Jeremy Garelick’s R-rated comedy The Wedding Ringer was released on Friday to modest box office (about $24 million) and minimal critical acclaim (it scored an unenviable 33% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes). It’s a typical January release; potentially horrid, not entirely notable in quality or concept, and used by the studio not to make huge amount so money, but to fill out a fallow release calendar that is still largely playing out its own Oscar Bait movies. In case you missed the advertising or the premise: The Wedding Ringer is a film about an unpopular and friendless nebbish, played by Josh Gad, who has to hire a professional Best Man (Kevin Hart) to pretend to be his best friend in time for his wedding to shiksa goddess Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting, who wonders why her fiance has no groomsmen lined up at all. The friend-for-hire will, naturally, come to behave like a real friend for the friendless man, and the friendless man will reveal that he deserves a large group of male friends who care about him.
The Wedding Ringer also, in its treatment of the Cuoco-Sweeting character, is shockingly misogynist. It is most certainly not the first “bro” comedy to have a shocking streak of underground misogyny. It’s just the latest. I shall elucidate:
The recent trend for many comedies – a trend largely wrought by the works of one Judd Apatow – is to feature a group of childlike adult males who have to learn to take on a small amount of responsibility and to grow up a little bit. While the Apatow films feature dynamic and interesting female characters (comedienne Leslie Mann, Apatow’s wife, appears in many of these films), a lot of their imitators do not. These are movies for and about men and man-children. They deal with the relationships men have with one another, and how male friendships operate. The best film of this cycle was John Hamburg’s 2009 hit I Love You, Man, a film with a surprisingly similar premise to The Wedding Ringer.
The problem with these films that focus on the friendships between men is that the women in them tend to be cast as observers, left to the side to wring their hands and dote as their male counterparts traverse their own personal dramas. They are seen as, well, unnecessary to the male friendship. In real life, sometimes men do have their hermetically sealed-off “guy time” explicitly separate from the women, but more often, couples tend to form a larger dynamic, expanding the friend group to include more people. It’s the nature of adult friendships.
But not all men see it that way. Indeed, when I was set to get married to my own lovely bride back in 2010, our mutual wedding shopping revealed a startling amount of “game over” merchandise; that is: wedding cake toppers, t-shirts, and other nuptial paraphernalia that featured a loving bride and a decided unhappy groom that was looking to flee. The bride and the groom are getting married, and the groom is now severing his links to the “guy group” that would provide him with real fun. Real fun is, by the way, the fun you have with the guys, getting drunk in public, visiting strip clubs, and essentially extending your fraternity days well past the point that they are seemly.
And so male friendships have to be, in this fratty milieu, explicitly anti-woman. Boys only. And yes, men have every right to converse and be friends and even spend time alone, but the world encourages them to take it a step further; to build the “no girls” clubhouse in the backyard and keep to themselves. Unless of course, they need sexual favors. For those, they hire prostitutes or strippers. Women are, classically, sex objects.
The Wedding Ringer is not the worst portrayal of this bad male behavior (I believe The Hangover is the current reigning misogyny champ. Outside of many ’80s sex comedies, of course), but its casual hatred of females is horrific to behold.
Consider: The Cuoco-Sweeting character is seen a being “too hot” for Josh Gad. He is a bit overweight, wears glasses – he is “Hollywood ugly.” Cuoco-Sweeting, meanwhile, is pretty and blonde, and constantly described by other characters as being a good catch. She has no other character traits. In a more sophisticated movie, this woman would be given some more of personality, and would have been seen as an appealing person with some sort of relationship to her fiance. But their relationship is not explored at all, and we don’t understand why they’re attracted to one another. Indeed, it’s revealed later in the film that Cuoco-Sweeting is not attracted to Gad, and that she’s essentially marrying him for his stability.
Meanwhile, the men have a wild time taking drugs, crashing other weddings, and being generally crass. Gad and Kevin Hart begin to bond, and realize that their fake friendship is turning out to be more genuine than they suspected. This new friendship, however, is under threat from the woman. The marriage would break up the brand new “bromance.”
This movie not only treats the woman like an interloper, but has a genuine dislike for what women represent: A genuine impediment to natural male behavior. The Cuoco-Sweeting character is depicted as shallow, easily tricked, but also calculating and wicked. She doesn’t do anything outright evil, which makes her character, oddly more evil for what she represents. Female, The Wedding Ringer seems to be saying, is the adversary. The men cannot bond with you in the way. So we had better depict you as ideally as possible: Very pretty, willing to marry, and easily and morally disposable at a moment’s notice.
Were you unfortunate enough to see the 2012 flick That’s My Boy, the awful, awful Adam Sandler vehicle? It was also about a wedding that needed to be broken up to save the groom. Sandler played an awful, abusive father who was meant to be the film’s hero. The female in that film, played by Leighton Meester, was forced into committing an act so heinous, that she would be seen as worse than the abusive father we were supposed to love. She was the disapproving hen that was – spoiler alert – also carrying on a sexual affair with her own brother.
So in order to restore balance, women must be transformed into harridans. Good job, The Wedding Ringer. You’re offensive without even knowing it.
And can there be actual romance in this universe? Perhaps, but with a condition. Gad is even given an alternate love interest in the form of a stripper/prostitute Nadia played by Aussie actress Nicky Whelan, who offers to fellate him at his bachelor party. He and the prostitute don’t share too many scenes, but she is blonde and hot and a hooker. By the end of The Wedding Ringer, Nadia is seen as the most viable romantic match for Gad. I could also mention that Olivia Thirlby appears in the film as a romantic interest for Hart, but if the movie spent so little attention to her, I also will only look at her in passing.
Women, don’t be stable and boring. Be a hooker. It’s the only way to assure true love. Julia Roberts taught us that way back in 1990.