To be an effective comic actor, you usually need the looks to fit the part – you need to be funny looking. Comics from Marty Feldman to John Belushi knew this, and it might partially explain why people have a hard time laughing when actors like Hugh Grant fumble their way through a comic scene. The general rule seems to be, if you can imagine the actor in a romantic lead, chances are he won’t be able to “do funny,” no matter how good the material is. But The Wedding Crashers has proven to be the exception to the rule: Vince Vaughn – who played the suave Trent Walker in Swingers as well as Norman Bates in Gus Van Zant’s regrettable re-working of Psycho – has in recent years proven himself to be more than capable of being hilarious despite being attractive, doing passably well in movies such as Old School, Dodgeball and Anchorman. In this summer’s The Wedding Crashers, though, Vince Vaughn may have firmly established himself as a comic actor with clout, at times even outshining Owen Wilson.
The plot of The Wedding Crashers is pretty straightforward. Two friends, John Beckwith (Wilson) and Jeremy Grey (Vaughn), are two divorce negotiators who look forward to each year’s wedding season as an opportunity to crash weddings with invented background stories – such as being “venture capitalists” or brothers who own a maple syrup plant in Vermont – and have sexual adventures with wedding guests. This type of premise is moderately funny enough, but what pushes it into absurdly funny territory is that the practice comes with its own quasi-religious dogma handed down by a legendary “master,” Chaz Reingold (played by Will Farrell, who makes a brief and largely forgettable appearance later on).
More so than the great reverence given to picking up wedding guests, the real comedy comes from some of the semi-improvised dialogue between Wilson and Vaughn, with most of the gold coming from Vaughn. For all intents and purposes, The Wedding Crashers is the next movie you’ll hear quoted back to you at parties. Some of the lines that have managed to sneak their way into the film might surprise some. For example, when Jeremy’s secretary casually brings up the idea of going on a blind date with a friend of hers, Jeremy objects to the idea on the grounds that dating itself is loaded with uncertainties such as, “All the while you’re just really wondering are we gonna get hopped up enough to make some bad decisions? Perhaps play a little game called ‘just the tip’. Just for a second, just to see how it feels.” This coming only moments after he was relating standard dialogue about kissing on the first date… simply has you doing a did-he-just-say-that? It is the combination of jaw-dropping improv lines and remarkable timing that drives the movie.
Unfortunately, The Wedding Crashers takes a sharp left into Cheeseville about halfway into the movie when the two decide to crash the wedding of the daughter of the US Treasury Secretary Christopher Walken (expertly played by Christopher Walken) and John falls in love at first sight with one of his other daughters, Claire (Rachel McAdams). From here on out, we find the plot awkwardly trying to strike a balance between Vaughn’s unique breed of Upper Tier American College Campus Adult Video Aisle Casual Conversation Comedy and Standard Issue Romantic Comedy with mixed results. While Claire’s boyfriend, Sack Lodge (Bradley Cooper), is a sharp portrayal of a meathead jock, the story has unfortunate homophobic elements, such as when the Secretary’s gay son Todd (Keir O’Donnell) practically rapes Jeremy one night. At the same time, Jeremy’s relationship with the mentally unstable Gloria Cleary (Isla Fisher) is consistently funny, as she ensnares him in her own web of lies.
Admittedly, I probably got more out of this part of the film than anyone else in the theatre, as it takes place in my home state of Maryland. The vapid, brain dead sailing set of Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay coast is deftly portrayed and at times I could have sworn I went to high school with Sack. Others might find themselves at a loss to find much funny in the last forty-five minutes of the movie.
While not completely predictable, the movie’s ending is wincingly sappy. Which isn’t to say that you’ll walk out of the theatre feeling as though you’ve wasted your money. On the contrary, The Wedding Planners is an innovative and refreshing comedy, but would’ve been much improved if the writers scrapped the formulaic cheese in the latter half of the movie and just let Owen and Vaughn work their magic throughout.