That guy from Saving Private Ryan. That’s all I knew Edward Burns was until I saw his first film The Brothers McMullen. It was good for a first film, obvious in its auto-biographical content, highly indicative of a introductory film. His other films contained the same content; numerous characters struggling with life’s many problems and where they fit in. Burns’ films seemed to be trying to achieve the wit, depth and humor of Woody Allen, but continually straggle far behind in all respects. However, I do love his movies, and just today I finished The Groomsmen; containing a pretty good cast including Jay Mohr, John Leguizamo, Matthew Lillard, Donal Logue, Brittany Murphy and that girl from Brooklyn in You’ve Got Mail, Sheri Albert. Yet, like his other films there was something off, bordering on cliché and bothering me since it concluded.
Yesterday my friend and I went to an open-mic at some club downtown. As usual, some of the comedians were good, but most were terrible. One in particular told a joke that I believe is fittingly analogous to Ed Burns movies.
He says, “So my girlfriend gets mad at me because I fall asleep after sex. But that’s the point of my day, what else is there to do? Next day, I wake up and will pursue the same goal.”
Yes, I know, this joke is not funny at all. However, it does hold some potential. For instance, instead of limiting himself to the “me” of the situation he should have focused on the “us.” As in, while I fall asleep after sex, she does not, why is there a difference between us? And then he could have proceeded into an analysis of why there’s a difference in approaching post-sex activities from men and women. I don’t know what the joke could have been, that’s not the point. The point is that he limited the joke to his view, rather than a broader philosophical view; think George Carlin.
This is how I feel about Burns’ movies. Although they contain interesting subject matter, they never go deep enough. For example, Donal Logue’s character is introduced as an alcoholic, who’s temper is always hanging by a thread. Eventually, we discover that he is infertile, and because he feels his manhood has been called into question he has been exceptionally angry. That’s it. While Woody Allen’s characters contain of lot of depth and personality, Burns characters always seem to be extremely one-dimensional. Matthew Lillard is a Dad who still acts like a kid, John Lequizamo is gay and estranged from his father because of it, Jay Mohr is 35 and still living at home with no girlfriend or family. I can just see Burns playing a game of darts, corresponding a character trait to each number - 16 is gay, 20 is infertile, 11 is divorced, bulls eye is suicide and each script he writes involves just throwing a dart in order to choose his character's problems. In other words, there is no development.
Naturally I ask myself who writes these kinds of pictures? What kind of person so obviously avoids developing depth and personality? What distinguishes Woody Allen, or even Paul Thomas Anderson for that matter, from Edward Burns? The simplest answer I could muster is that Ed Burns is like my cousins. I’ll explain. My cousins are religious and successful individuals, who aside from life’s daily and typical problems, never really ask the bigger, existential questions or observe the absurdity and depth of other people. To them a gay is a gay, while to PTA a gay man could be Philip Seymour Hoffman who dresses in ridiculous clothes, and is obsessed with a heterosexual seventeen year old kid, enraged half-way through the movie on account of admitting his emotional sentiments. Ed Burns, on the other hand, seems like he would say, “He’s gay, and his father disapproves;” about as typical as you can get.
Regardless of all of this I will continue to watch his movies, and, in fact, I’ll continue to enjoy them. I feel as if they are the Terminator’s of the dramatic genre. You have Terminator and then you have Commando, you have Husbands and Wives and you have The Groomsmen.