A couple of months ago I was reading an article in MovieMaker about a writer/director named Edward Burns who made his latest feature on a practically non-existent budget of $9,000. He paid his actors a small sum, had them use their own clothes and make-up, shot entirely on location in New York City, and filmed everything on Canon 5D Mark II DSLR cameras. I was dying to see what Burns came up with because any Jo Schmoe can make a movie with $9,000, but that doesn’t mean it’d be worth watching.
The movie in question was called Newlyweds, and instead of a traditional theatrical release, Burns had plans to release the film digitally and on DVD. Weeks went by, and I, admittedly, forgot about the film. Imagine my surprise, and glee, when the DVD showed up at my doorstep for review.
The big question remains: can Edward Burns make a good film for only $9,000? Fortunately, yes, he can.
Newlyweds is a movie about love and relationships. More than simply the relationship between significant others, Newlyweds is also about the inevitable, and sometimes volatile, relationships between in-laws. The film opens with two couples having an intimate conversation about their love lives. Buzzy (Edward Burns) and Katie (Caitlin Fitzgerald) are newlyweds, but both are on their second marriages, and they have shifted their expectations to be more “realistic”. They joke that the reason their marriage works so well is because they never see each other thanks to the fact that Buzzy works days as a personal trainer, and Katie works nights at a restaurant. Katie’s older sister Marsha (Marsha Dietlein), and her husband of 18 years, Max (Max Baker), have a very different outlook on marriage, and Marsha is clearly disgusted by this blasé conversation of love. Many of the themes of Newlyweds are present in this opening scene: love, marriage, sex, and the handling of in-laws.
The next morning at Buzzy and Katie’s apartment, Buzzy’s half-sister Linda (Kerry Bishé) unexpectedly shows up from Los Angeles. As she wedges herself into the couple’s apartment, she quickly begins to wear out her welcome, and this puts a strain on the perfect marriage of Buzzy and Katie.
Newlyweds has three different storylines to follow. The main story is of Buzzy and Katie’s young marriage, the second is of Marsha and Max’s troubled home life, and the third is Linda’s attempts to win back an old lover who has just recently been married. The single theme that ties all of these stories together is simple: will each specific relationship last?
What’s interesting about Newlyweds is that Burns decided to shoot the movie like a pseudo-documentary, including interviews with the characters that have the actors talking directly to the camera, breaking the imaginary fourth wall. Even though the idea of tossing interview segments into a narrative film might seem strange, it never takes the viewer out of the story. Instead, it acts almost as a voice-over narration where the characters are free to divulge their innermost secrets. The problem with this pseudo-documentary style, though, is that it is sometimes hard to tell when the characters know there is a camera present, and when they think they’re in the privacy of their own company. For example, there is one point where Katie says, “you saw that, right”? She is clearly talking to the camera, or the cameraman, but it is not during an interview segment, thus muddying whether or not the character knows she is being filmed. Another example is when the characters discuss a certain topic during an interview segment, and then return home and rehash what was just said as if they’re alone, and ready to dive deeper into the subject. This isn’t always a problem, but something that could’ve been cleared up by adding some context to the fact that the characters are sometimes being watched by a camera.
When production values are this low, the director relies on his actors to bring the action. Newlyweds is fortunately filled with some excellent performances, and the acting is undoubtedly the strongest point of the film. That said, there are some problems. Until around the halfway point of the film, the relationship between Buzzy and Katie feels fake, forced, and awkward. Making this relationship look worse is the fact that Max and Marsha are so natural, and realistic. The audience feels like these two characters have spent the last 18 years together, which is always a challenge for an actor. Kerry Bishé, as Linda, delivers some of the most emotional scenes in the film, and she handles them extremely well. Her character is able to manipulate every male character in the film, and she does so naturally. Of the supporting characters, Katie’s ex-husband, Dara (Dara Coleman) stands out the most. Dara is an out-of-work actor who is in love with himself, and all things artsy. Coleman is incredibly subtle with his humor, but fans of that style will get a kick out his hilarious performance. If I had to pick a weak link in the acting, Edward Burns would be my choice, but his performance doesn’t hurt the movie at all. His co-stars are strong enough to carry the load, and make Newlyweds memorable.
There are some films that beg to be talked about, and Newlyweds is one of those movies. The characters are all so irritatingly, but realistically, hypocritical that almost any viewer can find someone to relate to. Burns proves with Newlyweds that one doesn’t need a lot of money to create an engaging film worth watching. It isn’t perfect by any stretch, but even with all its imperfections, I adore what Burns has been able to craft with Newlyweds. This likeable, realistic, and often hilarious film is absolutely worth seeking out for anyone that enjoys intimate character pieces.
Newlyweds is presented in a 16×9 widescreen format. The digital filmmaking on the Canon 5D Mark II looks fine, and is likely something we will see much more of in the coming years. I had no problems with the video quality for the type of film Newlyweds is.
The audio, however, is where the low budget can be felt the most. The audio drops in and out at various points during dialogue. Burns chose to use personal lavaliere microphones instead of large boom mics for the location shooting, and the audio quality suffers a bit because of this choice. To be fair, the only thing that is required of the viewer is to turn up or down his or her volume a couple of times throughout, and that isn’t bad enough to keep viewers away. The available audio options are a 5.1 Dolby Digital surround option, and 2.1 stereo option. There are no subtitles available on this DVD.
The most unfortunate aspect of the entire DVD is the lack of special features.
An Interview with Edward Burns on the Inspiration for Newlyweds (3:00): As the title implies, Burns talks about what inspired him to write this movie, and his philosophy on the distribution plan for Newlyweds. There is a lot of footage of the film itself, making the already brief runtime feel even shorter.
An Interview with Edward Burns on his Filmmaking Process and Relationship with Tribeca (3:28): Taken from the same interview as the feature above, Burns gives a brief look at how he makes movies. He also notes that all the restaurant scenes were shot in restaurants located in the Tribeca area of New York City, over the course of 4 months. There is obviously more footage from this interview, and it would’ve been great to see the interview in its entirety; these two small glimpses are not nearly enough.
Deleted Scenes (3:44): There are 3 scenes here that add a potential subplot for the film. The movie works well without these scenes, and they are positive cuts. The audio is a bit wonky on these scenes as well.
Newlyweds, much like the characters in the story, is far from perfect, but that is what makes it so endearing. The meager budget, the location shooting, and the use of DSLR cameras make this film feel like a personal love letter to Burns’ hometown, which he admits in one of his interviews available on the disc. Newlyweds is a great choice for anyone searching for a character driven piece that relies on acting instead of special effects to tell an engaging story. Had the DVD been filled with more special features, I’d highly recommend it, but since it isn’t, I’ll give the nod to the digital version of the film. Either way, Newlyweds is a fun film worth the time.
Tribeca Film presents Newlyweds. Written and Directed by: Edward Burns. Starring: Edward Burns, Caitlin Fitzgerald, Kerry Bishé, Marsha Dietlein, and Max Baker. Running time: 96 minutes. Rating: Not Rated. Released on DVD: May 22, 2012. Available at Amazon.com.
Tags: Edward Burns