The Groomsmen

on July 14, 2006 by Tim Cogshell
Paulie (Ed Burns), a 30something writer, is struggling with the idea of his upcoming wedding to his very pregnant girlfriend (Brittany Murphy). Is he ready? Does he want to give up his freedom? How will his life change? Meanwhile, his older brother (Donal Logue), who is against the marriage, is behaving erratically as his own marriage seems to be falling apart. Prodigal friend T.C. (John Leguizamo) has returned for the wedding after an abrupt departure and several years of incommunicado absence. He is immediately at blows with cousin Mike (Jay Mohr) over a long-ago slight that seems childish but really runs to deeper issues. For symmetry, a third childhood friend, Dez (Matthew Lillard), is a paragon of reason in a Black Sabbath T-shirt. The one-time rock 'n' roll wild man (who still talks of getting the band back together as he teaches his sons '80s classic rock) has become a family man who runs the local pub, waxing on about fatherhood as he dispenses good advice and makes the peace between old friends and brothers. He's the grown-up they're all trying to become, for those who aren't paying attention.

"The Brothers McMullen" (1995) was Ed Burns' debut as an auteur filmmaker; he wrote, directed and starred in the Sundance favorite, establishing himself as the frank voice of the New England everyman -- a sort of young Bruce Springsteen with a camera instead of a guitar. Burns has made seven movies since then. And all of these films are fundamentally the same. They are about guys derived from the same culture that Burns comes from, each dealing with the vicissitudes of becoming a certain kind of man. This usually has to do with the importance of their relationships with other men -- men like themselves -- and women, as an afterthought or concession. The problem with Ed Burns' films is that the growth of the male characters that populate his movies -- from the adversarial Brothers McMullen to brothers and friends in "The Groomsman" -- has been limited by a strict interpretation of what it means to be man. An Ed Burns kind of man. Here, he would like to have them grow up, and to some extent they have. They are less homophobic, or at least aware that they are homophobic. But mostly they still call each other mean-spirited names and threaten fistfights. They still whine about their relationships with their parents, their work and each other. They still vacillate over committing to the women in their lives. They eventually choose to evolve -- a little. They then give each other a hearty hugs and have beers.

All of this happens in "The Groomsman," as it has in all of those other Ed Burns films. Burns is hardly the first auteur obsessed with his own zeitgeist, but there is a diminishing return in this, so one hopes "The Groomsman" will finally finish it up. Starring Edward Burns, Donal Logue, Jay Mohr, John Leguizamo, Matthew Lillard and Brittany Murphy. Directed and written by Edward Burns. Produced by Edward Burns, Philippe Martinez, Aaron Lubin and Margot Bridger. A Bauer Martinez release. Comedy/Drama. Rated R for pervasive language and brief nudity. Running time: 99 min

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