What came first, the documentary or the wedding video? Doug Block has been filming weddings for the best part of two decades to support his work as a documentarian. It’s well paid but Doug tries to inject his own filmmaking sensibilities into his sideline (or is it actually his main gig?) by asking clients if they’ve heard of cinema-vérité. With 20 years of footage at his disposal Doug’s premise is simple, what has become of these couples and how did the reality of marriage live up to the fantasy of their wedding day?
The film opens with a wedding on a Mexican beach, it should be paradise but the beginning of a tropical storm scuppers the dream. This particular ceremony is an early metaphor for what we’ll discover, or for what the married audience already knows, even the happiest marriages can be tempestuous. Block’s voice over informs us that he has, “Great affection” for the couples he has filmed as a montage of comedy dancing and embarrassing relatives brings a smile to our face, everyone’s seen “The Wedding Singer” right?
Block structures his film around several couples recounting their marital stories. Most are middle class New Yorkers with comfortable lifestyles that make up Block’s natural customer base. On the surface this narrow gene pool could alienate certain sections of the audience but their testimonies are universal enough to be thoroughly engaging and thought provoking. The most really revealing thing about their relationships is the facial expressions of the spouses as their better halves speak brilliantly highlighted by South Korean Yoonhee and her Wasp husband Tom. As Block points out, it’s not by chance that most Hollywood romantic comedies end with the wedding rather than the marriage.
One couple talk over each other at light speed, another duo recounts the horror of sleep deprivation when their first child was born. Olivia and Dennis who explain the daily fear they face after their daughter Lilly was diagnosed with a life threatening disease put this trauma into sharp perspective. Jodi and Michael share an uneasy truce as highflying Jodi has become a stay at home mum to look after her daughter with, “Learning issues.” Janet and David are divorced after he chased his Hollywood dream of becoming a screenwriter in a blizzard of prescription drugs.
With one in two marriages ending in divorce Sue and Steve’s story is particularly poignant. Married for 19 years they are in the process of divorcing, the devastating heartbreak spilling out of Sue’s soul in stark contrast to Steve’s controlled emotion. Still even New Age couple Janice and Alexander who decided against marriage 13 years earlier finally succumb to the legal benefits and security that this institution provides. Perhaps their blend of spirituality and pragmatism is the answer.
Whether marriage is a relic of patriarchal control and religion or an ever-evolving institution embracing same sex couples, Block’s documentary ultimately evokes Friedrich Nietzsche, “When marrying, ask yourself this question: Do you believe that you will be able to converse well with this person into your old age? Everything else in marriage is transitory.”