Max Baker

Newlyweds (2011, Edward Burns)

Newlyweds is an exceptional disappointment. Not really because of the concept–upper upper middle class New Yorker whining–or the execution–Burns has his actors speak into the camera, the characters giving interviews–but because it’s always shaking and Burns, as writer and director, always takes the worse path. Newlyweds is a what happens, at least as far as Burns’s script, when you make bad choices. Every single time.

The film opens with titular Newlyweds Burns and Caitlin FitzGerald out to brunch with her harpy sister, Marsha Dietlein, and her sister’s miserable, sexually frustrated (all because of Dietlein) husband, Max Baker. Burns goes out of his way to make Baker as gross as possible, and Dietlein as mean possible. The audience is supposed to be annoyed with Baker’s whining, but they’re supposed to hate Dietlein. She’s such a prude she doesn’t want to listen to Burns’s comic retellings of he and FitzGerald’s problematic sex life (it’s all FitzGerald’s fault, of course).

No slut shaming though, because they’re prudes. All the slut shaming is for Kerry Bishé, who shows up immediately following the introduction, as Burns’s long lost little half sister. Burns, writing himself possibly the shallowest role in the film–he really uses those into camera interviews to sidestep narrative responsibility–and Bishé had a bad dad, which has nothing to do with the film. It’s just there for immediate sympathy (not for Bishé, because she’s always being slut shamed, but for Burns). Bishé’s exceptionally traumatic visit all gets to serve to make Burns into an even better guy. Bishé’s shit out of luck.

Along the way, Baker hooks up with a twenty-three year-old girl (Daniella Pineda), Bishé hooks up with FitzGerald’s ex-husband (Dara Coleman), and chaos ensues. But it does give Burns the chance to write FitzGerald as a harpy in training and himself as a male savior. A sensitive male savior to some degree, but not much of one.

The worst thing is how much FitzGerald and Bishé appear willing to try to make this movie work, Bishé especially. And her performance is a mess. Burns and editor Janet Gaynor cut magic with every other actor in the film–Burns berating Baker is legitimately hilarious, regardless of Burns’s irresponsibility as a writer, and the walking shots (everyone basically walks from scene to scene Newlyweds, in William Rexer’s nicely lighted Manhattan) have great cuts–but Bishé’s editing is awful. Once the script gets around to revealing all her secrets, it’s like the editing is designed to make the audience sympathize less and less.

But, to some degree, everyone’s pretty good. Dietlein has a terrible, shameful part, but she plays the hell out of it. Burns has to double down on her being awful because otherwise it means he’s got the film wrong. And he does have it wrong. FitzGerald’s good, Coleman’s kind of great, Baker’s a cartoon (as opposed to everyone else’s caricatures). Even Burns, as an actor, is really pretty good. He’s mugging a little, but the rest of his cast isn’t, which provides an interesting contrast.

He just can’t seem to figure out how to direct his script, because it’s a bad script. He can make the movie–the actors work, Rexer and Gaynor are great, P.T. Walkey’s music is solid–but he can’t direct this script. There’s no relationships. Burns intentionally starts the film with these characters having no apparent foundation.

I wish Newlyweds were more pedestrian, because then it wouldn’t be such a disappointment. Burns really should’ve worked a little bit harder on the writing, because everything else is there.

I mean, if he’d actually been able to sell Baker as a legitimate character… the sky’s the limit. Though he probably wouldn’t have been able to sell him wearing a golf cap–Burns, not Baker–the whole movie. Did Burns have a golf cap company he was promoting or something?



Written and directed by Edward Burns; director of photography, William Rexer; edited by Janet Gaynor; music by P.T. Walkley; produced by Aaron Lubin, Burns, and Rexer; released by Tribeca Film.

Starring Edward Burns (Buzzy), Caitlin FitzGerald (Katie), Kerry Bishé (Linda), Marsha Dietlein (Marsha), Max Baker (Max), Dara Coleman (Dara), Daniella Pineda (Vanessa), and Johnny Solo (Miles).

Looking for Kitty (2004, Edward Burns)

After Ed Burns’s last couple films, I’d forgotten to expect something great from him. Looking for Kitty opens with a shot straight out of The Brothers McMullen, or at least a camera move straight out of it. Kitty also borrows a lot of the same music style and, watching the film, I kept remembering Burns’s low budget filmmaking tricks from McMullen and noticed them again in Kitty. Except Burns is a different filmmaker now and Kitty, which runs all of seventy-five minutes, doesn’t make a single mistake. A friend of mine used to say he wished there were short (he meant hour-long) features one could go see while waiting for a bus or a class or dinner. Kitty certainly shows off the possibilities for such a genre. Around the seventy minute mark, I got worried Burns was going to pad it out. Then he didn’t. Instead, he left it alone, let the story run its course. Structurally, it’s a lot like a short story. I’m not particularly sure I’d want to read the short story, but as a film, it works beautifully….

Kitty‘s strength, oddly, comes from Burns’s performance and his character. Back in his first three films, he let himself be the least dynamic (but showiest) actor, which changed with the next two; here in Kitty, he slowly lets the film be about himself, starting with it centering around David Krumholtz’s goofy high school baseball coach who looks like something out of a 1970s Folgers commercial. Once it becomes clear–probably in the first twenty-five minutes, but those twenty-five are amazingly well paced–Burns is actually the protagonist, the film shifts a little. It ceases to be a “mystery” and starts being a rumination on sadness. There’s one sequence in the film–the DV hurts it, but still–it’s wonderful and perfect and it’s when I realized I hadn’t even considered the possibility of Burns turning out another good film, much less a great seventy-five minute one.

The film’s visual tone, how Burns showcases New York City, is interesting, because–while his character continuously espouses its virtues–Burns the director frames his shots tight outside and big inside. The only time it ever feels like he’s doing a detective movie homage is when the characters are in the car, but even then, Looking for Kitty seems like another film, one where the grownups get to do what they wanted to do as kids (play baseball every day and be a detective) and have to deal with it. The friendship between Krumholtz and Burns is particularly nice, because Burns layers it right, paces it right.

If it weren’t for a few really great things–editing-wise, Looking for Kitty is absolutely beautiful. Some of the cuts in this film are breathtaking. Problematically, Burns doesn’t always have the right coverage (he’d probably do well to shoot American Graffiti-style, multiple cameras at once) so sometimes the compositions don’t match, but the editing itself is unbelievable. Anyway, if it weren’t for a few really great things, content-wise, I’d say Looking for Kitty‘s greatness came from its running time and Burns’s sense of how to pace a small story. But it does have a bunch–like six–really great moments and they don’t have anything to do with the running time… (one has to do with the story’s time, I’m not sure about the others).

But it’s a wonderful surprise (though it shouldn’t be, Burns’s really good early films tended to have significant dings holding them back–Kitty has none… and maybe not the time for them). I’m ashamed I didn’t see it until now.



Written and directed by Edward Burns; director of photography, William Rexer; edited by Sarah Flack; music by Robert Gary and PT Walkley; produced by Burns, Aaron Lubin and Margot Bridger; released by ThinkFilm.

Starring Edward Burns (Jack), David Krumholtz (Abe Fiannico), Max Baker (Ron Stewart), Connie Britton (Ms. Petracelli), Kevin Kash (KK) and Chris Parnell (Guy Borne).

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