Sadie Jones (Mandy Moore) and Ben Murphy (John Krasinski, TV’s “The Office”) meet cute at a Starbucks and start dating. A vignette of cute scenes shows the progress of their relationship. Then, at her parents (Peter Strauss and Roxanne Hart) 30th Anniversary party, Ben stands up and proposes to Sadie. She immediately agrees and everyone is ecstatic. Ben tells her he was thinking of a ceremony in the Caribbean, but she has always had a dream to get married in St. Augustine’s, the family church, in a ceremony presided over by Reverend Frank (Robin Williams). They meet with Reverend Frank and his young protégé (Josh Flitter, an 11 year old who has already appeared in a number of films) who reveals the church has an opening in two years. After a little more research, Frank finds they had a cancellation for three weeks from today. Excited, Ben and Sadie agree and Reverend Frank tells them they must complete his marriage preparation course before he will marry them at St. Augustines. Sadie seems completely unaware of some of the strange ‘tests’ Frank puts Ben through, but Ben pushes through like a good little soldier; he is in love with Sadie and will do whatever it takes. Will Ben and Sadie be able to handle the pressures of an upcoming wedding and the madness Reverend Frank subjects them to?
“License to Wed”, directed by Ken Kwapis, who has had a troubled film career and more success in television (he most recently directed some episodes of “The Office”), starts with an interesting, if unoriginal and overly sitcom idea and doesn’t really follow through with it.
Robin Williams is slightly low-key as Reverend Frank. The rapid fire, stream of consciousness, pop-culture reference filled monologues he has become famous for are not in evidence in this film. That’s a good and a bad thing.
As the Reverend, he is interested in preserving the sanctity of marriage, so he puts Sadie and her fiancé, Ben, through his popular Marriage Training program. Basically, he subjects them to a series of challenges (abuses?), some of which are amusing for about a half second, then quickly become tiring. But the main question that isn’t answered is: Why? Why does Reverend Frank subject Sadie, and particularly Ben to these challenges (abuses!) which really don’t instruct or teach? In fact, Reverend Frank seems to be jealous of Ben. This is more than a little creepy. Frank is both a reverend and about thirty years older than Sadie, both of which make this idea more than a little nauseating.
So, if Frank isn’t jealous, what is his excuse? In one scene, he decides to have a little game of catch with Ben and they start tossing a ball around in the auditorium of the school. Then, Frank beans Ben in the face, causing his nose to become bloody. I know, I know. Funny stuff.
But Williams does manage to make the role a little amusing, more amusing than it has a right to be. William’s makes Frank seem like a little devil in disguise. He sits in a surveillance van with his little protégé and they spy on the new couple. A couple of times, his reactions to their comments are cute and amusing.
But without William’s trademark riffs, the role seems too low key for Williams and becomes more of a generic role any comedian could handle. But because the role is low-key, it allows Williams the opportunity to play a more realistic character. Too bad the character isn’t more interesting. So Williams seems damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t.
Mandy Moore’s Sadie is pretty but boring. Sadie’s basic purpose is to go along with Reverend Frank, so Ben has no choice but to submit to his abuse. Really, the movie is about Frank torturing Ben, so Sadie must remain blissfully unaware throughout the film. Yawn.
Moore has never been an exciting actress. She is always simply playing a character, reading the lines as memorized. When you watch a good, or great, actor there are other things going on as they try to bring life to the character.
I really like John Krasinski on “The Office”. He plays Jim, the likable prankster on this popular TV show. In “License”, he is basically a likable guy, but he merely reacts to Frank’s shenanigans throughout. The role is more believable because we believe he is in love with Sadie and will do whatever it takes to keep the relationship going.
Josh Flitter plays Frank’s little protégé, a 10 or 11-year-old little boy who follows the Reverend around everywhere. Once again, creepy. Why anyone would let their son hang around anyone all the time, let alone a Reverend. He adds zilch to the story except to give Williams someone to react to when they are sitting alone, in a surveillance van. Creepy. Have I said that already? And he isn’t funny.
“License” works very hard to set-up a number of situations, quote unquote funny situations, for Ben and Sadie to deal with. They go to a group class, where the rest of Frank’s victims, …er, students, are already deep into their marriage course. Frank, of course, tries to get Ben and Sadie to fight. But this leads to another character knocking down a table of snacks and yelling “5 second rule”. If this is the type of quote unquote funny thing you like to watch, then “License” has more of it in store for you.
I mentioned earlier that Frank subjects his victims to a series of group exercises. Actually, we are the victims, the people who spend money to see this film.
At the end of the film, they show a series of bloopers, including Williams, Krasinski and the supporting cast breaking up and making each other laugh. I want to see the movie they were making when these bloopers happened. I really doubt they were working on “License to Wed” when they occurred.