Send me a dozen donuts with a DVD in hopes I’ll review it? Thanks, but no thanks. The film wasn’t really worth it — though the office staff loved the donuts. But send me a DVD titled Marie and Bruce? That gets my attention. Thanks, Genius Products. I’m there.
It starts, of course, with the name, since my name also is Bruce. Can’t help it, but it’s not as common a name as, say, Bob or Bill, and it’s a name I’m proud of (Bruce Wayne, Bruce Lee, Bruce Springsteen–a noble line), so I always perk up. But in this film’s case, it was more than my name that drew me. It was also that of Wallace Shawn.
I’ve loved the guy ever since My Dinner With Andre, which he also co-wrote and was one of the finest films ever for those who cherish great dialogue in films (The Graduate, anyone?) over today’s mindless action and painful slapstick. I’ve also loved him for the quirky roles he’s played in The Princess Diaries, Clueless and Woody Allen’s Manhattan (as Diane Keaton’s nerdy-but-somehow-dynamically-sexy ex-lover). He’s so ordinary, which is why he’s so real. And that voice. Toy Story just wouldn’t have been the same without his lovably panicky T Rex, Rex.
As for Marie and Bruce, he’s not in it, but he wrote it, and that’s good enough for me. And though the film is a slow go and seems to go nowhere, it’s a darkly funny and distinctly different comedy about two married people who somehow stay together despite a maddeningly disconnected relationship.
Marie (Julianne Moore) is a stay-at-home New York City housewife who does nothing but take showers, silently despair and loudly complain. She often rails against stodgy, bookish Bruce (Matthew Broderick) because he’s so damn dull — and he is, enjoying banal conversations with pal Roger (Bob Balaban) about tedious historical topics and constantly repeating things and calling Marie “darling” without the slightest bit of romantic passion. (BTW, Griffin Dunne and Julie Hagerty also appear.)
Their life careens from home to a party to each restlessly roaming city streets to Marie having a trippy dream life straight out of a David Lynch film. In the process, you see in these characters a helpless desperation (Marie) and dogged devotion to routine (Bruce) which somehow offset and balance each other, enabling a status quo of bizarrely self-perpetuating togetherness.
Now, be cautioned. Marie and Bruce is doubtlessly one of those movies you’ll either love or hate. I loved it for its twisted POV toward marriage and Shawn’s strange dialogue, in which a distraught Marie’s jabbing punctuations are balanced by Bruce’s deadpan, unperturbed persistence. (Both actors are excellent.) But you may not feel the same way. After all, your name may not be Bruce, for starters, and you may resist opening up to films which are acquired tastes.
Also be advised that this film carries the stench of failure. It’s based on a play Shawn wrote 30 years ago, it was was shot by director Tom Cairns in 2003, it was unveiled at Sundance in January of ’04 and at Cannes four months later, it never played theaters, and it’s just now reaching DVD — which is to say, any exposure — in the USA.
Yes, you can call it almost unmarketable. You can also call it Bruce. And you can also call it brave enough in a formularized film world to be, without question, different.