What a strange country we live in. Less than a year after John Kerry’s presidential campaign was surreptitiously torpedoed by–in addition to the Swift Boat attacks–the convenient appearance of anti-gay marriage amendments on the ballots of a dozen key states, the sure-fire hit movie Wedding Crashers is a marriage comedy that, in effect, consecrates a love affair between two men.
There are no third act nuptials between Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson, to be sure. But Vaughn and Wilson, with the connivance of director David Dobkin and screenwriters Steve Faber and Bob Fisher, have effectively made a movie about two men who sublimate their love for each other with the singularly juvenile pastime of pursuing women at weddings they’ve crashed. The result is a highly satisfying dumb-smart comedy that mostly redeems its lapses into sexual infantilism to become the liveliest Hollywood comedy since Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle.
Where Harold & Kumar situated its Asian-American male buddies as a post-collegiate Cheech and Chong gleefully skewering suburban pieties, the principal achievement of Wedding Crashers–in addition to being very funny–is to gently push the boundaries of the homoerotic subtext of so many buddy movies. In the Dean Martin-esque Vaughn and the sui generis Wilson, the film has two of Hollywood’s most relaxed comic performers trading punch lines and, more than once, telling each other “I love you.”
And it’s true, for these aging roués who, we’re told, have spent 16 years crashing weddings together to seduce horny bridesmaids, really do this as a way of preserving their own relationship in an amber jar of perpetual adolescence. It’s when they meet two daughters of a Kennedy-esque Treasury secretary (Christopher Walken) that their relationship comes under severe strain. First, Vaughn becomes angry when Wilson falls in love with Claire Cleary (Rachel McAdams), the secretary’s fresh-faced, high-spirited yet dutiful daughter. But when Vaughn himself gets roped in by Claire’s randy and anarchic younger sister Christina (a delightful Jenny Alden, reveling in the film’s most inspired supporting role), he finds himself conducting the affair on the sly, without informing his best friend.
If my enthusiasm for the film seems unconditional, it’s due to the film’s felicitous conclusion. However, midway through the film I wasn’t so sure. The opening scene is a marvelous curtain-raiser in which Vaughn and Wilson, in their day jobs as divorce mediators, resolve a bitter dispute with a sentimental paean to the joys of getting married. However, the film settles into a long montage of the two men crashing a series of weddings, altering their identities to suit the social demands of Jewish, Chinese, Irish and Italian festivities. But the men’s fixation on just-legal bridesmaids half their age seems to be a weakness of the film, rather than of the men. Or so I thought, until the film begins covering its retrograde ass and reveals itself as a story of two men who can’t let go of their youth and of each other. Though suffering from the delusion that they are perpetual adolescents, the pair are reminded, more than once, that they’re “not that young.”
Less forgivable, though, are the cheap jokes at the expense of Jane Seymour’s woman of a certain age, whose attempts to seduce Owen Wilson are played for hideous yuks. The film attempts a lame recovery from that one, but never figures out how to redeem its ridiculous caricature of the Cleary girls’ gay brother. However, it’s a credit to the film’s high spirits and good heart that its failings seem minor.
Vince Vaughn, after an ill-advised detour into bad thrillers, seems to have found his métier as an easygoing party guy, following his well-received and similar turn in Dodgeball. On the other hand, Owen Wilson is the same old Owen, which for me is a mixed blessing. I almost always enjoy watching him, for he’s the only actor working who can wander off-script with such regular impunity. He’s also a talented screenwriter (he co-wrote Bottle Rocket, Rushmore and Royal Tenenbaums with his friend Wes Anderson) but he seems to have settled into a frustratingly uneven movie career. His lousy movies are vastly improved by his muggings, improvisations and erratic line readings, but he’s still struggling to find worthy vehicles that play to his strengths as an insincere wiseacre. As the con artist with a heart of mush in Wedding Crashers, Wilson is as good as he ever is, but he’s in a holding pattern. His sensibility is fundamentally a British one, like that of Steve Coogan or Ricky Gervais, and I rather wish that he would take cues from their career moves.
As for the gay marriage subtext of Wedding Crashers, I’ll leave it to Frank Rich, the New York Times’ regular exegete of the political meaning of America’s popular culture, to explain how a nation that tolerates gay television characters can turn hateful at the drop of a Republican attack ad. Though Rich’s columns are rather repetitive and predictable, I’ll be curious to see him write about Wedding Crashers. For one thing, there’s a comic bit in which a dotty political matriarch goes into a profane rant about Eleanor Roosevelt, that “dyke” and “rug-muncher.” While the scene is, unfortunately, kind of funny, I wonder how many teenagers in the audience are getting their first introduction to that brave and pioneering woman in this context. More to the current climate, I couldn’t help but think about how the Republican scum squad is already laying the lesbian booby trap for Hillary Clinton.
In the new indie film Heights, I kept waiting for a political subtext that never arrived. This earnest and eventually quite disappointing drama unfolds in a single day among the culture swells of Manhattan. Somehow I had the idea that this was a 9/11 movie and I spent a goodly part of the film waiting for the airplanes to hit the towers.
This expectation, I think, was born of my annoyance at the characters and the world they live in, of fancy culture industry jobs, lavish parties and sexually decadent rich artists. Surely we’re not being expected to empathize with these self-absorbed caricatures of the New York liberal elite. Surely the planes will hit and jolt these characters out of the prison of their egocentrism. Surely the second coming is at hand.
Heights, to be sure, attempts to investigate the cultural cocoon of New York through the eyes of Isabel, the tale’s principal innocent. Played by Elizabeth Banks, Isabel is a perfectly blank WASP recently graduated from Yale who is an aspiring photographer. Her mother is a Glenn Close-like famous actress, played by Glenn Close, who is preparing to play Lady Macbeth on stage as she contemplates seducing a young actor in retaliation for her husband’s ongoing infidelity. Hoping to escape the influence of her overbearing mother, Isabel is preparing to marry Jonathan, a lawyer with a gay skeleton in his closet.
Unfortunately, Isabel’s 24-hour journey–during which she gets fired from her job, turns down another job, flirts with a sexy Welsh artist, confronts her fiancé and gets mugged–becomes a tedious and self-congratulatory exercise in Learning to Take Risks. But the film takes no real leaps and offers no surprises, settling instead for rote emotions and revelations. In the course of a day-long film filled with sexual duplicity, naked careerism and New Yorker cartoon cocktail party witticisms, I found myself feeling relieved that I left that city half a decade ago. In this world of Ivy League graduates, well-connected parents and job opportunities at every loft party, there are safety nets upon safety nets, as long as you stay on the island.