For most people, getting married is like sticking one's tongue to a frozen flagpole. It looks cool when all your friends are doing it, but when it's you, you just end up feeling stuck. So says the Rev. Frank, who recognizes that his job as a minister is to help people break out of this mentality and forge healthy marriages. So far, so good.
Enter Ben Murphy and Sadie Jones, whose painfully awkward meeting at Starbucks somehow induces love at first sight. They float through the early weeks of their relationship: first date ... first kiss ... first "I love you." Things progress quickly to a proposal, and then life gets interesting.
Ben suggests a destination wedding in the Caribbean, but Sadie has her heart set on getting married at St. Augustine's Church. It's where her parents got married and it's the stomping grounds of Frank, whom she's known since childhood. When Ben agrees to Sadie's choice of locale, he has no clue that he's also agreeing to Frank's premarital counseling program, which is—to put it mildly—one of a kind.
With available wedding dates in short supply, Ben and Sadie opt for a ceremony just three-and-a-half weeks away, so the pre-marriage course gets kicked into high gear. Rule No. 1: Write your own vows. Rule No. 2: No sex before the honeymoon (and Ben can't imagine anything more shocking). Rule No. 3: Learn how to fight like a husband and wife. Add in a crash course in parenting, assisted by a set of creepy-looking robot babies, and Ben and Sadie begin to wonder if a walk down the aisle is really what they were meant for.
It's great that Ben and Sadie learn these things, but how they learn them through Frank's course is beyond me. Despite some wise words being spoken about marriage, much of what we see on the screen is very disrespectful of marriage as God created it.
It's no surprise that funnyman Robin Williams makes a very irreverent reverend. Frank's leadership is part biblical teaching, part sacrilege, part crass wisecrack. To wit, his definition of adultery reads as follows: "Adultery is going out for milk when you have perfectly good jugs at home." He also says that the commandment against coveting a neighbor's wife "starts with coveting; ends with the clap [Chlamydia]." Less offensive commandment paraphrases include, "Mom and Dad are the bomb," and "Be chill, don't kill." Frank tells his pupils that at their next lesson they're going to go on a field trip to "learn the evils of gambling firsthand."
When Sadie comes back to church after a long hiatus, Frank tells her, "[When] you forget about God, don't worry, He doesn't forget about you." And when Ben proposes to Sadie, he says he wants to ask her "in front of God and [her] family." Nice thoughts. However, God's and Jesus' names are more often invoked comically, or as exclamations. For example, when Ben is surprised by Frank's pint-sized prodigy, he shouts, "Jesus!" to which the choir boy responds, "Jesus didn't scare you. I did."
Sadie tells Ben, "We are so going to hell" for being late to premarital counseling because they were having sex. Frank carries on the misinformation campaign about the afterlife when he tells Ben that people think he's a "big scary pastor who can send you to hell." He also makes big drama of a healing ceremony, only to say that that kind of thing never works anyway and that he'd be surprised if it did.
This film's worldly ideas about sexuality bare themselves early through a montage of Ben and Sadie's first weeks of dating. He accidentally touches her breast. She makes a joke about "skipping to second base" and suggests they kiss to "go back and take care of first base." The first time he says "I love you" is followed immediately by their first (implied) sexual encounter. Later, we see them (fully clothed) engaging in foreplay.
Ben and Sadie move in together before they're engaged. And while cohabitation is verbally denounced (the choir boy tells Ben and Sadie that the divorce rate is higher for those who have lived together before marriage), the overall attitude of the film's characters is one of acceptance.
Likewise, Frank's no-sex challenge is presented without any moral context. There's no hint of God's design for sexuality, so the requirement comes off as legalism—or possibly even a comical kind of torture invented by the clergy. And it is definitely played for laughs. Ben's friend, Joel, balks at the rule, exclaiming, "No sex! I thought that was supposed to happen after the honeymoon." Also, Sadie's desire to live up to the challenge coupled with Ben's incredulity at it makes more than a few awkward moments, capped by an embarrassing conversation between Frank and Sadie (in Ben's presence) about what she really likes in bed.
Some of Sadie's tops and dresses are low-cut, and Frank appears briefly in a towel. Joel suggests strippers for Ben's bachelor party. Sexual dialogue between Ben and Sadie is overheard by Frank, who has bugged their bedroom. And sexual one-liners are scattered throughout the film. Reference is made to a pupil of Frank's having two moms.
While Ben is lugging around the twin robot babies, one of them goes into "melt-down mode." He responds by shaking it and then beating its head on a table until it pops off. Later, he punches Frank in the face.
To illustrate the pain of labor, a nurse pinches Sadie and stomps on her foot. Ben and Sadie get into a tug-of-war over a pool stick and he ends up falling backward into a table of food. And he's hit in the face by a baseball which produces a bloody nose. A scooter hits a car.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Drinks are served at the Joneses' anniversary party. Sadie's sister seems to be drinking to cope with her grandmother's insults. Ben and Joel have beers and cigars on Joel's garage roof, as Joel's children look on. Wine is served at a cheese-tasting party. Drinks are distributed at one of Frank's group counseling sessions, which takes place in a bar.
Other Negative Elements
At the aforementioned group therapy session, the topic is "how to fight fair." Ben and Sadie learn that their new-relationship sweet talk isn't realistic, but they're also taught that really fighting like married people includes lots of insults and no resolution.
In an attempt to pay back Frank for the havoc the minister has caused in his life, Ben breaks into the man's house in search of some bit of personal history that will "bring him down." Sadie drives a car blindfolded and barely escapes numerous collisions.
If you've seen the trailer for this film, you've pretty much seen it all—most of the funny stuff is in there, as well as hints at its irreverence and crudity. The whole thing comes off in 90 minutes, and though it wraps up with a few decent marriage insights, it leaves moviegoers wondering how in the world those pieces of wisdom are related to the film they've just seen. Rather than being a sweet, funny story about building a strong foundation for marriage, License to Wed's overall effect is more about giving viewers license to cohabit—while cracking up over the sometimes sleazy sentiments of those who already do.