Marriage Material

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Marriage Material
"Oran Zegman uses the language of romantic comedies to create a playful atmosphere and persuade us that, one way or another, everything will work out in the end. Then she pulls the rug from under us."

Have you ever screwed up a romantic relationship by saying too much, or by saying it too soon? As soon as Leah (Gwen Hollander) begins her meticulously planned musical marriage proposal, you'll know it isn't going to end the way she hopes. This isn't the first time, either. Her parents are relieved when she agrees to let them drop her off at the retreat, pleased that she's finally ready to make a few changes - because, as it is later explained, one just can't be Jewish and single.

It's easy to recognise how one might be making mistakes, but just how far ought one to be ready to change in order to attract Mr Right? Leah is told almost straight away that she's 'too alpha'. She needs to learn to let men take the lead, to smile more, to take care of day to day tasks on their behalf, to lie flat on her back to have sex - and, of course, not to have sex a all until she gets that all-important ring. This we learn through a series of musical routines which, together with the fierce charisma of leader Yenta (Laura Gardner), effectively establish the atmosphere of a cult. It is, nevertheless, a situation in which the initially wary Leah is willing to give ground, because she's so anxious for the promised prize.

Director Oran Zegman uses the language of romantic comedies to create a playful atmosphere and persuade us that, one way or another, everything will work out in the end. Then she pulls the rug from under us with a final act as bleak as the original Stepford Wives. Bright, sparkling and candy-coated, her film paints a devastating picture of what all too many women are willing to give up for love - not even a particular love, but the perfect socially approved love they're told they deserve. This isn't a new theme, of course. Its power lies in how it's delivered.

Musicals lend themselves to the surreal. This is no glittery-costumed, empty-headed show - Zegman has gone back to the roots of the genre to find something much more powerful. The increasingly coordinated, parallel behaviours of the dancers takes on a more sinister aspect as the story progresses, but it's the look in the eyes of the brides that will haunt you.

Reviewed on: 04 Dec 2019
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A thirtysomething woman checks herself into a retreat which promises to take less-than-perfect women and transform them into 'marriage material'.

Director: Oran Zegman

Writer: Oran Zegman

Starring: Gwen Hollander, Laura Gardner, Diane Kelber

Year: 2018

Runtime: 25 minutes

Country: US

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