Though the title had me suspecting, only the pivotal conversation of Marriage Material confirms that Emily and Andrew are not, in fact, married. That’s not a spoiler — one could have learned it from the description as well — but it made for an especially deep viewing experience: the film presents these two only within the framework of their relationship, one whose boundaries seem to receive a slight push even before this conversation ensues (because they do not have a baby, while they’ve taken care of their friends’ for a day). To learn they aren’t married when this new subject comes up gives it an especially significant resonance: although Emily isn’t ready for a baby at that moment, she is ready to be on the right track.
It’s material that’s been examined many times before, by treatments far different than the kind given here: marriage seems a special staple of an older generation’s movies from time to time, and yet, all those Hitchcock heroines and earnest Jimmy Stewarts or Cary Grants never quite got to sitting and have a conversation about the potential — the potential alone — in the way these two do. What leads to it is a fixed setup, to be perfectly honest — Emily and Andrew hardly have anything else to talk about — but even this comes from the film’s special blend of minimalistic realism: one can tell that these are real people, in the same way that sense of what their conversation will be about comes through simply placed, but never quite overt, details: Emily’s own talk with Kris places the babies subject at the fore with an especially gentle touch.
Elsewhere, the film’s magnificent sense of openness leaves a greater impression: each of its frames are static, wide ones the characters are free to move within and outside, while keeping a sense of balance and composition: the dog stretched across the bottom of the couple’s conversation is a lovely framing touch, while his movements sometimes look coordinated with their pauses. These and others are details that couldn’t have been planned, and still they fit right in: breaths of life flow within the confines of this small story, animating it beyond the range of its subject — giving what can be seen and the people within alike a depth beyond the roles they’ve been assigned.
In technical terms, it could be called naturalism; the film makes its own inner reference to the films of Béla Tarr while being wholly grounded within the sphere of digital indie-ness. And yet, while director Joe Swanberg and his cohorts have always placed an emphasis on making films without apology, the results rarely come so clear of defense mechanisms. Down to the performances, Marriage Material is different: as every director without funds knows, everyone is born to play at least one part (themselves) — a notion these actors one-up by being utterly convincing in their roles, without a single “like” or “um” to deflate the benefits their spontaneity provides.
Although it looks easy, what’s inside and outside the frame meet so naturally only once in a blue moon. That the finished product is under feature length is a tribute to its quality (a subplot and further introductions could stretch it out, but would also destroy it); that it has been made available in such a manner is a true gift.
You can watch the full movie here:
Marriage Material at IMDb