Edward Burns is a guy I cannot help but respect and appreciate. The Brothers McMullen was a great little debut and though it tread similar turf I feel She’s the One is a special comedy I can watch any time thanks to the chemistry of Burns, Mike McGlone and John Mahoney. His subsequent works have gotten smaller and lesser seen, but like many other independent filmmakers he’s a taste that is hard to give up on once you become a fan. A recent and surprisingly frank interview with Moviemaker magazine only deepened my appreciation. He seems to be content making small films that few people see but reach their audience and make enough money to allow for the next one.
The Groomsmen is a more straightforward effort, one that seems to revisit Burns’ common themes of facing adulthood and the bond of friendship and had it not featured the interesting and diverse cast it does it could have been just another also-ran for the filmmaker. It’s still a few notches down from his most confident works but remains entertaining for anyone who’s been in this kind of situation or watched a situation unfold from the periphery. Burns portrays Paulie, a guy who has finally gotten his shit together and is ready to settle down with his pregnant lady (Brittany Murphy, who Burns coaxed a terrific performance out of in Sidewalks of New York). His circle of friends has differing ideas, however. His brother (Donal Logue) has made a mess of his marriage and life and his pal Mike (Jay Mohr) is just lost and bitter. Dez (Matthew Lillard) seems to be centered but can his idyllic home life be real? Then there’s T.C. (John Leguizamo), the "one who got away" returning home for the wedding but with a secret to share. What follows is the angst, fun, and trials of lifelong friends coming to a head as Paulie tries to juggle it all and keep his cool for the biggest day of his life. And it works.
There’s not a lot of new ideas at the heart of The Groomsmen, just an ensemble having fun and creating a tangible bond that translates well to the screen. Burns’ oddball cast has a genuine chemistry that overrides the lack of freshness to the story. It seems that Burns has a few areas in his creative wheelhouse that serve as a comfort zone and men finding their way to adulthood is a major one. Here, instead of a darker approach he has fun with it, allowing his audience to be a "fly on the wall". It’s not always successful and Jay Mohr misses a huge opportunity to be a memorable comic relief character by delivering a performance that seems a note off, but Burns is solid and Matthew Lillard further proves he’s a lot more valuable a talent than anyone could have suspected. Logue’s character comes off rather one-dimensional but he and Burns make for an engaging duo and I think what we’re seeing with Burns’ work as he matures is less of the "Irish Woody Allen" vibe of his earlier work and more something else, a man with a gift for creating classy ensembles that defy the high concept ideals that ruin larger films. His sandbox is smaller, but it’s also a good place to hang out. You like these stories and it seems the filmmaker would be best served by a long-running series on HBO or Showtime to really take advantage of his skill set. If I were a decision maker in Tinseltown (or Tonsiltown for that matter), this is the guy I’d give a dramatic series to. In some ways, the feature length motif doesn’t cater to his work and it almost seems we’re missing out on the really magical moments by seeing these particular slices of life.
It may just be that The Groomsmen is a smaller work that doesn’t fully resonate, but there’s the seed for something larger here. In some ways this film is representative of Burns’ career at this stage; so much promise just around the corner.