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Edward Burns as Paulie
John Leguizamo as T.C.
Matthew Lilard as Dez
Donal Logue as Jimbo
Jay Mohr as Cousin Mike
Brittany Murphy as Sue
Jessica Capshaw as Jen
Spencer Fox as Jack
Shari Albert as Tina
Directed by Edward Burns
Burns has found a good formula for his coming-of-middle-age comedy, the most impressive part being the talented group of character actors who bring hearty laughs and more than a few touching moments as his "Groomsmen."
Paulie and his pregnant girlfriend Sue (Ed Burns, Brittany Murphy) are finally getting married, and Paulie's best friends T.C., Dez and Jimbo and his cousin Mike have got back together to be his groomsmen, but they also hope to reunite their old rock band to play Paulie's wedding. Each of them first has to deal with their own personal issues whether it be marriage, kids or dark secrets from their past.
At this point, New York filmmaker Edward Burns is far more prolific than his more experienced peers Woody Allen and Spike Lee, but he still isn't held in very high esteem, maybe because he doesn't have their same quirky personalities on-screen or off, and his charm and good looks often make him an odd purveyor of indie cinema, which is still usually associated with outsiders.
With "The Groomsmen", he approaches the romantic comedy genre from a different perspective than his earlier movies, paying heed to the knowledge that guys are often dragged to these things by their girlfriends or wives. With that in mind, he turns the tables on the wedding comedy, making it far more guy-centric. Before you go in expecting "Bachelor Party 2," there's far more to "Groomsmen" than testosterone-heavy humor, which is mainly why it's such a breath of fresh air.
You wouldn't be able to tell what's to come from the opening scene, as the five childhood friends from Long Island reunite in a local bar, getting drunk and talking trash as guys do. Getting that stuff out of the way before it turns into a sequel to "Very Bad Things," it quickly settles into a satisfying dramedy groove, that effectively mixes laughs and drama better than the many Hollywood formula movies that come across as schizophrenic in trying to find that perfect balance.
Pretty soon, it's getting all touchy and feely as the five guys try to deal with their respective fears, whether it be Paulie's worries about getting married or Jimbo (Donal Logue) and his concerns about his own wife's desire for children, because he already feels old. Instead of dealing with the situation, Jimbo hangs out in strip clubs and risks destroying his marriage when he almost goes home with a stripper, making him realize how bad things have gotten.
Meanwhile, John Leguizamo's T.C. moved away years earlier, but he has kept a secret from his friends for years, worried about how they might think differently of him. Even Matthew Lillard, best known as Shaggy from the "Scooby Doo" movies and similar comic relief, shows another side as the friend who is just way too excited about reuniting the band, almost to the point of being a cliché. He also has a touching moment where he's jamming with his two sons that shows how passionately he feels about his desire to "rock out."
Really, the most entertaining arc is that of Jay Mohr's Cousin Mike, an immature manchild who doesn't have a wife or girlfriend, still lives with his father and is fixated on his ex, to the point of embarrassing himself on a regular basis. There's a sadness to Mike's inability to deal with the reality of his situation, but Mohr brings a lot of humor to the character. Sure, it's a bit of a caricature, but you can only really laugh at Mike so long before you start feeling bad about his situation. It's a great counterpoint to Mohr's character in the overlooked 2004 romantic comedy "Seeing Other People."
Like most of Burns' movies, there's a lot of talking, a LOT, but he has to be commended for realizing that these four great character actors, more known for their comic relief than dramatic work, could pull off such meaty roles, showing they have more depth as actors than the characters they normally play. Each of them has a moment of enlightenment, the kind any guy over 30 has had to face at one point in their life or another, and they make them work.
As good as Burns' is at writing and casting his movie, he's a bit flat as an actor, and he tends to be the weak link in the chain, mainly because a lot of his scenes are opposite Brittany Murphy, who is far more annoying than any actress should be allowed to be. She isn't very convincing as a pregnant woman, mainly because she intentionally rubs her fake belly in every scene, as if to say "look, I'm acting like I'm pregnant." It's kind of a shame, because Paulie and Sue's relationship is supposed to be the emotional core of the movie, but the rest of the cast does enough to keep things afloat. Jessica Capshaw and Shari Albert offer some of the stronger female supporting parts to keep the machismo under control.
In some ways, Burns still isn't the most technically proficient director in terms of creating a visually interesting movie, but the poor production values, presumably a reflection of the low cost, rarely takes away from getting into the lives of these people, and Burns enough to capture each scene and performance in a way that doesn't distract with flashy camerawork.
The Bottom Line:
In a year full of failed attempts by Hollywood to create realistic characters and relationships, Ed Burns finds just the right formula to create a real-life dramedy that doesn't make you feel guilty for enjoying it. "The Groomsmen" is warm and it's funny, and it's Ed Burns' best movie in years.