If summer is the time for anything, it’s the time for refreshingly unprogressive comedies like Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates. Like most modern comedies, Mike and Dave arrives with a not wholly invaluable lesson tacked on at the end: You might sum it up as “Be nice! Don’t be a jerk!” But the movie’s real value is that it’s crude and funny for no defensible reason. As the audience herded out of the screening I attended, mostly in good spirits, one guy said shakily to his companion, “I’m not sure about that movie’s gender politics.” Of course not! But even if you’ve completely lost your taste for bro comedy—and Mike and Dave fits pretty squarely in the genre—there’s at least one good reason to steel yourself and venture forth: the dazzling chaos that is Aubrey Plaza.
Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates—directed by newcomer Jake Szymanski—is based, sort of, on the story of real-life brothers Mike and Dave Stangle, who earned temporary ubiquity of the viral sort in 2013 when they took out a Craigslist ad seeking dates for a cousin’s wedding. (The bride didn’t want them “harassing” her friends all night.) Mike (Adam Devine) and Dave (Zac Efron) love to drink, whoop it up and just generally be dudes. When their younger sister Jeanie (Sugar Lyn Beard, who has a voice that sounds like SweeTarts taste) announces that she’s getting married, the family insists they find dates for the wedding. Apparently, their exuberant horseplay at family events generally ends in disaster. “We’re not party ruiners. We’re party creators,” Dave insists, but a montage of home movies showing renegade trampoline action and grandpas having heart attacks on the dance floor proves the family’s point.
So Mike and Dave concoct that ad, ultimately receiving thousands of responses, many from unsuitable candidates: What they really want are “nice” girls who won’t embarrass them and who, though they don’t spell this out, will also sleep with them. Tatiana (Plaza) and Alice (Anna Kendrick), formerly waitresses at a vaguely Hooter-ish bar (they’ve just lost their jobs for showing up drunk), are broke and exhausted, and they need a vacation. They see the ad, but sadly acknowledge that they’re highly unsuitable candidates. And so Tatiana hatches a plan to rebrand herself and Alice as the nice girls Mike and Dave want. They discard their droopy, revealing T-shirts for puffy, girly dresses, tone down their streaky makeup, and tame their bad-gal hair into something more polished and selfie-ready.
It tells you something that just days after seeing Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, I remember very little about Efron and Devine: They’re fine. They make their characters seem vaguely endearing, in that clueless-guy way. But their faces, their bodies, the way they load their figurative slingshots with jokes and let ‘em rip—none of that has stuck.
It's the women who are key. As Alice, Kendrick has the vaguely zonked demeanor of the young Laraine Newman. She’s a sweet yet weirdly sharp space-case who, at the duo’s first meeting with Mike and Dave, poses as a hedge-fund manager. (“So there’s a regular fund. And there’s a hedge fund…”) She turns out to be a great sidekick not just for Plaza’s Tatiana, but also for Beard’s Jeanie, a darling bride-to-be who’s something of a pawn to almost everyone around her—Alice, plus a tab of Ecstasy, helps opens her eyes. As Jeanie, Beard is winsome and just a little nuts. Even if the movie doesn’t serve her character as well as it could (especially when she becomes the victim of an absurd ATV mishap), Beard adds the right amount of vinegar to her cutie-pie earnestness.
But if this is anyone’s show, it's Plaza’s. Plaza is a possible comic genius who hasn’t had a movie role worthy of her since Maggie Carey’s raw and wickedly funny 2013 The To-Do List, in which she played a sexually naïve young woman who prepares for her first year of college by drawing up a list of girls-gone-wild goals for herself. That picture, in addition to being hilarious, wrestled with the idea that while young women are always told that they need to take charge of their sexuality, no one ever warns them about the impossibility of understanding human desire.
Mike and Dave takes the more common route of showing guys’ desperate efforts to get laid. (The women, incidentally, don’t give in until they’re good and ready.) But Plaza is so funny, and so defiant in her laid-back, eye-rolling way, that she practically sabotages the movie. When Tatiana shows up with Alice for that first meeting, Devine’s Mike, hardly God’s brightest bulb, is instantly smitten. She plunks down, orders a drink, and then announces, as if she’d just remembered it, “I’m a schoolteacher.” Simultaneously, and smoothly, she slips on a pair of owlish glasses and begins chewing on the pencil she’s just pulled from her purse.
Plaza’s Tatiana is dry and cool, like a cucumber martini. She’s a bit cruel, too—while Mike and Dave are hoping, dopily, for easy access, she couldn’t make her lack of interest in Mike any more obvious. Everyone is using everyone else in Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates: Almost no one, save bride-to-be Jeanie, is particularly nice. But as Tatiana, Plaza takes craven self-interest, as well as vulnerability masquerading as confidence, to new heights. She’s empowered, all right. She also uses her empowerment as a cudgel—on the surface, she’s unlikable. And still, you fall for her, just as Mike does. The gender politics of Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates aren’t what you’d call progressive. But the hard reality of movie comedies, and of life, is that progressive won't always get you a laugh. Sometimes it won’t even get you a date.