The first time I saw Wedding Crashers, I thought it was fun. So, when it showed up on television, I time-shifted it to see it again, and wow. It’s a comedy, I get it, so silliness is part of it. But again, wow. Never in my experience has a movie exposed its slick skeleton– the formulaic structure and cheap laughs– faster or more thoroughly than this one does upon a second viewing. By the third viewing– which I did purely out of curiosity– I felt more like I was autopsying David Dobkin‘s movie than watching it.
The heroine, Claire Cleary, is the key. She is the only believable character, and Rachel McAdams is one of those rare actors who can generate chemistry with almost anyone. She’s the female equivalent of Mark Ruffalo: like him, she is engaging and expressive, simultaneously exuding strength and vulnerability, and intelligence and emotion, all of it in a fully integrated way. (I name Ruffalo particularly because he and McAdams co-star in Spotlight, opening later this year, about the Catholic sex-abuse scandals in Boston. The two of them together — and I don’t think this is a romance– could prove to be a powerhouse.)
The rest of the characters in Wedding Crashers— with the exception of Christopher Walken, who manages to bring dignity to his role as patriarch– are stereotypes, and despicable stereotypes at that, though the strong cast almost brings it off. Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughan are overgrown juveniles, though Wilson’s character is made redeemable by virtue of his love for Claire. Vaughan is always up to verbal comedy (motor-mouth is his shtick, or was until True Detective), and here he handles physical comedy well enough, too. A good thing, because he gets wounded in football, again in a hunting accident, an old lady fires a shotgun at him, and Claire’s sex-crazed sister (Isla Fisher) gives him a handjob at a family dinner, then later ties him to the bed so she can have her way with him. Later that same night, still tied up, Vince becomes the toy of another stereotype, the brother, a gay artist. The least effort went into the creating the grandmother (Ellen Albertini Dow, 92 at the time), who is a standard foul-mouthed old woman, and the mother (Jane Seymour), a horny middle-aged woman. The butler (Ron Canada, fine as always) is, of course, black and long-suffering.
The most thankless role, without doubt, belongs to Bradley Cooper as Owen Wilson’s nemesis, the insufferable fiancé of Claire. That she would have anything to do with him is perhaps the least plausible part of a movie that is almost wholly without credibility. He’s worse than Will Farrell because Farrell’s character is never anything but preposterous. Played shamelessly and badly, his one-note Lothario is standard for his ilk, the over-rated SNL alumni.
The movie is, of course, also predictable. Formula films are. A lot of talent went into this, but the writers and filmmakers aim to make every scene outrageous, with McAdams as the quiet heart of this rich-white-folks-be-crazy comedy. That she makes you care about her is no small feat.