An ultralight excursion into the urban neuroses of the Woody Allen canon, Edward Burns’ 10th feature, “Newlyweds,” is a slight relationship comedy that constitutes more of a doodle than a full-fledged movie. Following a small ensemble of characters through a variety of conversations about the ups and downs of married life, Burns constructs a highly derivative and forgettable rom-com in the form of a pseudo-documentary. The result is entertainment on autopilot.
Burns has been making waves during this year’s Tribeca Film Festival by promoting the movie’s fleeting production history, which involved a supremely trim budget of $9,000. That might have been an impressive feat if “Newlyweds” told a bold or challenging story that nobody had seen before. Then again, maybe Burns’ ability to assemble conventional narrative ingredients for less than the pricetag of a used car implies that such familiar molds have become entirely discardable. A proliferation of like-minded microbudget projects that don’t try very hard could make the better experiments with frugal storytelling stand out.
“Newlyweds” is mostly comprised of cookie-cutter musings on the nature of couplings, spread across a few subplots. The freshly married couple in question is Buzzy (Burns) and Katie (Catilin Fitzgerald), a pair of young Tribeca natives — both married once before — who fell for each other and decided to tie the knot in short order. Buzzy, a gym instructor, met Katie through her brother-in-law Max (Max Baker), a frumpy middle-aged musician who has grown tired of his 19-year marriage to Katie’s sister, Marsha (Marsha Dietlein). Seeing Buzzy and Katie enjoying their wedded bliss makes Buzzy wonder if his own marriage has run its course, a suspicion that increasingly comes up in conversations with his wife.
Meanwhile, Buzzy’s estranged sister Linda (Kerry Bishé) shows up unannounced at Buzzy’s Tribeca loft, looking for a place to crash. Having traveled from Los Angeles in pursuit of a married man she hopes to steal away, Linda signals instant trouble for the balanced existence that Buzzy and Katie have so far maintained. Rounding out the potential trouble, Katie’s pretentious ex-husband routinely shows up at their loft seeking cash at inopportune moments.
The pieces are aligned for a shrewd sitcom. With its mock interviews allowing each character to face the camera and comment on their decisions after every scene or so, “Newlyweds” plays like a distended episode of “The Office” or other similarly constructed programs. Well-acted by a committed cast (Bishé, also in Kevin Smith’s “Red State,” is a talent to watch), “Newlyweds” contains plenty of amusing moments that coalesce as the story rolls along to its inevitably neat conclusion. But the constant babbling about romantic frustration grows tiring once the characters start to repeat themselves.
Shot within what looks like a one-block radius of the Tribeca area, “Newlyweds” looks like it was commissioned by the Tribeca Film Festival — and it was. According to the filmmaker, Burns scrambled to put the movie together late last year in time for the festival after executive director Nancy Schafer asked him about it. As a result, it’s probably not serendipitous that the only beverages people drink in the movie are Heineken beer and VitaminWater, two of the festival’s beverage sponsors.
Burns has done well to inspire other filmmakers to look beyond budget lines, but if this is the future of low-budget cinema, it still comes at a significant cost.
HOW WILL IT PLAY? “Newlyweds” will obviously make a profit, but will likely fade from view shortly thereafter.
criticWIRE grade: C+