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<i>Newlyweds</i> Lets $9,000 Go a Long Way

For $9,000, the most underrated auteur of his era, Edward Burns, made his newest film. That's universally unheard of in modern cinema.
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In this era of an economic downturn, that may seem like a lot, but what can it really get you? A couple months of rent in the city? A few semesters at college? A 1996 Chevrolet Corvette?

For $9,000, the most underrated auteur of his era, Edward Burns, made his newest film Newlyweds. That's universally unheard of in modern cinema. That sum alone probably takes up most film's budgets on the craft service table. Burns, who has aggressively been promoting Newlyweds through social media and word-of-mouth, has made a fantastically low-key picture for only four figures. If James Cameron operated within a $9,000 budget, he could have made Avatar 26,333 times.

In the director's tenth feature, Buzzy (Burns) and Katie (a breakout performance from Caitlin Fitzgerald) are, you guessed it, newlyweds. After each has had a failed previous marriage, the two tie the knot in haste and are gloating in their honeymoon period way past the honeymoon. They believe their relationship works because of the old adage "absence makes the heart grow fonder." He's a personal trainer by day and she works in a swanky restaurant at night. They barely see each other, and by their calculations, that's the reason they're so happy. And it keeps their sex life fresh, too.

They meet once a week for brunch with another married couple, Katie's sister Marsha (Marsha Dietlein) and her husband Max (Max Baker). These two have been together for 18 years, have a child away at college and are the perfect foil for the newlywed's wide-eyed view of holy matrimony. Their marriage is dissolving rapidly and neither seems to mind. Being around the kissy-faced couple doesn't seem to help, either.

Buzzy and Katie's quarrel-free existence is soon interrupted by his half-sister and wild child, Linda (Kerry Bishe). She has flown into New York unexpectedly from Los Angeles and takes up residency in the couple's apartment. Her motive for being there is to find her now married ex-boyfriend who left her 10 months ago and win him back. When rejected, the already vulnerable Linda tries to find love and acceptance anywhere, including in the bed of Katie's deadbeat ex-husband (Dara Coleman).

At the center of Newlyweds is how Buzzy and Katie, the perfect couple who avoided clichéd problems in a marriage, must now actually deal with, what could be their first real problem. Buzzy is obligated to step into a patriarchal role when Linda starts wreaking havoc on everyone's lives and Katie wants nothing to do with her. Burns plays careful attention to the slow, but urgent evolution of the newlyweds being forced into unfamiliarity. They're so used to their own isolated routine and now they have a 20-something with no regard for anyone else living with them.

Newlyweds uses a faux-documentary approach to advance the narrative, and, although it's an oversaturated device, it works well here. We get characters breaking the fourth-wall for their confessionals, offering quips and explanations for further insight into their thought process. He used this same technique in his best film, Sidewalks of New York, but that was with a well-known and established cast. In Newlyweds, the actors are all relatively unknowns and it makes the breakaway interviews more like The Real World and less like The Office. That's a good thing. Kudos to Burns for taking advantage of this; last year's Sarah Jessica Parker film, I Don't Know How She Does It, tried the same thing and failed miserably.

Burns often gets compared as "the poor man's Woody Allen," and with Newlyweds, that's literally accurate. Both filmmakers are New Yorkers seduced by the material their city gives them. They hone in on the complications of relationships, rely heavily on sharp dialogue and explore dark material with humor. Burns has obviously been influenced by Allen, but his films don't pay homage, they tweak the formula.

No disrespect to one of the greatest living filmmakers alive, but in Burns's defense, his characters are inherently more relatable. While Allen likes his characters to be intelligent creative-types, quoting Freud and using the term "Kafka-esque," Burns goes for blue collar realism. His characters in Newlyweds talk about laundry, oral sex and Starbucks. They are modernists in touch with the way the world has become in 2012 -- not stock protagonists that can be plugged into any era.

If I were Burns, I'd be honored to be compared to Allen at all, rich or poor.