Thursday, November 5, 2015

License to Wed (2007)

I have presided over a number of weddings through the years. I’ve often met with couples for premarital counseling. So I thought I had some experience with this material. But I am not familiar with the way these things are presented in this film. In fact, I am not familiar with
ministry, church or, in fact, human behavior, as it is presented in 2007’s “License to Wed.”

In the film, Ben (played by John Krasinski from NBC’s “The Office” so forgive me if I call him "Jim" at any time in this post) proposes to Sadie (played by Mandy Moore, who I will try not to call "Pam" even though she didn't play this role in the TV show), and she says “Yes” -- but insists that they get married at her family’s church, St. Augustine’s.

I wasn’t ever quite clear on what denomination St. Augustine’s was supposed to be. The senior (and apparently only) clergyman, Father Frank (played by Robin Williams) wears a clerical collar, and we see a picture of him with the Pope so one might guess he’s Roman Catholic. This is supported by a major plot point when Jim Ben discovers that Father Frank had been married and divorced, which would be a big deal in a Roman Catholic church, but not a mainline Protestant church.

On the other hand, the bit of a church service we see is nothing like a Roman Catholic mass. The gospel choir seems like it’s from a Southern Baptist Church (the only African Americans in the church seem to be in the choir loft and not in the pews). I can’t imagine a Catholic church where the priest would interrupt a prayer in order to shame latecomers as they enter through the back door, but maybe it’s a very clever church growth strategy I’ve never come across.

Father Frank casually encouraged a young man to “make his two moms proud” which seems more Episcopalian or Methodist than Catholic. And when Sadie comes to Father Frank about being married in the church he says, “You haven’t been here for ten years ever since you went off to college and had a bisexual roommate and then got a job.” He’s just kidding though, he says, even though it's true, she hasn’t been to church for ten years. But against the Catholic possibility, he says nothing about taking Sadie’s confession, and seems to have no concern at all about Jim’s (sorry) Ben’s faith or lack thereof.

Anyway, Father Frank finds a place for the wedding on the church calendar, but it is only three weeks away. He says they must pass his premarital counseling course to be wed, and he reserves the right to cancel the wedding up until the night before.

As I said, I’ve done premarital counseling and think it (along with reading, classes and testing), is really a good thing. Studies have shown they provide great benefits to marital satisfaction, and stability can be provided by good premarital counseling. But Father Frank’s methods are… um… unusual.

Now the first thing Father Frank asks of Ben and Sadie is not that unusual but it is treated as a completely foreign concept. He asks the couple not to sleep together until their honeymoon. Now this is a delicate issue, but it is strange that these two are astounded by the idea that in a church the concept of chastity would be encouraged.

What is a little more unusual is that Father Frank secretly installs surveillance equipment in Ben and Sadie’s home, one assumes to see if they are remaining chaste before the wedding. He listens in on their bedroom chats and seems pleased that Sadie does want to follow the Father’s rules. I don’t remember anything about eavesdropping as a suggested method in any of my counseling classes. (Maybe if I’d studied law enforcement the topic might have come up.)

Father Frank invites Ben and Sadie to a class to learn about “fair fighting.” Fair fighting can be a very useful tool in helping couples to learn to share their differences in a constructive manner. But Frank praises a couple whose “fair fight” includes the woman calling the man a “jackass” and the man telling the woman to “go to hell.” He draws Ben and Sadie into a mean fight and later sows seeds of hostility between Ben's and Sadie’s families.

The final exam before the wedding tests the couple’s communication skills. Sadie is to drive blindfolded and Jim Ben is to give her directions. Why not risk a little dismemberment and death to avoid something like a boring written or oral exam?

Spoiler – We learn at the end that Father Frank has a method to his madness and all turns out well. Why let a little clerical criminal and sociopathic behavior get in the way of a happy, love conquers all, ending? Still, Father Frank and St. Augustine’s get our lowest rating – One Steeple. (Though I do give kudos for using "Oh Happy Day" at the wedding scene.)

(As you might know, Robin Williams was raised an Episcopalian. He even came up with a top ten list for the denomination:
10. No snake handling.

9. You can believe in dinosaurs.

8. Male and female God created them; male and female we ordain them.

7. You don’t have to check your brains at the door.

6. Pew aerobics.

5. Church year is color-coded.

4. Free wine on Sunday.

3. All the pageantry – none of the guilt.

2. You don’t have to know how to swim to get baptized.

And the #1 reason to be an Episcopalian – No matter what you believe, there’s bound to be at least one other Episcopalian who agrees with you.)

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