'112 Weddings': Sheffield Review

Dogwoof Pictures
Is there life after marriage?

A wedding video director tracks down some former clients in this engaging documentary about the highs and lows of long-term matrimony.

The premise for Doug Block's slight but charming new documentary is so brilliantly obvious, it seems surprising nobody has attempted something similar before. After almost 20 years of shooting wedding videos as a money-making sideline, the New York-based director had the inspired notion of reconnecting with a bunch of former clients to interview them about their subsequent experiences of married life. How did their dreams turn out? Are they still together 5, 10, 15 years down the line? Can young love survive the long haul?

Made with backing from HBO and the BBC, 112 Weddings looks glossy and slick. Full of gossipy confessionals, awkward body language and knowing glances to camera, it should be an easy sell to audiences accustomed to reality television. Following its European premiere at Sheffield Doc/Fest earlier this week, it opens in U.K. theaters this weekend. Later this month it screens at AFI Docs in Washington DC and Nantucket Film Festival in Massachusetts.

Intimate family dynamics are a recurring motif in Block's work, exposing the marital secrets of his own parents in 51 Birch Street (2005) and exploring his complex feelings towards his daughter in The Kids Grow Up (2009). But 112 Weddings is a lighter and less personal film, with a heart-tugging but banal message about the power of love. Intercutting between contemporary interviews and archive wedding clips, in places it feels like watching a feature-length compilation of the real-life married-couple vox pops that punctuated Rob Reiner's classic 1989 rom-com When Harry Met Sally.

The prevailing tone is bittersweet, but more sweet than bitter. A pair of New Age hippie types renew their non-marriage ceremony after 13 years together, replacing free-love idealism with more traditional wedding vows. A comically uptight American husband visibly squirms when his much younger Korean wife cheerfully confesses to marital tensions. And former bar-hopping Brooklyn hipsters appear amusingly shell-shocked by the heavy workload of new parenthood: "Sleep deprivation ... that's a form of torture in some countries, right?"

But there are darker stories here too, including one deceptively upbeat couple whose daughter is living with a life-threatening illness, and another whose child was diagnosed with learning difficulties. A little surprisingly, most of the interviewees remain together many years later, though there is one heartbreaking saga of infidelity and divorce in the mix.

The most dysfunctional case study here is David Bromberg, screenwriter of the 2007 indie rom-com Dedication, who admits to destroying his marriage in a crazed meltdown of prescription drugs and manic depression. Judged on his babbling, Willy Wonka-ish appearance, Bromberg's mental state remains fragile. His ex-wife Janice does not appear in the film.

Straying outside his archive of former clients, Block interviews a recently hitched lesbian couple and a young rabbi friend, who provides some of the film's funniest observations on the stresses of married life, particularly when money and liquor get involved. Block also gives the film a loose narrative spine by tracking the build-up to his latest matrimonial video stars, Heather and Sam Dodge, whose nuptials in the picturesque Montana countryside lend 112 Weddings a suitably sunny climax.

Set to jaunty music and smoothly edited into easily digestible morsels, 112 Weddings skips along so effortlessly that it sometimes feels like an upmarket cousin of America's Funniest Home Videos. Block plays on our emotions shamelessly, invoking both laughter and tears, though his ultimate goal appears to be fast-moving entertainment rather than serious insights. The social profile of his client base, mostly moneyed New York professionals, also leads to an inevitable narrowness of focus. But even if it lacks depth, Block's big-screen banquet of matrimonial testimonials is still a highly engaging proposition.

Production companies: Copacetic Pictures, Hard Working Movies
Starring: Heather Dodge, Sam Dodge, David Bromberg, Janice Caillet, Alexander Caillet, Yoonhee Roberts, Tom Roberts, Rachel Shapiro, Paul Shapiro
Director: Doug Block
Writers: Doug Block, Maeve O’Boyle
Producers: Doug Block, Lori Cheatle
Cinematographer: Doug Block
Editor: Maeve O’Boyle
Music: Jon Foy
Sales company: Dogwoof, London
Rated PG (U.K.), 92 minutes