112 Weddings documentary review: after the party ends

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112 Weddings green light

A startling and welcome breath of reality for an institution overladen by fantasy in our culture. Happily ever after is hard!
I’m “biast” (pro): I’m not married

I’m “biast” (con): I’m not married

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Doug Block is a New York-based documentary filmmaker who, 20 years ago, started shooting weddings as a way to make some money. Now, in 112 Weddings, he revisits nine of the couples he photographed as they got married to get their perspectives on married life: What have been the ups and downs? Has marriage met their expectations, or confounded them? As Block explains to us, he has seen what goes into getting married, now wants to find out what goes into staying married.

It’s not always a pretty picture, with a lot of raw emotion on display, even when the marriages have been mostly happy — it’s all a startling and welcome breath of reality for an institution overladen by fantasy in our culture. The people he introduces us to, now and then, are, to a one, thoroughly charming and engrossing in a variety of different ways, offering us perspectives on marriage that The Movies rarely cover: that is, the hard stuff that comes after the happily-ever-after moment. But even in real life, a mass of honest evaluations of the most private of relationships — such as the ones we find here — is tough to come by, unless perhaps you’re a marriage counselor.

The film isn’t about offering advice to couples on the cusp of marriage, however, and I’m not sure there’s any one universal takeaway on the institution except, maybe, that having a kid changes it dramatically. What we have instead are honest, sometimes painfully so, portraits of couples, what their lives together have brought, and how they are navigating their relationships. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most provocative discussions of the institution come from couples who have not taken it for granted: Anna and Erica (fellow wedding photographers, not one of Block’s original wedding subjects), who explain why it’s “a big deal” to get married, to be able to get married; and Janice and Alexander, who 13 years ago had made a conscious decision not to get married — Block shot their partnership ceremony, which wasn’t legally binding but was, the couple clearly felt, emotionally binding. Interspersed with the looking-back interviews are chipper, eager soon-to-be-weds Heather and Sam: theirs will be Block’s 112th wedding, and the filmmaker follows their preparations and has them share their expectations for their marriage, too.

I’m not married and never have been, and I found this a lovely film full of sensitive and perceptive insight; I imagine that those who are or have been married will find it speaks to them even more than it does to me.

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