To date myself, I remember when Edward Burns' first film "The Brothers McMullen" came out in 1995 and picked up a top prize at Sundance as well as an Independent Spirit Award. It's fair to say that Burns was perceived as a fresh new voice with big things in his future. Over the next sixteen years, his career has had its share of ups and downs both as an actor and as a filmmaker. Despite constantly working, though, and being both recognizable and famous (arguably his highest profile role was in Saving Private Ryan), he has yet to match the accolades awarded to that first feature film. 2011's "Newlyweds" is what I like to think of as the quintessential New York relationship dramedy. It is a stylized piece in which contemporary (and privileged) city dwellers exchange pithy banter about the state of modern romance without ever digging beneath the surface. For its lack of connection with the real world, it might just as easily have been made 20 years ago and it is sculpted in a technique perfected by Woody Allen more years ago than I can count. Don't get me wrong. I actually liked "Newlyweds" fine, it really just seemed like a movie I've seen many time before. Yet, it certainly has its share of amusing moments and a number of engaging performances.
I really won't detail the plot points of "Newlyweds" except to say that Burns and Caitlin Fitzgerald play a married couple who believe they are in a progressive relationship. Their lives, however, are complicated by a myriad of supporting players that showcase different sides to the battle of the sexes. Fitzgerald's judgmental sister and her husband are at the end of their tether. Burns' carefree and irresponsible sister shows up unannounced. Fitzgerald's ex-husband is a frequent nuisance. Everyone showcases a sharp wit and bounces the dialogue around in an amusing volley. Being a writer's piece, the conversations seemed staged and overly written--but it is not without its charms. It might all be very pleasant, it just doesn't amount to very much. You've seen these characters in countless other movies, there's no surprise, no real hook.
In the telling, Burns relies on heavily expected shots and edits as well. This being sophisticated, the actors often speak directly at the camera in confessional style interviews. Dramatic scenes are edited into choppy segments to appear more artful. At one point, Burns' sister is speaking on the phone and the scene is cut about 5 times with slightly different angles on her face. I don't mind the style, per se, but once again it is eerily reminiscent of dozens of other movies striving for the same feel. The stylistic devices don't add anything, they simply distract. It's hard not to compare Burns' efforts in "Newlyweds" with Woody Allen. He's certainly someone to emulate, and I'm never surprised when a new director borrows from his repertoire. Burns has been around for so many years, though, I just wanted something more unique--something that felt new and relevant. Amusing, but slight, I liked "Newlyweds" but I probably wouldn't go out of my way to endorse it. About 3 1/2 stars. KGHarris, 5/12.