Relatives and exes threaten to derail marital bliss in “Newlyweds,” Ed Burns’ 10th film and his sixth opus to premiere at Tribeca. This $9,000-budgeted comic love letter to that Gotham neighborhood, hastily assembled expressly for the fest, boasts an unpolished look that at least suits its off-the-cuff, faux-documentary feel, with characters often addressing the camera directly (a la “Sidewalks of New York”). Burns’ character jokes that his marriage is strong because he spends little time with his bride; certainly, after spending 90 minutes with these one-note personalities, divorce seems a preferable option. Theatrical outlook appears iffy.
Newlyweds Buzzy (Burns) and Katie (Caitlin Fitzgerald) are first encountered at one of the pic’s highlighted Tribeca eateries, attending a weekly get-together with Katie’s bitter, bitchy sister Marsha (Marsha Dietlein Bennett) and her husband, Max (Max Baker). The thoroughly unpleasant sniping that passes for conversation between the long-married couple generously spills over onto the just-hitched pair.
Indeed, “Newlyweds” elevates pettiness to an art form, giving free rein to all those fleeting negative thoughts most people choose to keep silent. Much of the dialogue was improvised and then reshaped and re-enacted, its humor born of the shock of recognition in hearing one’s quickly repressed stupidities emerge from the mouths of supposedly intelligent characters. Even after they’ve been uttered, these comments continue to emit aftershocks of misunderstanding, defensiveness and good, old-fashioned resentment.
The unheralded arrival of Buzzy’s flaky half-sister, Linda (Kerry Bishe), whom he hasn’t seen since she ran away to California at age 16, further undermines his fragile marriage while introducing a welcome West Coast element into the film. Appropriating Katie’s designer coat and extending herself an invitation to stay, she arrives back at the apartment at 5 a.m., blind drunk, sans coat but with an amorous pickup whom she proceeds to screw on the kitchen counter (until chased off by Buzzy with a baseball bat).
Each character, except perhaps Marsha, is given at least a modicum of saving grace. A lost love is discovered at the root of Linda’s acting out, for example, but not before she has further tangled up her bro’s already messy ties that bind.
“Newlyweds” pulls most of the cast of the zero-budget “Nice Guy Johnny” through even lower depths of impoverishment, and furthermore takes the direct-to-camera interviews of “Sidewalks of New York” and turns them into exasperated, nonlinear comic asides. Burns has successfully retooled his relationship tropes for endless future outings. But as his characters grow older and more entrenched in borrowed luxury (Buzzy is a physical trainer who married into money), their charm wears increasingly thin.