Mail Order Wife
There is a certain artistry to making a good mock documentary (or
mockumentary, if you will..., to paraphrase Rob Reiner's character Marty
DiBergi in This is Spinal Tap, the Citizen Kane of the art
form). If you play it too broadly, no one will buy it. If
you're too subtle, people won't get the fact that it's all a joke.
not an easy line to straddle, but the clever new comedy Mail Order Wife
(which had to change its name from Mail Order Bride to avoid
being confused with a Danny Aiello stinker from 2003) does it with aplomb.
The film plays it completely straight; it seems like a dry, academic
exercise in non-fiction filmmaking, however the situations quickly become
more and more absurd, eliciting chuckles as our three main characters take
everything horribly seriously.
concept is wonderfully simple. A documentarian (Andrew Gurland) agrees
to pay the expenses for a surly doorman from Queens, New York (Adrian
Martinez) to purchase a bride in one of those catalogues of foreign women
looking for American mates (and, more importantly, American citizenship.)
In exchange for paying for everything, Andrew is allowed to film the life of
the new couple.
woman who flies into this sociological film experiment is Lichi (Eugenia
Lichi Yuan), a seemingly shy and demure Asian woman who speaks no English
(or at least not that she'd let on...) It quickly becomes very clear
to Andrew that Adrian has no interest in love, he just wants someone to
clean his home and cook him chili. His idea of romance is to write a
note on a post-it saying "Don't cry" or "Keep stirring." Adrian and
Andrew have a falling out when Lichi is taken to a doctor to get her tubes
tied, an operation which quickly becomes obvious that she was unaware of.
Months later, Lichi shows up at Andrew's apartment, claiming that Adrian has
been forcing her to make sex tapes against her will. Andrew invites
her to stay with him and soon becomes involved with Lichi, too, bringing a
love triangle into play. Lichi eventually returns to her first
husband. Andrew's behavior becomes more and more unbalanced seeming,
to the point that he is basically stalking Lichi with his camera.
comedy comes in the more and more bizarre actions that the three find
themselves involved it. Both men fall for a woman that they don't
really know, and frankly don't particularly like. She can be
incredibly moody and obstinate, and is oddly fascinated with pigs. By
the time that they both realize that Lichi is not the innocent that they
originally assumed, it is too late. Both men have lost her and bond
together to seek retribution.
this is done with a wonderfully straight face. If you forgot this was
a comedy, you could be excused for thinking it is just the latest piece of
voyeuristic reality television. No matter how strange the twists and
turns that the story takes become, the three principals remain wonderfully
self-involved and unrepentant.
world where people sell out their deepest hopes and dreams for the
possibility of a little lens time, Mail Order Wife is a bracing
tonic. For anyone who has ever fantasized of living life before the
camera, this movie is a refreshing reminder of how stupid most of us would
look if we did.
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Posted: February 17, 2005.