Say "I do" to Wedding Crashers
By Lady Liberty
** 1/2 out of ****
I don't see too many comedies. It's not that I don't like them — I like them quite a bit. And it's not that I don't see a lot of movies that are billed as comedies. No, it's just that a whole lot of movies that are supposed to be funny aren't. But hope springs eternal, it seems, and so I headed to the theatre to see Wedding Crashers on opening weekend. I'm almost at a loss for words to tell you just what a thrill it was to see a comedy that was — can you imagine? — really funny.
John Beckwith (Owen Wilson) and Jeremy Grey (Vince Vaughn) work together in Washington, DC. They also play together, and the game they most look forward to all year is what they call "wedding season." The two are dedicated wedding crashers who attend every ceremony they can for the party, the free food and drinks, and most of all, the girls. John and Jeremy are the beneficiaries of the wisdom of the legendary "Chaz" who left them with a set of wedding crasher rules and the truism that weddings are a great place to pick up women. The two put that legacy to good use as they make themselves the life of virtually very party and repeatedly prove that single women at weddings are vulnerable to their studied charm.
Near the end of the this year's "wedding season," Jeremy discovers an announcement for what he calls "the Kentucky Derby of weddings." Secretary of the Treasury William Cleary (Christopher Walken) is sparing no expense for his eldest daughter's wedding. Despite the difficulties involved, John and Jeremy consider their attendance at the Cleary nuptials to be a challenge they can meet, and sure enough, they do. But in the midst of their coup, John does the unthinkable and falls for his targeted girl, the pretty younger sister of the bride, Claire Cleary (Rachel McAdams). Meanwhile, Jeremy gets his hands on another of the Cleary sisters, the seemingly sweet and shy Gloria (Isla Fisher).
Jeremy discovers all too quickly that he's had more than enough of the clinging Gloria, but John is determined to get to know Claire better. The pair wangle an invitation to spend more time with the Cleary clan, and that's when all of the best laid plans begin to be torn asunder. John learns he has some competition for Claire's attention from her boyfriend, Zach (Bradley Cooper). Gloria is, well, not what Jeremy originally thought she was. The girls' brother, Todd Cleary (Keir O'Donnell), has problems that no one has even begun to acknowledge. And Secretary Cleary's wife, Kathleen (Jane Seymour), manages to throw a few curve balls of her own even as John and Jeremy become more and more enmeshed in their pretense.
Wedding Crashers is probably not going to win any awards for acting, though the performances are quite good. Owen Wilson seems much the same character from film to film, but he fits perfectly into this one. Rachel McAdams is fine, Isla Fisher is better, and it's always delightful to see Christopher Walken. The scene-stealer, though, is Vince Vaughn who is hysterical as the fun-loving and neurotic Jeremy. A surprise visit to meet a long lost friend, though, offers some terrific moments as well.
The story is largely predictable (though there are a few nice — and very funny — surprises), but the script is well written and moves along nicely. Some sharp edits only contribute to the effectiveness of the storytelling, and the direction in general seems more than merely competent. If I had any complaints about Wedding Crashers, it would involve a few scenes where characters begin to philosophize instead of just enjoying the moment. When they immerse themselves in the latter, Wedding Crashers is as good as it gets.
If you're looking for some kind of an educational movie, you might consider holding out for March of the Penguins. But if you just want to laugh, I recommend you see Wedding Crashers.
POLITICAL NOTES: Although the film takes place in Washington, DC — and their are uncredited cameos from James Carville and John McCain — the script actually did a surprisingly good job at avoiding political commentary. There are, however, a few remarks concerning New York lawyers that are just truthful enough to make you wince even as you laugh.
FAMILY SUITABILITY: Wedding Crashers is rated R for "sexual content, nudity, and language." The sexual content, of course, is very much a part of some of the ongoing humor. The nudity, although brief, offers up some laughs of its own. The language, meanwhile, is fairly typical of the casual conversations held by many adults. In short, there's nothing too offensive or too over the top in the film for those of about age 16 and up, but there's plenty there that the average youngster doesn't need to see. Wedding Crashers would be a great date movie for older teens or dating adults, though, and I suspect fun for just about everybody else, too. I know I had a good time!
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
*** out of ****
Before you ask, yes, I've seen the 1971 Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory with Gene Wilder in the title role. On the other hand, it's been <ahem> a few years since I've seen it. As a result, I can't offer a blow-by-blow comparison between the two films. I can, however, tell you that the new one is very, very good.
Willy Wonka (Johnny Depp) is the most famous chocolatier in the world despite the fact that no one has seen the reclusive Wonka in some years. That changes, however, when he suddenly announces that five lucky children will find golden tickets inside Wonka Bars entitling them to a tour of his fantastic factory. The excitement is only increased when Wonka says that one of the five winners will receive a "prize beyond imagining" at the end of their tour.
Little Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore) has grown up in a ramshackle home literally in the shadow of Wonka's factory and he's long been fascinated by what he imagines must go on behind the locked factory gates. Charlie has little chance of winning a golden ticket, though, because his family is so poor that he only gets one candy bar a year. Charlie's father (Noah Taylor) works hard, but can't scrape together enough money for the family to have much more than cabbage soup to eat. His wife (Helena Bonham Carter) does her best, but the family's resources are stretched beyond their limits by the fact that both sets of grandparents also depend on them for a roof over their heads.
Charlie loves his entire extended family, but he is especially close to his Grandpa Joe (David Kelly). Grandpa Joe delights in telling Charlie stories of years past during which he, himself, actually worked for Willy Wonka. Charlie and Grandpa Joe watch as, one by one, the tickets are found by lucky children. And then, through a stroke of luck almost beyond reckoning, the fifth ticket falls into Charlie's hands. The rest of the family rejoices in Charlie's good fortune even as they wonder just how on earth they'll manage yet another catastrophe in their bleak lives. Charlie offers to give up the ticket, but no one will hear of it. And so, on the scheduled date, Charlie and Grandpa Joe stand before the Wonka factory gates with the other winners. On the stroke of ten o'clock, the gates open, and the winners walk in.
Wonka is eccentric, but he also loves his factory and is anxious to show it off. Ticket holder Augustus Gloop (Philip Wiegratz), on the other hand, is more interested in eating anything and everything he can get his hands on. Violet Beauregarde (Annasophia Robb) is a competitive gum chewer (among other things), and she's bound and determined to win whatever prizes there may be. Little Veruca Salt (Julia Winter) is a spoiled rich girl who doesn't even consider that someone else might get something that she wants. Meanwhile, Mike Teavee (Jordan Fry) doesn't care about candy anywhere near as much as he cares about video games or the possible technology he might see revealed over the course of the day. Charlie doesn't care about anything but the delights of the day. He's just happy to be inside the factory with Grandpa Joe.
Throughout the course of their day inside Wonka's factory, all of the children manage to learn something (and so do the guardians accompanying them), even though their lessons prove harsh. But perhaps the most surprising thing of all — especially to Willy Wonka — is the fact that Wonka learns something, too.
Tim Burton fans (and they are legion) will see the eccentric director's stamp all over the film. From the curlicues on the plants and trees to the colors to the crooked walls, the sets are visions by Burton at his quirky best. But without actors to people those sets, even Burton's genius would be nothing more than pretty pictures. Fortunately, Burton has long known what Depp is capable of (Depp first worked with Burton when he undertook the title role in the brilliant Edward Scissorhands), and knew the actor was a natural for Willy Wonka. When I myself first heard that Wonka had been cast, I was dubious that it would work. I'm more than pleased to say my worries were unfounded, and that Depp is just terrific.
Freddie Highmore is very good (Depp worked with Highmore in Finding Neverland and, in fact, recommended him for the role of Charlie); David Kelly is just fine, and so is the rest of the cast. It's a pleasure, too, to see the wonderful Christopher Lee (who plays Wonka's estranged father). Of course, no mention of the cast is complete here without a tip of the hat to Deep Roy who played an entire troupe of Oompa Loompas by himself (he actually filmed many of the characters separately, and the shots were later astonishingly well combined via CGI technology).
The sets are, at the very least, gorgeous and incredibly detailed. The cinematography makes the most of those sets, too. Meanwhile, the special effects are largely so well done that they're completely unobtrusive. The story is, of course, well known, but the script still offers moments of unexpected humor. The only criticism I'd have for the movie in general is that there are times the editing seems a bit slow which results in lines seeming disparate rather than part and parcel of the same scene. But in the grand scheme of things, that's a small matter. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is drop dead beautiful to look at, and just plain fun to see. While not unflawed, it's still a very good movie indeed.
FAMILY SUITABILITY: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is rated PG for "quirky situations, action, [and] mild language." I didn't see anything too objectionable for any child who knows that what he's seeing onscreen isn't necessarily real. I will tell you, though, that the four year-old sitting next to me leaned over about twenty minutes into the movie and said, "I don't like this movie. Can we go home?" To his credit (or more accurately, to his parents' credit), he did sit through the rest of the movie quietly, but I'd say that's a good indicator that the plot and the set-up are just complicated enough that you should leave the littlest ones at home. For older kids, though, the movie should prove a truly sweet treat, and for Tim Burton and Johnny Depp fans, it will prove completely irresistible.
Lady Liberty is a graphic designer and pro-freedom activist currently residing in the Midwest. More of her writings and other political and educational information is available on her web site, Lady Liberty's Constitution Clearing House, at http://www.ladylibrty.com. E-mail Lady Liberty at
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