112_Weddings_Dogwoof_Documentary_Heather_Bachelorette_Photos_4_800_450_85Documentary filmmaker Doug Block, whose previous credits include 51 Birch Street and The Kids Grow Up, revisits selected couples from the 112 weddings he filmed over 20 years as an official wedding videographer, in an attempt to discover what happens when the party is over and what married life really means.
The successes of the numerous wedding-based reality TV programs, BBC3’s Don’t Tell The Bride and C4’s My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding to name just two, prove the strong public interest in weddings as a subject, particularly in a “reality” context. Perhaps this is surprising, given the 50/50 success rate of modern marriages, a statistic touched upon in Block’s rather tentative exploration of the contemporary relevance of the institution. There is still something voyeuristically attractive about weddings and marriage, even more so in a contemporary setting where such traditions are seen less and less as socially essential. For some reason, as Block states in voice-over narration, “It’s hard to resist getting swept up in it all”. Romantics will be satisfied by the weepy brides and first dances; cynics by the bagged eyes and strained smiles of many of the couples revisited after ten+ years of marital bliss.

Block applies his intimate filming style to a rather overworked subject. With nods to the performative branch of Cinéma Vérité, he probes into the lives of his subjects, who respond with generous honesty, giving up deeply personal, and often painful, details of their lives. Block’s gift for extracting such delicate information, an invaluable quality in any documentary filmmaker, is evident in his voice behind camera, and in the eyes of his subjects. This is an intimate film in all aspects, and there is a tangible bond between filmmaker and subject that warms and relaxes the viewer into their voyeuristic position.

Yet, around the half way point, the film begins to drag as Block’s overarching neutrality towards critiquing marriage as a concept, which we are led to believe will be the purpose of the documentary, makes the film’s intrigue end at the inevitable charm of observing the nuances of human behaviour in relationships. Maybe this is why the movies always end with the “I do”; married life is rather mundane and tiresome, apparently even to those in it. The participating couples represent a tiny proportion of the married population, with most, bar one gay couple, being conventional upper-middle class families, the sort who hires a videographer like Block in the first place, possessing similar attitudes towards life and marriage.

Perhaps this is because, unsurprisingly, all but two of the couples that eventually divorced were willing to participate. Perhaps Block’s evident respect for his subjects kept him up on that fence, approaching but eventually steering clear of any definitive statements. Either way, viewers looking for any new insight into the mysterious world of married life will be disappointed. The humour, too, is rather lackluster, not enough gypsies or pint-chugging-wedding-planning groomsmen. A well composed, charming little film, but one that leaves you rather unaffected.