I consider Joe Swanberg a friend so while I don’t feel right giving his latest film “Marriage Material” a true “review,” I have no problem telling all of you that it’s available for free from January 16-31, 2012 on Vimeo. Joe and I have known each other for close to a decade and I’ve always admired his work. While some of what he’s made has really got me thinking, other films have left me a bit cold and ambivalent. Yet I’ve always liked the way Swanberg is trying to get at a small kernel of truth that exists in human relationships. Often the issues examined in his films are ones facing Swanberg in his life and since we don’t always share the same issues in our lives, topics he covers don’t always relate to me personally. This is not the case in “Marriage Material.”
His latest film is about a young couple (Kentucker Audley and Caroline White) who are asked to babysit their friends infant for a night. The parents here are played by Joe and Kris Swanberg and their son Jude makes his screen debut as well. As the “intrusion” of a child into the lives of the childless is prone to do, all sorts of interpersonal alarms bells are set off including keeping said child safe and alive, where a relationship stands, the responsibilities of having a child and, no one’s favorite, the biological clock ticking away. As a guy who has been married for over ten years and has a 4-year old, I can not-so-proudly admit that the mini-chaos set off by the topic of having a child is one that hit home for me. “Marriage Material” features a quietly intense centerpiece scene that any guy in a long-term relationship can probably relate with. The fact that I was watching other people go through issues and confrontations I myself had encountered dredged up some pretty scary memories from a few years back.
Swanberg takes a lot of flak for his prodigious output (this is at least his 16th film in seven years) and even more gripes arise from his explicit nudity and the overall talkiness of his characters. Although “Marriage Material” is talky, the scenes of dialogue add weight to scenes where characters silently go through their lives. There’s also no nudity on display here aside from a baby butt and a breast used for feeding. For film fans who have heard of Swanberg and the so-called “Mumblecore” movement, but have yet to see a film lumped therein, “Marriage Material” is a nice starting point. It’s short and to the point and I feel offers some insight that can easily spark a discussion amongst viewers.