Four thirtyish groomsmen, who grew up together in a close-knit suburban Long Island neighborhood, socialize for a few days with the imminent husband-to-be in Ed Burns’ latest riff on middle-class male immaturity, “The Groomsmen.” Burns’ always impressive sense of place lends authenticity to the pals’ perambulations, and the stellar cast brings a welcome overabundance of personality to regrettably one-note roles. Fans may herald “Groomsmen” as a return to classic Burns’ McMullen form but, for the general public, the writer-helmer may have gone to this well one time too often to expect better than lackluster returns.
Masculine tete-a-tetes are conducted with drunken belligerence or tearful conviviality at a bar owned by one of the group, and extended bull sessions take place around the diamond of a softball game-cum-bachelor party. Characters schmooze against the backdrop of suburban lawns, or as they trawl for fish, or while driving a few balls at the local golf course.
Film coasts for quite a while on the sheer potency of its ensemble players. Unfortunately, the more Burns surrounds himself with vibrant thesps, the more wooden his own perf registers, and the mystery of why even a pregnant Brittany Murphy would ally herself to such an emotionless stick begins to trump any script-driven question of commitment.
Each of the buddies is granted one problem, the stunning directness of the dilemmas matched only by the awesome simplicity of their supposed resolutions. Burns’ Paulie, panicking prior to his nuptials, fears impending fatherhood.
Paulie’s big brother Jimbo (Donal Logue), who has been yelling at his wife and frequenting strip bars, harbors quite different reproductive fears. T.C. (John Leguizamo) is secretly gay.
Paulie’s cousin Mike (Jay Mohr) is compulsively driven to win his ex-girlfriend back so he can start the family he dreams of, formulating arguments whose pathetic lameness Mohr transforms into pure comedic gold, even as he infuses surprising sweetness into his live-in relationship with his dad.
Meanwhile, Des (Matthew Lillard) is so fulfilled and grounded by proud fatherhood that his obsession with reviving the high school rock band reads only as cutely innocuous.
While the men drunkenly flounder about, the women wisely and winsomely wait at home. Even Murphy’s pregnancy affords her only a modicum of hormonal hysteria before proceeding to Happily Ever After.
It never takes much in an Ed Burns film to bring the lost sheep back into the fold, the off-kilter improvisational rhythms and real location indie production always landing squarely in the service of bedrock conservatism. Yet, as time goes by, the supposedly everyday middleclass lifestyles effortlessly enjoyed by his regular Joes begin to seem suspiciously like the province of the idle rich.