Take the wacky comedy out of “I Love Lucy” and you’ll have some idea about “A Quiet Little Marriage,” a movie that creates a convincing and serious portrait of a marriage using near-sitcom-level situations. Small, intimate and genuine, “Marriage” could flourish on the specialized circuit, though there will likely be widely varying reactions to the seesaw of emotions writer-director Mo Perkins makes the viewer ride.
Olive (Mary Elizabeth Ellis) and Dax (Cy Carter) have a healthy sex life, mutual interests and problematic relatives: Olive’s father, Bruce (Michael O’Neill), is disappearing into the fog of Alzheimer’s; Dax’s brother, Jackson (Jimmi Simpson), is a junkie who drops by for loans, or couch space, most recently in the company of his nonverbal companion, Sylvia (Lucy DeVito). Although debuting helmer Mo Perkins’ script doesn’t belabor the issue, the couple’s outside problems create intimate, and contradictory, responses: Olive suddenly needs to have a baby. Dax wants to avoid paternity at all costs.
Having staked out their respective philosophies on reproduction (in one of the film’s better scenes, full of disappointment and sudden estrangement), Olive and Dax become increasingly desperate. They like to drink, and in an overture to one wine-fueled bout of sex, Olive heats up a safety pin and punches holes in her diaphragm. It’s an appalling act, one that shifts the viewer’s sympathies toward Dax. Of course, when he finds out and starts surreptitiously putting birth-control pills in Olive’s morning coffee, those sympathies shift back. Or, more likely, into neutral.
If this were a comedy, the battle for Olive’s womb would be hilarious, but it isn’t. Rather, pic portrays two people — who allegedly, and evidently, love each other — driven to a kind of insanity, ostensibly by the disorder they’re experiencing elsewhere in their lives). It’s the stuff of ruined matrimony and lifelong resentments, and some auds might find Perkins’ treatment of it all a bit too light, not lending enough gravity to the couple’s emotional sabotage.
Ellis and Carter are both likable, but not so charming that we totally forgive them; they’re “normal” without being boring. Simpson, as the disreputable Jackson, is sleaze on a stick. DeVito doesn’t actually have any lines, but her sullenness is eloquent.
Director’s stylistic embellishments — for example, the stuttery, intermittent sequences that show Olive and Dax restless in bed and stealing the covers — seem a bit banal for a movie that leans toward such profound human issues. Otherwise, production values are good, notably Dave Lux’s score and Eric S. Zimmerman’s DV shooting.