By Don Simpson | January 26, 2012
Director: Joe Swanberg
Writers: Kentucker Audley, Caroline White, Joe Swanberg, Kris Swanberg, Jude Swanberg, Adam Wingard, Amanda Crawford
Starring: Kentucker Audley, Caroline White, Joe Swanberg, Kris Swanberg, Jude Swanberg, Adam Wingard, Amanda Crawford
Marriage Material begins as a couple (portrayed by Kris Swanberg and Joe Swanberg) prepare to go out together for the first time without their six-month-old (Jude Swanberg). They arrive at Emily (Caroline White) and Andrew’s (Kentucker Audley) house to drop of the infant — it is very important to note that Emily and Andrew do not have a child, and the presence of an infant forces them to contemplate the next steps of their own relationship. Emily’s motherly instinct kicks in immediately and she obviously enjoys the experience of having a baby to feed, bathe and play with. Andrew, on the other hand, seems totally unaffected by the infant; heck, he barely even acknowledges the presence of the little guy.
First and foremost, the babysitting experience triggers Emily’s recognition of her “biological clock.” Emily realizes that she is getting older every day and it might be time to settle down. She already shares a house with Andrew, so the logical next steps in their relationship would be to get married and have a child. The question is: Does Andrew feel the same impulse to take these next steps?
As with all of Swanberg’s oeuvre, the performances and dialog are remarkably realistic. The situations and conversations that Swanberg records during the brief 55-minute running time of Marriage Material feel perfectly natural, as if the content is borrowed directly from real life experiences. Swanberg and his collaborators on this project obviously understand the emotions and reactions associated with these scenarios. First and foremost, the actors seem to know all about what happens when a couple is unexpectedly prompted to confront their future. I have been involved in conversations very similar to Emily and Andrew’s (though, in my case, the roles have been reversed because I have an uncanny knack for dating women who do not want children), so from my perspective I believe that Caroline White and Kentucker Audley handle the situation with unbridled (mind the pun) honestly. Of course the Swanberg clan (Kris, Joe and Jude) know their roles quite well too — as they are essentially portraying themselves.
Swanberg is one of the modern masters of filming the existential dilemmas of young, Caucasian, college graduates; and as Swanberg matures, so do the characters in his films. Some critics have condemned Swanberg for limiting his narratives to focus on this one specific demographic, but my argument is that he films exactly what he knows. I do not see anything wrong with filming what is familiar to you. In fact, Marriage Material is the perfect example of the benefits of when a filmmaker films what they know. (Joe and Kris Swanberg recently had their first child — Jude — and I bet they still have several childless friends.)
Marriage Material is currently available to be viewed for free via Vimeo. Why free? Well, this is partially a marketing tool to attract attention to Factory 25’s subscription box set, Joe Swanberg: Collected Films. Additionally, Kentucker Audley runs a website that “showcases the new class of no-budget films” (it is aptly called No Budge) and has been posting several micro-budget indie films on Vimeo for free; and I suspect Audley had something to do with persuading Swanberg to try this distribution model out.
For a different perspective, check out Anna Bielak’s review of Marriage Material.