The Wedding Ringer isn’t without its own small collection of issues, but the fact that it gets functional loneliness in a way that doesn’t belittle or dehumanize its central character too often is what makes it a “major-minor” work.
by Steve Pulaski
The Wedding Ringer is the definition of what I call a “major-minor movie,” or a film that received mostly negative, dismissive reviews that, surprisingly enough, turned out to be a film that not only effectively functions in its genre but provides the viewer with a little something to think about while watching it. Seeing a “major-minor movie” is not always an incredibly noteworthy experience, but it’s one the viewer doesn’t regret, and reminds one that majority consensus will not always include you.
Right off the bat, The Wedding Ringer seems like a ridiculous film, but not only does it manage to squeeze some laughs out of you, both bad and good, but it also succeeds at recognizing the ideas of being a loner or being without a tight-knit circle of friends without turning its lead character into a pitiful loser. It realizes that, unfortunately, some people walk alone in their journey through life, and that not being able to gather a best man, or even a best friend, and a group of groomsmen for a wedding is a legitimate problem for some souls. While co-writer/director Jeremy Garelick and Jay Lavender inevitably make fun of the film’s lead character, they nonetheless respect him throughout the entire film and treat him with an evident sensitivity. For those ardently bashing the film, think of how much worse this particular film could’ve been if it was, what I call, an “Adam Sandler anti-character study.”
The film revolves around Doug Harris (Josh Gad), a tax attorney who has worked and moved around so much in his life that he has no close friends whatsoever. He’s about to marry the beautiful Gretchen Palmer (Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting), and is overcome with anxiety about finding a best man and the seven groomsmen, keeping the fact that he doesn’t have anyone lined up on the down-low from his fiancee. He hears about Jimmy Callahan (Kevin Hart), the founder of The Best Man, Inc. from his wedding planner, which is a company where Jimmy will play the best man for a man’s wedding or set up groomsmen, organizing and building roles for everyone involved to make the family and the fiancee believe her husband has friends.
Doug seeks out Jimmy in an act of complete desperation, urging Jimmy that he needs seven groomsmen for his wedding and playing them off as if they have all been friends (such a package in Jimmy’s business is referred to as “The Golden Tux” and runs Doug $50,000). Jimmy, in turn, becomes “Bic Mitchum,” Doug’s buddy from Stanford who went into the army to be a priest and travels around the world to preach the gospel. Together, the two try to pull off the perfect fake wedding in hopes that all will go well for Doug, with Jimmy constantly reminding him that he is, however, paying for a best man not getting a best friend out of this deal.
I’ve long been wishy-washy on my feelings of Kevin Hart, loving his standup routines but growing tired of his constant race-related humor in his many star vehicles that have made him a presence too ubiquitous over the last couple of years. However, Hart gets to rely on his charisma and his swagger in The Wedding Ringer, forgoing a lot of meaningless shouting and exaggerations to actually create a character we can occasionally like and criticize, making him a well-rounded presence here. Gad, per usual, thrives on his sweetness and his inability to be mean or unlikable in anyway on screen. We all know the kind of guy Josh Gad is known to play in films, and seeing him once again liven up the screen with his charming ways is something I’ll never complain about.
The two form an instant connection on screen, making The Wedding Ringer that much better, since we are watching two actors clearly having fun together and two people who click very well with one another. On top of that, Garelick and Lavender not only explore the true idea of what it means to be lonely and without a close circle of friends, but discuss what it means to finally give up on trying to have a meaningful connection with people, going so long without having friends you ask yourself, “what’s the point?” That’s the situation Doug is in in the film; not the pitiful, “nobody likes me” state in his life. He’s genuinely lonely, but has been so functional for so long that he doesn’t even consciously mind it until it comes time to marry the woman who was the only one that gave him the time of day.
As funny as it can be, The Wedding Ringer has an underlying sadness to it, which is rare for a moderately-raunchy comedy. Usually the name “Judd Apatow” has to appear to get any kind of heart or soul out of comedies today, but both writers effectively bring something to the table, and the Gad and Hart work very well together. The only time the film begins to falter is when it relies on gross-out gags, particularly the overlong and ridiculous bachelor party scene, which, while necessary for what it brings to Doug’s social confidence, is still a desperate attempt at sight gags and visual humor.
The Wedding Ringer isn’t without its own small collection of issues, but the fact that it gets functional loneliness in a way that doesn’t belittle or dehumanize its central character too often is what makes it a “major-minor” work. Not to mention, being one of the only real comedies in theaters for over a month now, it kicks off a usually rocky, unpredictable month surprisingly well.