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The Groomsmen (2006) August 10, 2008

Posted by gproject in : Recently Viewed , trackback

Directed by: Edward Burns

Good actors who can generate their own material are few and far between, never mind those who also possess the ability to direct that material and see it through to the final bell.  Edward Burns is lucky in that he has been writing, producing and directing projects for himself on and off for the past thirteen years.  Plus it’s a good way of keeping food on the table - you’re never reliant on offers and auditions if you work for yourself.  The downside is that these projects could be considered just up-weighted vanity fare and lacking in true merit or artistic intention.  Fortunately, in the case of this auteur, it never feels that way.

This particular story features Burns as Paulie, a man about to marry his pregnant girlfriend, and who looks to have the perfect suburban life, yet can’t help feeling anxious about the whole thing.  What’s more, his old friendship group are getting back together for the wedding - the five-some being completed by the arrival of T.C., who mysteriously left the neighbourhood some years ago.  In the lead up to the big day, they re-form their old high school band, as well as dealing with a bunch of personal issues, including jealousy, prejudice, honesty, fatherhood and still growing up in your thirties.

It’s immediately noticeable that Edward Burns has gone for a difficult pitch here: this is a male-oriented movie, but one that deals in typically female oriented subjects - not to be too stereotypical, but I’m mainly referring to ‘emotions’.  The worry is that there’s not enough to appeal to either group in the final product.  The film flails its emotions about with churlish disregard, and the ups are often quickly followed by bond-building downs which give the story a hurdled effect - every problem worked through one at a time.  Where the film succeeds the most is through its painting of male friendship as a turbulent relationship, through character types that you expect would be less attached to sentimentality.

The important central roles are well captured by a group of four actors who you might not think would work so well together.  Burns himself is the rock, a balanced performer who I only really first took notice of in Confidence - one of the few projects he didn’t have behind-the-scenes involvement in.  Still, he fits into his hesitant character well, with everyone else slotting in around him.  Matthew Lillard is a little more heartfelt than the all-out ‘dudes’ we’ve seen him play in the past, while John Leguizamo gets a chance to slow his talking pace down a little and relax.  Donal Logue and Jay Mohr round out the friendship group, playing irresponsible and childlike, respectively.  Throw in Brittany Murphy as Paulie’s bride-to-be and you’ve got a rather unlikely cast list, but not an altogether displeasing one.
 
As it goes with these interrelational dramas, every character has their problems that the movie tries to address.  Except, in this case, for Matthew Lillard, whose role as Dez starts suspiciously contented and devoid of closeted skeletons.  You keep waiting to find out what his twist will be, but it never comes.  Instead, he just remains slightly sophomoric but with the ability to play oracle to the rest of the friends and dispense the film’s most heartfelt advice.  It’s actually quite nice to have someone so normal within the group, and it doesn’t hurt the story at all.  It’s just a shame that all the other friends and their more dramatic lives don’t quite possess enough narrative drive to save the film from its rather floaty pace.

The Groomsmen is a fair effort at the exploration of male bonds - a subject that can be all too difficult to portray convincingly.  While it can get slightly sentimental and merely rambles towards not much of a conclusion, the film still has a good heart that might just win you over.  Edward Burns lives to write and direct another day – which, incidentally, he did for a film called Purple Violets – and yet, distribution remains his biggest challenge.  The Groomsmen only went on limited release, while Purple Violets is yet to play outside of a festival.  It looks like the entrepreneurial film route might not be all its cracked up to be, but I, for one, am glad that someone like Burns is still doing it.

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