Edward Burns, the Tribeca-based filmmaker, is fast becoming a New York treasure. With Newlyweds, which premiered last week at the Crosby Street Hotel, Burns zeros in on a kind of Gotham Everyman -- at least the subset that lives below 14th Street -- exploring with disarming accuracy, humor and charm how a promising marriage can be sabotaged by the demands of family.
Amazingly, Burns made this rondelay about embattled couples and their relatives over 12 days and at a cost of $9,000. Yes, you read that right. Shooting within what looks like a three block radius of Tribeca, the triple threat Burns (writer/director/actor) and his two-man crew used mainly available light, along with friends' lofts or the backs of restaurants open for business, capturing locale better than on a set. Burns is showing the way to a new generation of filmmakers by turning out terrific films on a micro-budget and then opting for a multi-platform release (Newlyweds was available from video-on-demand Dec. 29, and opens theatrically in Chicago on Jan. 12, and Huntington, Long Island Jan. 27). Burns's savvy strategy offers indie filmmakers a promising alternative to groveling before Hollywood suits who these days puts their muscle into deafening sequels of franchises that assume a mentally challenged audience.
In Newlyweds (which wrapped the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival) freshly married Buzzy (Burns) and Katie (Caitlin Fitzgerald) are confident the second time round they've really got the marriage thing down. For one thing, taken up with their jobs in that New York workaholic way (he's a trainer, she owns a restaurant), they "never really have to see each other." That way "you can go the distance," Buzzy drolly confides to the viewer in one of many asides the characters deliver that break the fourth wall. In contrast, the 18-year empty-nest marriage of Katie's older sister Marsha (Marsha Dietlein) and her troll-ish husband (Max Baker) is plainly fraying at the edges, prompting Marsha to project onto Buzzy her suspicions regarding the lying ways of straying husbands. Then Buzzy's estranged half-sister Linda (Kerry Bishe), an L.A.-based hottie and nut case, blows into wintry New York (minus an overcoat) to reclaim an old lover. Parking in bro Buzzy's pad, Linda triggers a shootout at the OK Corral between marital versus family needs.
The dialogue of Newlyweds is the most natural and least actor-ly you're likely to hear on a screen this season. Burns nails the sound and snark of New Yorkers in love and work so you find yourself smiling in recognition. "She gave me attitude," says Linda, after Katie objects she uses all the towels. "Can we like talk about a checkout date here?" Katie asks Buzzy regarding Linda's plans. "I don't think of it as withholding sex," Katie says to her randy husband, "just as an incentive for her to get the fuck out of my house."
The characters' asides to the viewer lend a pseudo-doc flavor, as they convey what they were really thinking or feeling beneath the diplomatic language. In the monologues Burns cleverly borrows from the novelist's arsenal and ability to expose characters' motives and psychology; the asides are also, come to think of it, a cost effective way of doing flashbacks and backstory.
Though the entire cast is aces, best is the really cool persona Edward Burns has fashioned from himself. For one thing his scratchy voice is to-die-for sexy, matched only by that of Valeria Tedeschi Bruni (French movie star and sister of Carla). In Buzzy he's fashioned a kind of Irish mensch - rather original, considering that Mister Nice is often neglected in cinema in favor of flashier types, such as the sex maniac (Shame); or a wheelman prone to bashing heads with a wrench (Drive). I mean, who would not love a man who, like Buzzy, says, "When I married you I inherited your family, I just want to do right by everyone"? Unlike the heedlessly monied types of Woody Allen, there's a blue collar, outer-borough tang to Burns's ensemble, an awareness that money is hard to come by -- in fact in Newlyweds, it's the two sisters who own the apartment and the business.
One quibble: could we maybe put a moratorium in movies on the Psycho Sister who crashes at a sibling's apartment (see Carey Mulligan in Shame). Also let's ankle the loony ladies who campaign to win back a now-married boyfriend (Linda in Newlyweds; Charlize Theron in the lamentable Young Adult).
As I circulated at the after party, sipping champagne and nibbling spring rolls among the likes of Brian Williams and Calvin Klein, I confess to a worry: where was Edward Burns's wife of eight years, model and filmmaker Christy Turlington? You so like the guy you want all in his world to be well.