A film review of ‘Newlyweds’

The poster for Newlyweds

It happens to the best of us. The slight comment from your partner that leads to a greater argument, or when the forgotten special occasion becomes symbolic of an underlying issue. It would be enough if these catapulting moments stood alone within a couple’s relationship, but when the noses of family members sniff their way in, the thin ice can become even thinner. Ed Burns’ film Newlyweds (2011) is a romantic comedy about family, loyalties, and the moments of debacle that creep into a relationship and affect change. Shot in the traditional Burns style, on the streets of New York, a la cinema vérité, the film’s script, written by Burns himself, is a genuine vignette on the subtleties of marriage that cause it to function or fail when we must navigate the stormy waters between in-laws and lovers. As a companion piece to Sidewalks of New York (2001), Newlyweds uses a similar pseudo-documentary structure, provoking the most honest answers from his seven-character cast.  In tandem with the loosely improvised script, each character benefits from an interview expose, which is weaved into the narrative. This vérité montage not only provides a depth to the characters, it helps to unravel the hypocrisy behind the opposing views they are only comfortable to reveal behind closed doors.

Katie (Catlin Fitzgerald) and Buzzy (Ed Burns) are newlyweds, whose nascent “I Do’s” hold the naïve perspective that a relationship should be a breeze if you, (A) abide by an opposite schedule, and (B) tell each other everything. The logistics of the first part don’t prove to be that hard, as Buzzy works days and Katie works nights. It’s the second option, the honesty policy, which begins to complicate their life when Buzzy’s sister challenges the couple’s territory in her impromptu visit from L.A. Kerry Bishé, plays Linda, a sexy, free-spirited blunderer who quickly becomes the unwanted house guest in their modern Tribeca apartment. Within the first 12 hours of her stay, Linda’s disastrous  presence pushes all the wrong buttons. The tornado trail she leaves behind is enabled by Buzzy’s guilt at being an absentee brother, causing a ripple effect that is felt through all seven characters. Simultaneously, when Katie’s sister Marsha (Marsha Dietlein) voices concern about her 18 year marriage to Max (Max Baker), chaos, misunderstanding and spite move in.

Unquestionably, Newlyweds, is Ed Burns’ best work to date. Although Sidewalks of New York still encompasses the charm of a young director trying to make his mark in the canon of American independent filmmaking, in Newlyweds he has arrived. His camera, usually loyal to the handheld aesthetic, has more constraint this time around, maintaining close-ups in soft focus and exploring the use of natural light to fill the frame. Although elevated from past works in terms of composition, the production of Newlyweds was a throwback to Burns first film The Brothers McMullen. It is romanticized filmmaking. With a starting budget of $9,000,  locations borrowed from friends, a shooting schedule spread over 12 non-consecutive days dependent on the availability of the small cast and crew (who worked during their free time), it is evident that Newlyweds is a labour of love by all who contributed to seeing this poignant film through. Ed Burns enthusiasts will follow him wherever he may go, even if it means cutting out the traditional major theatre distribution method. The only venues where Newlyweds can be accessed are digital, through Video-on-Demand, through iTunes or at edwardburns.net.

This film is important, both due to the respect that it pays to its subject matter, and because the efforts of independent filmmakers who seek to show us truth through representation need to be supported. When I finished Newlyweds, I immediately followed it up with the classic Woody Allen’s Manhattan, which I hadn’t seen in years. And I think that was a wise choice.

January 19, 2012