July 14, 2006

Getting In Touch With My Feelings About Ed Burns' The Groomsmen

groomsmen_still.jpgA couple of weeks ago, I went to a screening of The Groomsmen, the latest movie from Ed Burns. [I was not the only dadblogger there, either. It'd be interesting to see how wide the dadblog outreach extended. I get screening and premiere invites all the time--up to 8-10/week--from the rest of my life, but this was the first time I'd ever been invited as a dadblogger.]

The Groomsmen focuses on the pre-wedding antics of a group of childhood friends in a middle-class NY/LI suburb. It's a tight-knit bunch in a small-town way. The only outsider is Pauley's [played by Burns] pregnant fiancee [Brittany Murphy], a rich girl from faraway Staten Island whose been living with him for two years. But even the other wives and girlfriends and exes are on the outside here; the movie really focuses on the guys and their...not their relationships, necessarily, but their characters.

There's not a plot, really, beyond the party-hearty-teenager-at-heart pitch line: "Buds gather to mourn the loss, er marriage of one of their own," but that doesn't mean nothing happens. Steeped in the the amped up emotionality of a Special Occasion, Burns' characters are set in motion, and attempt to make sense of their lives and emotions. Matthew Lillard's Dez is the minivan-driving bartender/therapist who did the knocked-up-and-married thing so early, he never had a 20-something post-adolescence; John Leguizamo's TC deals with coming back to the neighborhood and family he ran away from; Jay Mohr's Cousin Mike is literally and figuratlvely stuck spinning donuts on his lone ex-girlfriend's lawn. And on it goes.

Between getting the band back together, resolving ancient grudges, lashing out at family, latching onto narrow definitions of masculinity, and general dodging of important conversations, The Groomsmen's characters offer a pretty authentic window into the ill-equipped emotional toolbox of the American Man, the kind of guy who sees the world his world [same thing] through beer-tinted glasses, and whose relationships with others are based on varying the mix of play, violence, and prolonged drinking.

For all its naturalism and just-folksiness, Burns' film sometimes feels like a fable. The idyllic neighborhood his characters inhabit is nearly gone--Burns' elegy in the production notes reminded of Bruce Springsteen talking on Fresh Air once--and there's an intentionally narrow focus on this band of boymen. [Nothing can help a clueless guy make the transition to adulthood like a smart, strong, sensitive woman, but the women characters here are mostly foils.] And the near-absence of people our parents' age gives it a kind of Voice Of A Generation feel, a Big Chill without the house.

But it's a world that Burns has been exploring off and on since Brothers McMullen, and I think that this time, his vision rings true. The editing is a bit awkward in spots, and a few stories feel unnecessarily truncated [I guess 90 minutes is the new 2 hours for theatrical releases], but Burns gets some very solid performances from his ensemble cast. Jay Mohr in particular could've been a one-note doofus, but plays Mike with surprising complexity.

As it opens in NYC and LA this weekend and then expands across the country, The Groomsmen's biggest challenge is that a big chunk of its primary target audience--guys in their 20's and 30's and the women who love them--are stuck home with the kids and never make it to the movies anymore. Hopefully, though, not everyone will wait for the DVD.

Check The Groomsmen website for theaters and showtimes. It opens this weekend in NYC at the City Cinemas Village East and in LA at the Arclight [thegroomsmen.com]


Sounds a lot like "Beautiful Girls".

You didn't mention that they "get the band back together!" And Donal Logue is a pioneer in the boy-man-running-away-from-responsibility genre- "Tao of Steve" being the best movie ever made about philosophy major slackers and "Grounded For Life" was a remarkably watchable sitcom when it began.

They should make a chick version of this with Winona Ryder, Uma Thurman and Janeane Garofalo. Maybe Sarah Silverman driving a Volvo SUV?

[um, I did mention the band. But I don't want to spoil it by saying what happens. And Logue's character really pissed me off, so I didn't mention him, it's true. He was good enough, but it was so headbuttingly frustrating to watch his self-destructive paralysis and imagine that it had been going on for a year, not just the three days of the movie. -ed.]

You're right...Jay Mohr made that movie for me. A surprisingly layered performance with a character-type that's difficult to find nuance in.

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