Sunday, January 15, 2006

Mail Order Wife (2005)

An interesting satiric lark -- a mock-liberal-condescension documentary that spins itself out to be a slashing satire on the liberal-condescension impulse. In its favor, it has the language of documentaries down cold (better than most mock-docs, really), and the only the eventual absurdity of the plot betrays this as a sham. Otherwise, it's impressively straight-faced. A lot of credit for this goes to the actors, who inhabit their roles not as roles but as the real-life portrayals they should be. Eugenia Yuan is especially praiseworthy in this regard (the "pig" scene is a highlight). The film, also, is unafraid of being off-putting or uncomfortable, which is where much of the humor and the thematic weight comes from -- the "filmmaker" becomes obsessed with saving the title character from her unfortunate beau but can't see himself as the same kind of monster he's ostensibly fighting against. As it unspools, though, the plot gets increasingly loopy and the film becomes less of a commentary on narcissism within the documentary impulse and its relation to truth and more of a standard meta-movie. Not that meta-movie shenanigans aren't amusing, but there were more interesting things happening here than that. It feels like the filmmakers ran out of inspiration and didn't have the balls to craft the kind of non-ending this film deserved, so they started slinging in-jokes until they found a false non-ending. (Best in-joke: the featured presence of Huck Botko's parents.) Still pretty good, but the overt stalker-comedy of the last half-hour negates/deflates the edge-of-creepy darkness of the film's main body. Oh well.

Grade: B-


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