The smartest scene in The Wedding Ringer finds hapless groom-to-be Doug (Josh Gad) accompanying best-man-for-hire Jimmy (Kevin Hart) to seek advice from Edmundo, the effeminate gay man planning his wedding. When they arrive, Edmundo meets them at the door with his usual over-the-top flamboyance. A few moments later, however, his tone of voice drops, and we discover he’s actually a macho, down-to-earth straight man, a former gangster who’s just “flaming up” to increase business since gay wedding planners are trendy. Except, no, that’s not right either: minutes later, Doug and Jimmy meet his boyfriend. He is gay, just not in the way viewers expect – especially those used to broad bromance comedies like this one.
It’s a clever series of twists that acknowledges the audience’s comfort with stereotypes (and how stereotypes sell) and neatly subverts expectations. We might start out laughing at a caricature, but by the end of the bit it’s our own narrow-mindedness that has become the butt of the joke.
Sadly, this is the only time The Wedding Ringer takes a step back to examine its sexual politics. The rest of the film is a mess of mixed messages, perpetuating homophobia and sexism at the same time it critiques them. For starters, there’s the conventional set-up: Doug, an overweight and socially awkward loner, has somehow managed to seduce Gretchen (Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting), a bombshell he repeatedly acknowledges is out of his league. This set-up immediately presents her as either desperate (who would go out with someone who has literally zero friends?) or a potential villain (what’s her real agenda?). The film casts her in a more well-rounded light by the end, but by then, it’s too late; she’s more plot device than character.
Doug has no groomsmen, but he lucks out when Edmundo directs him to Jimmy, a charismatic con artist who makes a living serving as the best man for losers. For the right price, he’ll learn your life history, create a compelling backstory, and even train other people to act as groomsmen. Doug convinces him to attempt the proverbial “Golden Tux” and pull together seven believable friends in only 10 days. Jimmy holds auditions and winds up with a motley group of misfits, from a middle-aged Asian man to a stuttering jock. Cue wacky misadventures with a healthy dose of raunch thrown in (you’ll never look at peanut butter the same way).
The Wedding Ringer aims broad, which means each bit is either a hysterical success or total failure, with very little in between. The best sequences are those that let Hart and Gad cut loose. Hart’s fast-talking shtick drives most of the funniest lines (a scene in which Jimmy experiments with his new name, “Bic Mitchum,” is a highlight), and while the script makes a few too many weight jokes at Gad’s expense, he does get to show off his Broadway bona fides in a few song-and-dance gags. Their chemistry keeps a conventional conflict — whether Doug and Jimmy will stay friends after the wedding — from feeling too stale.
Despite their committed performances, the comedy suffers from tonal whiplash — the plot is safe, but the jokes are often just plain mean. Writer-director Jeremy Garelick makes the all-too-common mistake of confusing jokes about homosexuality, disabilities, rape, and ethnicity as edgy, rather than just tired and easy. The most painfully unfunny scene pits Doug, Jimmy, and their crew in a no-holds-barred football match against Gretchen’s homophobic, sexist father and his friends. It’s a poorly constructed sequence that could be cut entirely without affecting the film. And sure, Gretchen’s dad may get what’s coming to him, but most of the film’s humor is just as backwards in its attitudes. Hart and Gad add a lot of heart to the proceedings, but the material they’re forced to spout too often feels heartless.
For an easy-to-digest slapstick comedy, The Wedding Ringer is far from a total failure. In fact, compared to most of Hart’s recent output, it’s a definite step up, and some of the more outrageous set pieces are legitimately funny. But it’s held back by lazy writing and easy resolutions, most of which can be guessed within the first 10 minutes. Ultimately, it’s like a mediocre wedding toast: sincere intentions wrapped in cookie-cutter formula, with a few jokes that land and others that just offend.