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September 22, 2006

The ultimate 'method' acting

Marriage contest comedy is hysterical--with no script, only characters

Ah, marriage. That most holy of institutions that the religious right declared all-out war to protect. Immortalized in films ranging from Father of the Bride to The Wedding Planner.

That spectrum is a lot more impressive if you’re thinking of the Spencer Tracy Father of the Bride from 1950.

Hollywood, however, has a habit of revealing the darker side of nuptials, and as for later in the marriage, one might as well throw oneself off a bridge. Michael Douglas in Fatal Attraction was far from a model husband.

Thankfully, the British, traditionalists that they are, have sent over a film that elevates weddings to the status they truly deserve: Monumental pains in the keister that somehow are truly worth it if the couple really loves each other.

In Debbie Issitt’s new film Confetti, a low-budget mockumentary in the vein of Christopher Guest’s oeuvre, three couples with varying levels of commitment to each other compete in Confetti magazine’s contest to see which has the most original wedding concept. The winning couple gets a £1 million house in which to start their new life together.

Confetti’s owner Antoni Clarke (Jimmy Carr, host of Comedy Central’s Distraction, in his first acting role) and editor Vivienne Kay-Wylie (Felicity Montagu) pick an interesting array of couples: two overly-competitive tennis players, a naturist and his fiancée, and a seemingly normal couple who want their wedding styled after a Busby Berkeley musical.

Helping them along are Archie Heron (Vincent Franklin, The Bourne Identity, Vera Drake) and Gregory Hough (Jason Watkins, Tomorrow Never Dies, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason). Heron & Hough, as they are known professionally, are more than just wedding planners. They are wedding gurus, whose only desire in life is to see the couples’ dreams made manifest so their happy day will be one they will remember for the rest of their lives.

Their partnership carries over into their personal lives as well, since Heron & Hough are perhaps the most perfectly-paired couple in the film.

Along the way, of course, there are bumps in the road, minor little setbacks . . .  For instance, the naturists want to be nude in their wedding. Okay, the groom wants to be nude, while the bride, who may be comfortable running around naked in front of other naturists, isn’t really all that keen on giving every person at her wedding the “full monty.”

The male tennis player doesn’t really think he’s worthy of his bride-to-be, and winds up in a fistfight with their tennis coach, who he believes is a little too hands-on when it comes to his fiancée. Heron is forced to subdue him, saying, “You don’t grow up gay at a public school in the north without learning how to take care of yourself. The next time, I’ll break your arm.”

As for the Hollywood-musical couple, all of their problems are external. They love each other dearly, but the fact that neither can really sing isn’t helping their plans. Nor is the bride’s sister, a dancer on a cruise ship who is trying to muscle her way into being the evening’s choreographer; or her mother, who argues with Heron & Hough over every detail as if it were her own wedding. And the best man’s choice of songs leave a bit to be desired as well.

Adding to the competition is something going on more or less behind the scenes:

All of the actors are improvising everything. The film has no script. They are living their characters, with little or no knowledge of what the other actors are doing when they are not in the room.

Issitt shot over 150 hours of documentary-style footage for Confetti. She brought together a set of comic actors whose work includes films with director Mike Leigh--another advocate of ad-libbing, although not quite as free-form as this--The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, The Office, Shaun of the Dead and Peep Show, which is currently showing on BBC America.

What Issitt accomplishes is something truly remarkable. She put together a completely coherent narrative out of people living lives that are not theirs, and all of the characters, whether likable or not, are believable comic figures.

In true British fashion, of course, the one couple that doesn’t squabble at all are Heron & Hough, who also get the happiest ending.


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