THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
I've been a huge admirer of Edward Burns ever since that fall day in 1995 when I first ventured into a theater to see his debut film The Brothers McMullen. While never the edgiest or most groundbreaking of the directors to come out of the Sundance Film Festival, Burns has repeatedly shown a knack for creating identifiable characters who speak relatable dialogue. I love the way his movies feel like little slices of life. Burns has additionally been a rather brilliant pioneer of new release models for indie productions. His latest, Newlyweds, was shot for a mere $9,000, using a digital camera and a crew of only one or two people. And rather than simply opening in a couple of big city art houses, the film (whose meager budget never shows) is available on demand, making it immediately available to all.
Burns and Caitlin Fitzgerald play Buzzy and Katie, a couple who have just married after a whirlwind romance. Both were married before and are determined to make their new union work. Katie's cynical older sister, Marsha (Marsha Dietlein), doesn't like Buzzy and doesn't approve of the marriage. Then again, her own 18-year marriage to Max (Max Baker) has grown cold, much to her dismay. Buzzy has a sibling, too – an estranged half-sister named Linda (Kerry Bishe), who shows up out of the blue one day, announcing that she needs a place to stay. Linda is a hot mess; she gets drunk, picks up strange men, and tries to reunite with an old flame. Her arrival immediately creates all kinds of chaos, which Buzzy feels obligated to fix. Before long, Katie is wondering just how well she knows her new husband.
Newlyweds certainly looks at how difficult it can be to adapt to your new spouse's family. (We get the sense that Buzzy and Katie would be just fine were it not for everyone around them.) At a slightly deeper level, though, it is also a movie that explores what spouses need to tell each other. Most couples have a policy of truth; they tell each other everything, and if you confide in one of them and the other is also going to know. But sometimes little details get left out, either to avoid a misunderstanding/fight, or because they seem irrelevant (to one party, at least). Burns' screenplay creates a number of scenarios to look at that idea. Has Buzzy been dishonest by never really telling Katie much about his sister? Does he have an obligation to tell her that Max has expressed a desire to be with other women? If Katie tells Buzzy that it's okay for Linda to continue staying in their guest room when, in fact, she resents the woman's erratic behavior, is that “being nice” or lying? There are some rather thought-provoking questions raised. If you're married, you may find yourself wondering how you'd react in these same situations.
The movie is filmed in a pseudo-documentary format, meaning that the characters occasionally address the camera as though being interviewed. At first, I wasn't sure this approach was going to work. While it does seem a bit incongruous with the otherwise intimate nature of the film, it also frequently provides funny punchlines to the scenes, as the characters get to say what they're really thinking. Burns achieves a nice balance between laughs and more dramatic moments. Newlyweds is funny, but never at the expense of its ideas. Whereas most relationship comedies these days are contrived and dopey, this one strives to be more truthful, and it succeeds.
The performances are very good all around, with Kerry Bishe (Red State) being the standout. Her Linda is a train wreck, but you can see all the insecurities and doubts that make her a train wreck. That's why she is so compelling. Bishe and Caitlin Fitzgerald have some really strong moments together, as both try to dance around the fact that they don't see eye-to-eye. Burns also has some nice moments himself, with his trademark dry humor being used to good effect.
Newlyweds has a few ideas it could have expanded on a little more fully, but by and large, I found it to be very entertaining and realistic. Whether or not you've had the same experiences these characters have, you'll almost certainly connect with the theme of the value of truth in relationships. Burns enjoys examining how people react to one another in sticky romantic and familial situations. It is his greatest strength as a filmmaker. With Newlyweds, he gives us a solid, insightful human comedy.
( out of four)
Newlyweds is rated R for sexual content and language. The running time is 1 hour and 36 minutes.
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