Monday, April 16, 2012

Five Friends, No Wedding, No Funeral: The Groomsmen.

The Good: Good acting, Interesting characters
The Bad: Weak plot, Very expository
The Basics: Worth a viewing, if not a buy, The Groomsmen evolves into a decent character drama after a very weak opening.

Lately, I've seen a lot of movies that were just plain terrible and one of the things that I've been tired of is movies with young people breaking up for stupid reasons. The Last Kiss stands out still in my mind as a film I was particularly disappointed in. So, then comes The Groomsmen, essentially the same plot for people in their mid-thirties as opposed to mid-twenties. What a difference a decade makes!

Paulie is in his mid-thirties, has gotten Sue pregnant and is marrying her, though he is unsure whether it is love or obligation that is motivating him. He reunites his four best friends days before the wedding and their past issues and new complications all come out. Dez is struggling with adapting to being a father and embracing that lifestyle (he develops an obsession with reuniting the high school band for the wedding), Mike's animosity toward T.C. over a baseball card stolen almost a decade ago boils over while T.C. takes the difficult step of coming out to his oldest friends, and Jimbo's problems with his wife lead him to a peak that puts his alcoholism front and center.

The Groomsmen, I'll be quite frank, took some getting into. I went into the viewing without any preconceived notions - I understand Edward Burns has written and/or directed other films, but I believe this was my first experience with his work - and the film did not hook me for some time. In fact, for a long time, this was looking like a below average film and a "not recommend." The movie pulls itself out and with all of the movies I've seen lately that I've disliked, that's quite a feat. The Groomsmen pulls itself out on its own merits.

What changes? The film begins with a lot of hidden backstory and characters holding onto issues that just seem trivial and the whole "questioning before marriage" plot is terribly overdone. The Mike and T.C. conflict journeys from one of the most petty character problems - man in his thirties still vociferously angry about a decade old theft (most adults would simply ignore the guy and get by for the days he's around) - to compelling character interactions over the course of a few lines. The opening scene with the two together is ridiculous and emotionally silly. When they confront one another, when T.C. declares why he stole the stupid baseball card and Mike is given the chance to respond, there is a depth to the moment that is impressive and captivated me. Similarly, as Jimbo deals with the roots of his drinking and staying out late away from his wife, his character takes on a depth that is not immediately evident.

The problem is not so much prejudice or bias against the characters in the beginning because of any fourth wall problems - i.e. three of the five leads are best known for comedy (another of them for a children's movie!) and this is largely a dramatic movie. The problem is with the presentation of the characters, the writing. The writing starts stiff, with characters who are stiffer than they become. As the movie progresses, the characters loosen up some, becoming more colorful and containing more depth. It's a movie that requires some patience to get into and all I can actually say to that is that I'm glad I waited it out and gave it a fair shake.

The stiffness at the beginning is also not truly an acting problem, though the actors seem to become more comfortable in the skin of their various characters as the movie progresses and their characters become more expressive. Edward Burns plays Paulie with a monolithic seriousness that befits the character, but is somewhat off-putting. Brittany Murphy is little more than a cameo as Sue. I was pleased to see John F. O'Donohue as Mike's father; I liked him quite a bit on NYPD Blue and here he has a very different role.

Jay Mohr, who tends to be cast in either very juvenile or angry roles, is wonderful as Mike. Mohr is unlike any of the characters I have seen him play (like in Action or Go) and in The Groomsmen, he plays a character who shows some genuine depth and character. In fact, I think part of the ease with which Mike accepts T.C.'s homosexuality is only made believable by Mohr's "devil may care" attitude and casual body language in the part.

Matthew Lillard plays Dez and while the role is not all that big, I'll say I'm impressed with his portrayal. I watched The Groomsmen in its entirety not recognizing Lillard as Shaggy from the abysmal Scooby-Doo (reviewed here!). Lillard plays an easygoing guy who still wrestles with responsibility and adulthood and there was not a trace of the slacker role in him. Lillard is decent in the role and he brings a seriousness to the role that works.

The winner as far as acting goes is John Leguizamo as T.C. Leguizamo is best known for comedy roles and here he is convincing and deep as T.C. Leguizamo is the most serious and real I've seen him in any role yet. I was astonished by the caliber of performance coming from him and would be surprised if he is not given more dramatic roles. The Groomsmen illustrates that he can certainly handle such roles.

So, we have a mixed review and a slightly above the average film, making it a recommend with the caveat that the film requires some patience. It's certainly a step (or several) up from the abysmal The Last Kiss, but it's no American Beauty (reviewed here!), either.

For other works with Matthew Lillard, be sure to visit my reviews of:
The Descendants
Without A Paddle
The Perfect Score


For other film reviews, be sure to visit my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the films I have reviewed!

© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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