Wedding Daze

Wedding Daze, the first feature film written and directed by comedian Michael Ian Black, has experienced a winding, if not particularly storied, route to DVD screens. The film played some festivals in 2006 and was released throughout Europe in 2007, with a few more countries yet to come in 2008. Back in its home country, the United States, it was bounced around release schedules for the better part of a year before finally giving up and heading straight for DVD.

Along the way, its title has changed from the generic but slightly classy The Pleasure of Your Company to the even more generic and shamelessly lady-baiting Wedding Daze. (It’s a wonder the title change alone didn’t warrant a theatrical release, as it’s been my understanding that pretty much any movie with “wedding” in the title can clear certain box-office hurdles.) Black’s film is indeed an awkward experience, but no more so than dozens of other comedies without the direct-to-video stigma. It seems likely that trepidation over a US release is due less to outright unpleasantness than the film’s cocktail of formula and weirdness — and lack of commitment to either.

The premise is pure high-concept: Anderson (Jason Biggs), in a funk from a previous relationship’s tragic end, impulsively proposes to a stranger named Katie (Isla Fisher) — who unexpectedly says yes. But starting with this set-up and continuing throughout the film, Black takes sitcom situations and spikes them with odd details (Katie’s father, for example, is a hardened convict played by Joe Pantoliano). Black’s film isn’t so much about the madcap hilarity of planning a last-minute marriage to a stranger (as the package art might imply), but rather the idea of possibly maybe jumping into a relationship on a whim. That is to say, there aren’t gags about catering or wedding planners or a hilarious number of dresses; expectant wedding-comedy viewers will recoil in horror.

This description might make Wedding Daze sound more thoughtful than it is; there are, after all, running gags about the adventurous sex life of Anderson’s parents, and Katie’s ex-boyfriend’s competitive prowess at charades. Some of this is offbeat and funny, as you’d expect from a former member of sketch troupe The State, and some of it is forced and lame, as you’d expect from a smug VH1 talking head. Sometimes Black’s dual qualities mirror each other with an eerie balance: Katie’s best friend Matador (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) is self-described “circus folk”, while Anderson’s best friend Ted (Michael Weston) spouts plain-folks cynicism out of every bad romantic comedy ever.

Black’s ability to draw supporting characters, then, is hit and miss, but he does bring a sort of downtrodden bittersweetness to his central gimmick. It’s especially gratifying to see him strip his leads of glamour; neither of them own a car and so must take buses everywhere, and they have an early heart-to-heart sitting on a garbage-strewn clearing overlooking an ugly highway.

The B-list cast makes this conceit work. They’re attractive people, sure, but their second-tier status washes out potential glossiness: sunny-faced Isla Fisher is the poor man’s Amy Adams, which leaves Biggs, as ever, playing the poor man. Biggs is doing a likable recycling job; at some point between American Pie and American Pie 3, he became Hollywood’s favorite perpetually henpecked, eager-to-commit, marrying-too-young male — an archetype for which a real-life equivalent may not actually exist. But Fisher is a game, sometimes winning comedienne, and when the movie lets the two of them breathe — sitting in that crummy clearing, fumbling around their newly shared apartment — Black’s bits of goofiness become disarming in their good nature.

It doesn’t last. A sloppy last stretch, with madcap cops and lots of yelling and running around tips the balance towards strained wackiness, to the point where you’re wondering if the previous low-key sweetness was Black’s original goal or a happy accident — mere doodles in the margin of an attempted farce. Wedding Daze is actually a much better movie than, say, 27 Dresses, but it feels less sure of itself and how much pandering it needs to do.

A commentary track from Black could’ve shed some light on his filmmaking process — how he arrived at this specific mix of broad, idiosyncratic, thoughtful, and wrong-headed comedy. But the disc’s only extras are a couple of deleted scenes that repeat character points with a few extra jokes. We’re left in our own daze, wondering which Michael Ian Black made this movie, and why.

RATING 5 / 10