Judge Brett Cullum forgets—was this one of the things that took Superman's powers away?
Malcolm Caufield: It's a man filled with sand.
Matrimonium is a largely improvised mockumentary which attempts to send up gay marriage and reality television in one swoop. It's best described as Bravo's Boy Meets Boy meets My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiancé. Straight guy Malcolm Caulfield (Rick Federman, a recurring actor on Passions) is about to be cut off by his wealthy parents. He's an aspiring actor, so he decides his best option lies in going on a reality show, where he stands to win a million dollars if he can convince everyone he's gay and marrying another man. Unfortunately, things get incredibly complicated the minute he meets his gay groom, backwoods country rube Spencer Finch (Sandon Berg, Gone, But Not Forgotten). As their two families and best friends come together, the two contestants find themselves grappling with their sexual identities and how the reality television program effects them. Can a "gay for pay" groom handle the pressures of gay matrimony?
This project was developed by the dynamic duo of Michael Akers and Sandon Berg. The two men are a couple living in Hollywood. Together they have produced two movies, this one and Gone, But Not Forgotten. Michael directs, and Sandon stars in the projects. Matrimonium is the pair's first stab at comedy, and it aims very low from the start. They create a faux reality show brimming with rabidly shallow stereotypes, such as the strangely robotic host who only comes alive at the sight of a cue card, the vain straight guy who will do anything for fame and a buck, a backwoods homosexual who could add a lisp to the word "cracker," a wealthy set of parents who are more upset by a vest on their offspring than their son's sexuality, and a set of Southern relatives who admit to interfamily marriages and eating possum.
We're not supposed to get offended by these painful caricatures; they are part of the spoof and meant to be campy. Yet there's always something off with projects that set out to be bad on purpose. Susan Sontag wrote a great essay defining camp. She simply states camp should not be aware it is being inferior to be genuine. It should be delivered earnestly to work. The rub with a project like Matrimonium is it sets out to spoof reality television, and the actors are purposefully trying to be bad in the pretend show they are filming. On some level, it doesn't work when we don't care about any of these pretend people in a fictional show. It makes the satirical elements and the message about gay marriage lost in sea of obvious punchlines about fags and hicks.
Reality show spoofs can work, and even bite with wonderful intelligence. Series 7: The Contenders is a prime example. Unreal is a less successful one which still manages to skewer the genre. Matrimonium is at its best when we are looking at the zoned out hostess, or wading through the expected "talking head" reactions, obviously taped after the show. But can we forgive its lowbrow stereotypes just because it was produced by a pair of gay men? It's hard to tell how bad they meant this to be, but it's also predictable and not funny.
The DVD is fine for the movie. The film was shot on the cheap with handheld digital video cameras, so the image is clear and the colors work. There's a no-name stereo mix that gets the dialogue out clearly. Plenty of extras here, including outtakes that are far funnier than anything in the actual movie. The actors must have had a blast improvising their lines, and watching them go over the edge and crack each other up is better than watching the feature proper. You're offered a variety of deleted scenes. The commentary is lively, but I found it far too enamored with the project and the participants. The guys had a great idea, but the execution seemed lacking.
The world is full of gay stereotypes, and I didn't buy the ones offered here. Reality shows don't need to be spoofed; they seem to do doing just fine venturing in to the silly and ridiculous on their own. In the end Matrimonium proves real life is stranger than fiction, and movies can be a sad substitute for reality. When art stoops to the lows of broadcast television and broad stereotypes, it hacks at its own medium. Some people may find a laugh or two here, but I felt the movie was lacking any soul. But here's to hoping the filmmakers get it right next time. At least they had a good idea, and they're trying. I give it an "E" for effort.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: United Gay Network
• Commentary by Director Michael Akers and Actor Sandon Berg
Review content copyright © 2006 Brett Cullum; Site design and review layout copyright © 2013 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.