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Film Review: ‘112 Weddings’

Documentarian Doug Block turns to his own past as a wedding videographer for this enjoyable but thin survey of modern matrimony.

With:
Heather Dodge, Sam Dodge, Rachel Shapiro, Paul Shapiro, Jennifer Hyjack, Augie Alexander, Olivia Langbein, Dennis Langbein, Jodi Smart, Michael Smart, David Bromberg, Janice Caillet, Alexander Caillet, Yoonhee Roberts, Tom Roberts, Sue Odierna, Steve Odierna, Danielle Hark, Adam Hark, Galina Portnoym David Engwall, Anna Conlan, Erica Beckman, Jonathan Blake.

After spending two decades sidelining as a wedding videographer to fund his career as a filmmaker, Doug Block has turned his former vocation into its own documentary. “112 Weddings” (the number of nuptials he’s worked to date) checks in on a representative nine couples to see how the institution of matrimony has held up for them since they tied the knot. The widely relatable topic, various personal dramas and pleasant overall tone make this an easy watch, though those looking for a particularly deep or diverse treatment of the subject will need to keep looking. Pic opens theatrically throughout Canada on May 23 and in the U.K. in mid-June, with decent potential for sales to other territories in various formats.

Pic is narrated by Block, who recalls details of the original weddings (seen in video excerpts) as we’re serially introduced to former clients married anywhere from three to 19 years. The first duo are the least complicated; they’re so simpatico they incessantly talk over one another, as if their two voices now constitute a single p.o.v. Also making a humorous impression are two Brooklyn hipsters who semi-sarcastically note the “torture” of raising a child in a small one-bedroom apartment, though one senses some real strife behind the snark.

By contrast, there’s nothing funny about the East Village couple whose daughter was diagnosed with a terminal illness at age 3. Though she’s survived, her ongoing, painful treatments and health scares constitute a “living nightmare that never ends.” A genial African-American pair have had their own issues dealing with a child whose learning disabilities mean the highly educated wife has unhappily had to abandon a fulfilling career and remain a stay-at-home mom.

Two free spirits hired Block 13 years earlier to film their very New Age-y “partnership ceremony” — they’d viewed marriage as an archaic form of ownership, but in talking to the filmmaker, they now decide they’ll belatedly get hitched after all, as both a legal formality and a renewal of commitment. They are in turn contrasted with the very traditional-looking union of a Korean concert violinist and a stiffly composed WASP husband; he squirms in embarrassment whenever she hints at the routine reality of occasional marital discord.

Perhaps the most bizarre visit is with David, a walking pharmacy whose marriage to Janice (a no-show here) crumbled in the wake of his failed screenwriting ambitions and amusingly self-aware yet crippling mental health problems. A more ordinary if also more wrenching divorce occurs when, after nearly 20 years, Steve announces he’s leaving and already deep into an extramarital affair — devastating news to Sue, who’d staked everything on their domestic stability.

Some sense of narrative arc is provided by the countdown to young Heather and Sam’s upcoming nuptials in her home state of Montana. His anxiety at being on foreign ground reaches an apex when one family tradition has him facing a firing line of laconic menfolk who offer dry “advice” from personal experience. (By contrast, the bride’s equivalent female audience is giddily relaxed.)

These real-life mini-dramas are naturally involving. Yet despite the different problems that arise (and the brief presence of two partnered lesbians who are also wedding photographers), the couples here don’t feel especially diverse, consisting mostly of the white, middle-class New Yorkers who form Block’s client base. So there’s a certain narrowness of experience to “112 Weddings” that undermines its already rather tepid attempts to arrive at generalizations about the state of 21st-century marriage.

Result is more a series of entertaining parts than a substantial whole. But it’s smoothly assembled, with a solid tech package and lively pace.

Film Review: '112 Weddings'

Reviewed at Hot Docs Film Festival (Love, Factually), April 25, 2012. (Also in Full Frame Documentary Film Festival.) Running time: 95 MIN.    

Production: (Documentary) A Copacetic Pictures and Hard Working Movies production in association with HBO Documentary Films, ZDF, Arte and BBC. (World sales: Dogwoof Global, London.) Produced by Doug Block, Lori Cheatle.

Crew: Directed by Doug Block. Written by Block, Maeve O’Boyle. Camera (color, HD), Block; editor, O’Boyle; music, Jon Foy; sound, Otto Gain.

With: Heather Dodge, Sam Dodge, Rachel Shapiro, Paul Shapiro, Jennifer Hyjack, Augie Alexander, Olivia Langbein, Dennis Langbein, Jodi Smart, Michael Smart, David Bromberg, Janice Caillet, Alexander Caillet, Yoonhee Roberts, Tom Roberts, Sue Odierna, Steve Odierna, Danielle Hark, Adam Hark, Galina Portnoym David Engwall, Anna Conlan, Erica Beckman, Jonathan Blake.

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