MAIL ORDER WIFE (2005)
Starring Andrew Gurland, Eugenia Yuan, Adrian Martinez, Roland Uruci, Deborah Teng, Norman Goodman, Dt. Mark Brenner, Merritt Janson, John Salvatore, Floy Bossinas, Kavin Napier, Krista Gall, Jonny J. Peterson, John Gramaglia, Avram Ludwig, Huck Botko, Stephanie Gurland, Tania Trikha, Paul Thornton, Oro Benzriheim, Samuel Lisenco, Bruce Hall, Dan Johnson, Like Geissbuhler, Charles Debold, David Meyer and Jose Canseco.
Screenplay by Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland.
Directed by Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland.
Distributed by First Independent Pictures. 91 minutes. Rated R.
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.
It’s 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.
The 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.
The 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.
The 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.
All 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.
In a 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. (2/05)
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2005 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: February 17, 2005.