, art, and literature as possible. He has not infrequently been called a “culture vulture” for that reason.