Love Me


Diamonds are a mail order bride's best friend.

Diamonds are a mail order bride’s best friend.

(2014) Documentary (Powershot) Bobby, Eric, Michael, Robert, John, Ron, Travis, Inna, Svitlana, Vitalina, Elena, Bob. Directed by Jonathon Narducci

Florida Film Festival-2014

Mail order brides have been a business since the 19th century as lonely farmers, mostly in North America, brought over women from mostly Europe. Often there was limited correspondence between the prospective groom and the object of his purchase and generally the transaction (for make no mistake – this was a business deal) was consummated before the buyer had even seen his bride-to-be. The trade expanded in the 20th century to Asia and Africa as lonely American men tried to find alternative ways to discover happiness.

The business still exists today although it is much more refined and in some ways, more high tech. Websites have sprung up on which prospective brides can put their pictures up and correspond via e-mail with their prospective husbands at their leisure. Businesses like A Foreign Affair (which gets the lion’s share of screen time here) have created the ultimate singles bar which is always open.

We follow the journeys of five clients of AFA and one of an Australian service. called Elena’s Models (run by a former Russian mail order bride herself) to the Ukraine to find potential brides. All of the men go with high hopes, some with specific women in mind to meet and hopefully develop a relationship with. The women are all uniformly beautiful; the often seductive client photos all turn out to be legitimate, which was a worry I would have had were I to be in a situation like this – that someone you corresponded with had put up a picture of a model or an actress and was not representing herself honestly.

But of course there are all sorts of ways to represent oneself honesty. Some of the women portrayed here are genuinely eager to find love, but at least one or two were essentially in it to milk as much money as they possibly could out of their American “sugar daddies.” This isn’t a cheap process by the way; if you don’t have the wherewithal to plunk down tens of thousands of dollars, this isn’t a process you should probably undertake although, as one client shrugs, what’s happiness worth? AFA arranges group trips to the Ukraine to facilitate face-to-face meetings between clients and prospective brides. While these trips are optional, they are recommended. All five of our AFA clients are going on a winter trip chaperoned by the head of AFA himself, John Adams who married a Russian woman through a marriage broker service.

The men have varying experiences. Ron, a North Carolina divorcee with grown children, finds that this isn’t the right fit for him and winds up dating a local woman after returning from the Ukraine. The other four men have relationships of varying success with women they either met online through AFA or on the trip. One actually gets married (and delivers one of the steamiest kisses you’ll ever see in a documentary), while the others fizzle out more or less. The expectations of some of the men are unreasonable, while others are less disappointed.

The most heartbreaking story is that of Michael, the lone Australian client. He meets and falls in love with a Ukrainian woman who has a young daughter. Michael bonds with both of them. He even marries the girl of his dreams, then goes back to Australia while she returns to the Ukraine. She stops communicating with him and finally he is forced to go back to the Ukraine to confront her. We discover that she never really had any feelings for him but kept stringing him along to “keep her options open.” It’s plain to see that she is not a very nice woman.

That doesn’t mean that the others aren’t. There are 87 men in the Ukraine for every 100 women and even the most beautiful and desirable women there can have trouble finding a good man, especially when you consider that there is an epidemic of alcoholism among Ukrainian men.

There is a good deal of self-delusion that goes on. It is clear that in some cases there is something wrong but the men tend to ignore the very obvious signs. I think most men are pretty much boneheads about women but I think lonely men can desperately cling to the most tenuous of threads, hoping for a tapestry. It certainly serves as a cautionary tale for any single man looking for something permanent, particularly men 40 and older.

Narducci does an excellent job of impartiality; he lets the stories tell themselves and allows both sides of the coin to be expressed. If there is any glaring issue with the movie it’s that there are too many coins. I wonder if we needed six different subjects, although upon reflection I’m not sure which story I’d eliminate. All of the experiences here are distinct from each other. Still, that means the story drags in places and jumps abruptly from one view to another. Also, with an Elena, Inna and Svitlana coming at you, the names of the women are pretty similar and sometimes I found myself the attractive blondes with one another.

Matters of the heart can be tricky and the documentary captures a view of it from a familiar but completely different viewpoint. Most of us will never use a service like A Foreign Affair but for those who do it can literally be a godsend and it serves a unique but necessary purpose. The movie captures how prevalent loneliness is in our society and while that’s not exactly new information it is nonetheless one thing to know about it intellectually than to stare in the faces of these lonely men – and women – who still carry enough hope in them to try something new. You’ve gotta admire that.

REASONS TO GO: Never judges the industry or the individuals. Shows both sides of the story. Occasionally heartbreaking.

REASONS TO STAY: Drags a little bit in places. Maybe tries to follow too many stories at once?

FAMILY VALUES: There is some mild profanity and sensuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Made its world premiere at the Florida Film Festival.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/6/14: Rotten Tomatoes: no score yet. Metacritic: no score yet.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Girl Model

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: The Quiet Ones

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Going the Distance


 

Going the Distance

Getting typecast in romantic comedies can make any actress a little catty.

(New Line) Drew Barrymore, Justin Long, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, Christina Applegate, Ron Livingston, Jim Gaffigan, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Natalie Morales, Kelli Garner, June Diane Raphael, Rob Riggle, Terry Beaver, Matt Servitto, Sarah Burns, Taylor Schwenke.  Directed by Nanette Burstein

Long distance romances are a fact of modern life. People meet online, or find jobs halfway across the country; in other words, things happen. Modern technology makes these kinds of relationships much easier than they were a decade ago, but it is still a very difficult proposition.

Erin (Barrymore) is a summer intern at a New York newspaper. She’s hoping to parlay the internship into a full-time job, but there aren’t any to be had so it will be back to San Francisco for further graduate work at Stanford in the fall. She loves New York and wants to be in the middle of things there, but she’ll have to check back in a year; hopefully there will be some available jobs then.

Garrett (Long) is a commitment-phobic guy who works for a record company. While he is passionate about music, he hates his job as the label, terrified at the economic enviornment for record labels, is only going for what appear to be safe acts that are going to generate revenue as opposed to making great music.  His personal life is no better; he goes from girlfriend to girlfriend, unable to understand why they leave him and wondering what it is that he’s missing in his personality to make relationships work. His friend Box (Sudeikis) and roommate Dan (Day) think his best bet is going to the bar and tying one on.

At the same bar is Erin. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the two are going to meet. It also isn’t a stretch to figure out they’re going to hit it off and over Erin’s last six weeks, fall in love. And that once the six weeks are over, they’re going to want to continue the relationship from afar.

That much is a given. However, what is really surprising is that the obstacles that the couple faces aren’t manufactured. They are the kind of things long-distance daters deal with every day. Both Erin and Garrett are working in industries that are on the endangered list;  jobs aren’t plentiful so they are pretty much stuck where they are and that is really what separates the two of them.

There’s a good deal of sex here which is also part and parcel of the long-distance experience. On those occasions they do get together it’s hard to keep their hands off of each other (or other body parts). Sometimes that can lead to fairly embarrassing situations involving dining room tables and paper-thin bedroom walls. That also shows in their phone conversations, and in their relationships with other people. In short, they are both sexually frustrated and constantly horny.

Barrymore projects one of the sweetest natures in show biz, much like Meg Ryan did a decade ago, and has quietly become one of the most reliable romantic comedy actresses in the business. She is sweet but with a core of steel; she takes no crap and stands up for what she believes in both onscreen and off. It is also a good bet that whenever you get a movie that Barrymore is in, the soundtrack is going to be rich with great indie rock acts, and this one is no different in that regard.

Erin has a great relationship with her uptight sister (Applegate) and her somewhat pedantic brother-in-law (Gaffigan) and their devil-spawn daughter Maya (Schwenke). But it is Box and Dan that nearly steal the show; every time they are onscreen, something is going on that’s going to at least make you giggle. Most of the comedy that goes on in this romantic comedy is coming from them.

Justin Long has never been one of my favorite actors, but he does what he does very very well. He seems to be mellowing and maturing as time goes by, which is slowly turning my opinion of him. Here he has a natural chemistry with Barrymore that makes the relationship even more believable. He has a hangdog look and some natural comic timing which I’ve seen in other movies as well as in some of his television work; unfortunately the few comic bits he gets to do really are some of the least successful in the film.

It’s no secret that American romantic comedies have been slowly fading in quality over the past several years. Part of the reason for that has to do with most writers following the same formula; boy meets girl, they fall in love, they are separated by misunderstanding or circumstance and they reconnect in the final reel. Studios will allow no departures from the formula, mainly because these kinds of movies tend to do really well at the box office.

This movie more or less follows the same formula, but fortunately does it in an entirely organic way so that it doesn’t feel formula. As I said earlier, most of the obstacles in the relationship evolve out of real world obstacles. There are no comic misunderstandings, no forced breakups; just two people who love each other that is separated by the circumstances of their lives and frustrated by it.

I also admired that Barrymore didn’t try to play a sweet young thing in her mid-20s. Here, she is in her 30s and trying to make up for lost time after a failed relationship. It made sense and contributed to the overall realism of the movie.

I’m not exactly sure why the movie was exiled to the frozen wasteland that is the Labor Day weekend, traditionally a very poor movie-going weekend. This is a solid, charming little film that doesn’t force its charm nor does it rely on its stars to elevate mediocre material. It isn’t going to rewrite the manual for romantic comedies, but it at least delivers on the formula in a way that isn’t the same old thing. I, for one, appreciate that.

REASONS TO GO: Barrymore is perhaps the most reliable rom-com actress in the business today. This is a romantic comedy that has its feet planted in the real world.

REASONS TO STAY: Too many typical rom-com clichés pepper the plot.

FAMILY VALUES: You’ll be seeing far more of Justin Long than perhaps anybody was ever meant to see; there is also a share of bad language and sexual references that is more than average. There’s also one scene of extended marijuana use; if you’re okay with all of that, let your kids have at it. Otherwise, older teens and above would be my recommendation.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Barrymore and Long are a couple in real life.

HOME OR THEATER: This is a good movie to pop up some popcorn in the microwave, grab a couple of sodas from the fridge and cuddle up next to your honey on the couch for.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: My One and Only