At the risk of being presumptuous, I find it very hard to believe that anyone who enjoys independent cinema, or, more specifically, has a moderate interest in shooting their own films, does not appreciate the work of Edward Burns.
Burns has done everything his own way. He wrote, directed, starred and financed his first film, The Brothers McMullen, himself. When it was finished, he passed a VHS copy of it to Robert Redford in a New York City elevator. Redford watched it, and the film ultimately went on to win the Sundance Grand Jury Prize and the Indie Spirit Award for First Feature.
Since then, Burns has taken steady acting jobs (Confidence and Entourage are highlights) to boost his cred, and payouts in Hollywood trash (The Holiday, 27 Dresses, Man on a Ledge) to help finance his own movies.
I’ve seen every film Burns has directed. Some are great (She’s the One, Purple Violets) some are cute (Brothers McMullen, Sidewalks of New York), some are a little too cute (Looking for Kitty, Nice Guy Johnny), but not until now would I label any of his films as remarkable.
Which, make no mistake about it, is precisely what Newlyweds is. The film tells the story of the relaxed marriage between Buzzy (Burns) and Katie (Caitlin Fitzgerald). They work odd, conflicting hours, see each other little, sleep together often, tell each other everything and live very very comfortably. “Absence really does make the heart grow fonder,” Katie tells her bitchy sister, Marsha (Marsha Dietlein) in the opening scene. Basically, Buzzy and Katie’s contemporary, blasé stance on marriage is working for them. They got married quickly and because of the purposeful distance they set between themselves, it somehow allows them to never grow bored of one another.
Buzzy and Katie’s relaxed philosophy on their nuptials is soon sent into a frenzy from a few simultaneous influences, namely the abrupt arrival of Buzzy’s half-sister, Linda (Kerry Bishé), which is not unlike the abrupt arrival of Carey Mulligan’s Sissy in Shame. Another crippling component to Buzzy and Katie’s relationship is Marsha’s tumultuous marriage to her craggy husband, Max (Max Baker). So, as Linda, Marsha and Max corrode around Buzzy and Katie, the couple is forced to examine their unique relationship more closely, which doesn’t always spawn favorable results.
Now, if you’ve seen an Edward Burns film, you know that he takes great influence, both in style and execution, from Woody Allen. The characters in Burns’ films talk. A lot. They banter incessantly (but in Newlyweds, always amusingly), with the camera slowly pulling focus and tracking whoever has the most interesting facial expression at the moment. It’s a style that is mocked and duplicated time and time again, but no filmmaker idolizes Allen’s mise en scène better than Burns. (Newlyweds, has a style that is very similar to Allen’s Husbands and Wives. It actually makes good use of the character-interview gimmick that has been bastardized by sitcoms like The Office and Modern Family.)
As Newlyweds progresses, we are privy to several conversations that contain what very few American films do: characters who talk like actual people. The dialogue is accurate and precise, the scene situations are realistic and truthful; in short, Newlyweds is a film that feels like real life. And that alone is enough for me to call it great. But damn if there isn’t more.
When I said Burns makes his film his own way, I was lying. Newlyweds was shot for $9,000 dollars ($5,000 for the actors, $2,000 for craft services, $2,000 for insurance), over 12 days in the TriBeCa streets that Burns and his friends live on. And, perhaps most significantly, he shot it with the Canon 5D, a consumer-grade DSLR camera that any Joe Schmo with $1,400 (and a little more for lenses) can buy off Amazon. The look of the film is nothing more accomplished than what you can find by searching “Canon 5D test” on YouTube, but that doesn’t really matter, because as an good filmmaker will tell you, as long as the story is there, everything else, look included, is secondary.
For context: I’m shooting a film in April with my Canon 7D, and if it achieves 1/15th of what Newlyweds achieves, then I’ll die happy.
Had I seen Newlyweds before drafting my Top 15 of 2011, it would’ve made the cut. Actually, it would’ve been in the Top 10. Because Burns distributes his films himself, Newylweds is most accessibly available to rent on iTunes, which is something I highly recommend you do. A