Romantic comedies tend to revolve around weddings, but usually the nuptials are reserved for the end. And the wedding is typically a serious (though joyful) moment, the one toward which all the comedy has in fact been leading.
As its title would suggest, Wedding Crashers
starts with a wedding, ends with a wedding, and has numerous other ones in the middle. In this film, however, the weddings are a big part of the comedy.
The story is about two not-so-young bachelors who crash weddings in order to hit on young ladies when they are presumably at their most vulnerable. (Later in the film, an even more propitious–and appalling–time for such activities is revealed.) Naturally, and quite comically, the biters are themselves bit quite hard, shortly after the very funny plot-establishing opening sequences. John (Owen Wilson) falls in love with Claire, daughter of the U.S. Treasury Secretary, and forces Jeremy (Vince Vaughn) to go with him to the secretary’s house for the weekend.
From that point on, irony piles upon irony (in the classic sense of a reversal), and the film achieves quite a few truly hilarious episodes. There are also some moments of real drama and emotional truth, as the characters furiously try to figure out what they really want and find what is best for them. But those moments are appropriately few, and they flow naturally from the earlier events of the story.
As funny as the film is, there is meaning behind the humor. The two lead characters originally have nothing against marriage, but they do not respect it. Their behavior shows this lack of regard not only in their use of the weddings themselves as an opportunity for venery but also in their sexual promiscuity itself. Ironically, it is only when one of them begins to feel the tug of the institution–when John falls in love with Claire–that their troubles begin.
They are clearly paying the price for their earlier transgressions. After all, if John had met Claire through normal means that did not disparage marriage, they would not have had to go through the comical troubles they endure. Neither would Jeremy. (John and Claire would have had other problems, of course, as all couples do, but certainly not as painful, humiliating, and nearly disastrous as these.)
In addition, Claire is planning to marry a despicable character who would make a terrible husband, but whose economic and social standing seem right for her. That, too, shows a failure to take the marriage covenant fully seriously. Claire’s sister, Gloria, is even more flippant about it–until someone actually asks her to marry him. She is delighted, and at that point, everything begins to turn for the better, for all the main characters.
Hence, the film ironically upholds marriage as an ideal, and rather more appealingly than a straightforward sermon could do. The solutions to the characters’ problems arise as John and Jeremy recognize and accept the importance of marriage. To them, and to the audience, it becomes clear that the institution of marriage was created not to imprison people but to protect them.
Wedding Crashers is amply studded with humor both high and low, some of it very bawdy indeed, and the lead performances, by Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson, are utterly superb. The two actors play each moment as if it were absolutely real, and that is the key to making a farce truly funny.
The supporting cast is very effective, too, though Jane Seymour’s character is largely dropped after just a few comically disturbing interactions with the lead characters. Christopher Walken is fine as Secretary Cleary, and Will Ferrell is his usual self as the legendary Chaz, king of the crashers. The two ingénues are more interesting than most, as played by Rachel McAdams and Isla Fisher.
Fisher is particularly impressive and funny as a romantically voracious girl who (quite unwittingly) turns the tables on Vaughn’s Jeremy. The main antagonist (Bradley Cooper), the young phony who is engaged to Claire (McAdams), is as stupendously evil and exaggerated a villain as he could possibly be without the filmmakers actually rendering him in animation.
The screenplay was written with great skill. There is, for example, a moment that we very much want to see happen (the villain’s comeuppance), yet the screenwriters make us wait until the last minutes of the film before allowing it to come to pass–and it is all the more satisfying for having been delayed. As with most comedies, the proceedings start to drag a bit in the 1/2-3/4 segment, but the rest of the film is about as funny as you would want it.
The great literary scholar Northrop Frye pointed out that romantic comedies deal with issues of the perpetuation of life, and that they derive from ancient fertility rites. That, he said, is why they tend to revolve around marriage. The makers of Wedding Crashers have thus hit upon a theme that goes to the heart of what romantic comedies are all about. But they are also all about laughs, and Wedding Crashers delivers them in profusion.
Wedding Crashers is funny, dirty, crazy, surprisingly warm, rewarding, and meaningful. Rather like marriage itself.
– S. T. Karnick is an associate fellow of the Sagamore Institute for Policy Research and editor of The Reform Club blog.