A Quiet Little Marriage
IFC Films // Unrated // $24.98 // August 31, 2010
Review by Tyler Foster | posted September 26, 2010
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In a sense, filmmaking is the easiest of the major modern art forms. It doesn't take much more than ambition, time, and some cash to buy a camera and shoot something. Whether that something is good or not is another story entirely, but there's very little stopping people, especially today, from creating a YouTube epic if they have the drive to do it. On the other hand, I'd also say that compared to music, painting, sculpture, whatever, filmmaking also takes the most planning, foresight, and coordination to pull off properly. Unless the director shoots the entire thing improvised and handheld themselves, you have to figure out blocking, lighting, pages, times, actors, marks, and more, and that's just shooting a single scene. If you're a professional actor, and you have other actor friends, the means to organize such a thing become infinitely easier, but the need for a definitive vision is no more or less important.

A Quiet Little Marriage is a film written by Mo Perkins, Cy Carter, and Mary Elizabeth Ellis. Ellis, probably the most famous, has a recurring role on "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia", which stars her real-life husband, Charlie Day. "Sunny" has also had roles for Jimmi Simpson, who plays one of the slimy-looking McPoyle brothers; Melanie Lynskey, who is both known for "Two and a Half Men" and Heavenly Creatures, and is Simpson's real-life wife; Cy Carter (credited as "guy"); and Lucy DeVito, Danny DeVito's daughter. All of these people show up in some capacity in Marriage, which feels less like it sprung from a specific idea and more like everyone involved had the time, energy, and means to make a film, and said, "let's do it!"

Ellis stars as Olive, with Carter as her husband Dax. The two host frequent dinner parties with their friends (including Day and Lynskey), and Olive, seeing how happy her friends are, decides it's time for she and Dax to have a baby. Dax is reluctant and pushes the issue aside, more concerned for his brother Jackson (Simpson), who has obvious drug and alcohol problems, and the weight Olive carries around already in the form of frequent visits to her Alzheimer's-afflicted father Bruce (Michael O'Neill), but the thought hangs over Olive's head. One night, while the two are drunk and about to have a fling, she takes a safety pin and pokes a hole in her diaphragm, but Cy finds out unbeknownst to her, and starts crushing up birth control pills and sticking them in her morning coffee.

It's an interesting scenario, but Perkins, Carter and Ellis don't have much about it they want to say. As they bring up on the commentary, as a trio of newlyweds, they all had a shared interest in how a married couple co-exists within a space, and there are elements of that mixed in, as well as some thoughts on Alzheimer's and family, but there isn't really a clear arc that ties the whole thing together. The best movies are like a well-oiled machine, where every part has a purpose and those parts motivate other parts into doing their purpose, and so on and so forth, like a circular, repeating domino effect, but A Quiet Little Marriage, as watchable as it is, is a series of loose-ended ideas assembled into a loose story.

As a showcase for the cast's talents, it works a little better. Ellis gets to do plenty of emotional gymnastics, but the role is quite maudlin and doesn't use any of the acerbic wit or charisma she shows on "Sunny". Carter has a little more to do, and shines when recalling a semi-tragic childhood memory. Surprisingly, though, it's Simpson who makes the most impression. He's an intriguingly creepy-looking actor who seems untrustworthy even when he's playing good people, and his twitchy brotherly bond with Carter is impressive given that he doesn't have much screen time to develop it in. Thanks to his character, A Quiet Little Marriage arrives at an interesting and relatively surprising conclusion, but the film still doesn't amount to much more than a skillful experiment, like a warm-up exercise before the real deal.

The cover for A Quiet Little Marriage is quite misleading in that it uses a picture of its stars that also happens to contain, right in the middle, two people I'd say are slightly more recognizable than Ellis and Carter (those being Day and Lynskey). Since these two characters don't even play that much of a part in the movie, I'd be willing to venture it's a bit of a bait-and-switch on IFC's part, as if they want you to think the movie is about these two couples. The rest of the cover has an appealing, clean design. No insert in the case, and as usual, no artwork on the inside front cover.

The Video, and Audio
At first, this 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation looks quite good, with strong colors and good detail, but getting a little closer reveals the limitations of the image. The biggest problem is jagged edges; it's as if the image has been slightly stretched beyond its original size for the sake of the presentation, and it's visible almost everywhere, especially in people's hair, and the lettering of the opening credits. If you're sitting at a distance, the transfer will probably look solid, but if you have a larger screen or sit a little close, these limitations will probably be visible.

Dolby Digital 5.1 is fine. As with seemingly every movie I watch, there's a limit to how much stuff that calls upon the surround channels going on, so the whole 5.1 experience seems pretty limited, but the track is perfectly adequate for the movie. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing and Spanish subtitles are also included.

The Extras
Apologies in advance, but A Quiet Little Marriage comes with a quiet little audio commentary. Perkins, Carter, and Ellis sit down to chat about the film, and they're clearly not comfortable with the commentary process, talking almost reluctantly, as if they're afraid they're interrupting the movie. It also doesn't help that Carter doesn't seem to be miked, as his comments are at a volume level of 1, right around the volume level of the original film audio. Most of the comments cover the fast shoot, minimal budget, and how the screenplay drew upon their own lives. Shocking! Unless you loved the film, you can safely skip this track.

The only other extra is a featurette (6:57), labeled "Making Of" on the menu and nothing more. It's a brief reel of B-roll and candid on-set footage that's pleasant but forgettable.

Trailers for Once More With Feeling, The Waiting Room, French Film, Mercy, and I'm Gonna Explode play before the main menu. An original trailer for A Quiet Little Marriage has also been included.

If you're really, really interested in seeing what Ellis is up to, or you're such a mega-fan of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" that you can't bear to miss anything that has the participation of multiple cast members, I suppose you could give this a rental. It's a low-key effort that has equal potential to be looked upon as an extremely minor exercise of the cast and crew's filmmaking muscles, or the first step towards something more substantial the same team will create in the future.

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