Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates (2016) is one of the funniest comedies I’ve seen in a long time. I try to watch anything with Aubrey Plaza in it, but didn’t catch this one in the theater. Not only is it hilariously improvised, it’s also based on a true story. The unbelievable misadventure of Mike and Dave Stangle, who were instructed to bring dates to their sister’s wedding in Saratoga, New York, inspired the film. They posted an ad on Craigslist in February 2013, which went viral. Real life Mike and Dave, from Albany, even have a cameo in the film.
In the movie version of events, Mike (Adam Devine) and Dave (Zac Efron) face an ultimatum from family members over a history of hard partying and ruining family gatherings. Their parents, Burt (Stephen Root) and Rosie (Stephanie Faracy) Stangle, insist they bring dates to their sister Jeanie’s (Sugar Lyn Beard) wedding in Hawaii. She is marrying Eric (Sam Richardson), who is grounded and emotionally reserved. After their Craigslist ad goes viral, they run through a series of hilarious dates before meeting Alice (Anna Kendrick) and Tatiana (Aubrey Plaza), another pair of hard-partiers who pretend to be nice girls to get a free trip to Hawaii.
Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates was written by Andrew Jay Cohen and Brendan O’Brien and directed by Jake Szymanski. Szymanski has directed dozens of video shorts and a few television episodes and TV movies, which might explain why the film felt like a series of skits seamlessly woven together. Make no mistake, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates not only has a plot, it also has character development, two things often missing from other recently-released comedies.
The film is simply about four shallow, emotionally juvenile people maturing and finding happiness. Dave learns he needs a separate identity from his brother and decides to pursue his talent at drawing, Alice finally gets over being left at the altar and pursues a relationship with Dave, and Mike and Tatiana go into business together. They patch things up with their sister after derailing her ceremony, and use their talents to make sure Jeanie gets the Hawaii wedding she deserves. Even Eric gets to show he’s not as straight-laced as he appears. It’s not a complex story, but what else can you expect from a raunchy romantic comedy?
Its only glaring plot hole involved the rivalry between Mike and his sexually ambiguous cousin, Terry (Alice Wetterlund). Terry and Mike are continually trying to one-up each other and compete for Tatiana’s affection. Terry plays a key role in pushing Mike over the edge when he sees Terry and Tatiana in a steam room in flagrante delicto. As all other conflicts are being resolved, however, Terry seems to disappear from the movie. Terry does apologize for her behavior, but in a deleted scene. It’s not a strong scene and I see why it was cut, but it leaves that whole subplot dangling in the air while everything else is tied up in a neat bow.
In terms of characters, Adam Devine, Zac Efron, Anna Kendrick, and Aubrey Plaza were perfect for their roles. In the wrong hands, the four protagonists threatened to be annoying, unlikable, and generally disgusting human beings. Somehow they come off as sincere, well-intentioned, and charming, despite their lies, self-indulgence, and destructive behavior. It took skilled actors and actresses to maintain that delicate balance. Despite all the chaos they cause, the audience roots for them to clean up their acts and save the day.
Most importantly, the characters are relateable. They are flawed and self-conscious, just like everyone in the audience. In one scene, Tatiana and Mike finally have a heartfelt conversation. Tatiana turns to Mike and says, “I thought I was, like, destined for such great things, but I may never achieve anything.” Who hasn’t felt like that at least once in their life? Aubrey Plaza conveys real emotional depth in her expressions. She shows her character’s vulnerability while at the same time hinting she might have some affection for Mike after all.
Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates is relentlessly funny, but behind the crazy, over-the-top humor there’s an actual movie with characters we like and relate to despite their flaws. That combination is what made this film so successful. Most critics hated it, but I agree with San Francisco Chronicle’s Mick LaSalle when he wrote, “The beauty of the film is that, though it is utterly coarse in its content, it’s not coarse or sloppy in its craftsmanship.”