Feature Narrative Reviews

Married and Loving It! (2020) – 4.5 stars

Director: Ryan McDonald

Writer: Ryan McDonald

Cast: Nicole Finney, Michael Solarez, Demetrius Daniels, Aimee-Lynn Chadwick, Ryan McDonald, Cheryl Holdaway, Cherie Julander, Devin Liljenquist

Running time:  1hr 26mins

As the everlasting war snakes into Europe for the first time in the 21st century, bringing with it the added frisson of nuclear annihilation, it might be hard to sit down and concentrate on a movie. But duty calls.

Ryan McDonald’s Married and Loving It! is a portrayal of a marriage. James Joyce in one of the fabulist sections of Ulysses dreamed up a tremendous religious character – Joseph the Joiner patron of the happy demise of all unhappy marriages. While watching the movie, I had the impression it had been blessed by the husband of the perpetual virgin – the marriage it depicts is, let us say, troubled.

The production credits make a big thing about the film being shot and edited entirely on the latest whizzy Apple phone – I am not an inhabitant of the Apple universe so that does not mean a lot to me. However, whatever the gizmo used to shoot it – Married and Loving It! looks good and the editing is superb.

As a filmmaker, McDonald is not afraid to take risks. The film is in five different sections – we are given one scene where the characters, simply named in the credits, as Wife and Husband, are played by Nicole Finney and Michael Solarez, followed by three others where they are played, in turn, by Demetrius Daniels, Aimee-Lynn Chadwick, Ryan McDonald, Cheryl Holdaway, Cherie Julander, and Devin Liljenquist. The final section is a melange where the four different pairs of actors are spliced together and interact as though they were the one couple. The action takes place in a middle-class American house on a day before the Husband and Wife are due to go holiday. The pair are shown in conversation which on occasion becomes bitter argument filled with vitriol. McDonald sets himself up for a difficult task to accomplish – but, for the most part, he succeeds in doing so.

In the third, and perhaps he movie’s strongest section, where the director takes the Husband role playing opposite Cheryl Holdaway, we move into some extraordinary sequences which demonstrate McDonald’s exceptional talent as filmmaker. McDonald gives us a view into the Wife’s interior world in which Holdaway acts out her, we assume to be, fantasies, as to various forms of violence she would like to inflict on the Husband. One of the fantasy sequences involves an astonishing piece of cinema that will stay with the viewer – truly memorable and beautifully worked.

In a charming and bombastic piece of promotion for the film, almost worthy of the late lamented William Castle, the director hails this last scene as never ever seen on film before. Or rather, he does not, because he actually uses these words to describe the movie’s final scene – which is, in reality, a mind numbingly banal ending which most of the audience would have seen coming. The trick is very much part of the film’s post-modernist feel – on a couple of occasions characters refer to some indy filmmaker filming us on his iPhone. Fabulously enjoyable.

The movie’s key strengths are the script and the acting. In some of the scenes, the writing almost catches on fire. The dialogue in the first scene is particularly impressive – the stand outs being – the Wife’s description of having to endure the unwanted attention of sexual predators when going to the gym and the Husband’s cataloguing of his aide memoirs for stimulation during masturbation – beautifully written and performed.

Meanwhile, the entire cast put in strong performances and the chemistry between the four iterations of the married couple certainly resonates. I was a little unsure of Solarez’s take on his character in the first scenario as he appeared to be delivering a TED talk to his partner and to us the audience, but I concluded that maybe this is how aspiring middle class American males actually do converse. The interplay between Daniels and Chadwick in the lighter, more relaxed second section is exquisite – many in the audience will recognise the theme where the female wants to converse about the meaning of and the various possibilities of sexual desire and the male does not. The powerful third section, contains spellbinding work from McDonald and Holdaway. McDonald gives us a believable, manipulative control freak, totally odious, while Holdaway does a fine job as the woman who refuses to be the victim.

Married And Loving It! is a remarkable piece of work but I found some elements problematic. The conceit is that we are seeing the same couple played by different actors and it is an impressive feat that McDonald manages to takes us with him – the issue I had was the contrasts between the four sections were too stark. Section one the couple argue but within the bounds of a strong relationship. Section two the couple fool around in a relaxed atmosphere. Section three is a descent into conjugal hellfire. Section four is back to a relaxed feeling where the couple discuss how they first met. I could have done with some more light and shade within each section.

One of my particular gripes – I really do not like segmentation. The director gives us a frame announcing each section as ACT 1 etc. with the title accompanied by an aphorism from a more or less famous person. The aphorisms are without fail banal and essentially meaningless. I am unsure whether they were made up by the director as a satire on pompous declarations about marriage or whether they are the real thing but watching the movie how can the audience tell? No matter, the flow of the movie and the effect is to break the intensity of our relationship as viewers with the couple and to emphasise the pretence of cinema – a bit of an unforced error in my opinion.

In the film’s climactic sequence, I got the feeling that McDonald had perhaps been seduced by the technological wonders of his device, to the extent that the decision to merge the four iterations of the couple together for the finale was a case of technological determinism – build it and they will come. Whatever the thinking behind the concept – it just did not cut if for me – it came across as heavy-handed and silly.

And the same goes for the idea of providing a trite very much mainstream cinema definitive ending for the movie. My earlier instincts were that the director seems to be a bold indy filmmaker – who has just provided us with a profound and at times explosive meditation on the weird endeavour of trying to live your entire life with another human – so I am confounded as to why that same artist would feel the need to provide an ending.   

While I had a few issues with Married and Loving It! McDonald has shown that he is unafraid to take on a huge amount of risk and to experiment – this is what indy cinema at its best is all about. So pretty near top marks from this reviewer despite the movie’s flaws. The director and their team should be proud of what they have achieved – look out for them in the future. And in particular, keep an eye out for any future work from Cheryl Holdaway – judging from this performance – a tremendously talented young actor.

3 comments

  1. Is this film a joke ? I’m laughing. My 4 year older is a better actor than anyone in this lol.

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