If you’ve seen previous Edward Burns comic dramas about troubled romance and strained friendships, you’ve pretty much seen his latest, “The Groomsmen.”
Writer-director-star Burns expands to a bigger ensemble than he used in his debut “The Brothers McMullen” and such follow-ups as “She’s the One” and “No Looking Back,” but the result of this wedding and reunion tale is largely the same.
Boys in grown men’s bodies whine about the difficulties of pairing off with women. They whine about a world that expects them to step up and commit to something. They whine about family and friends not living up to their expectations. Then they whine about everything they haven’t whined about yet.
Through it all, there are genuine nuggets of wisdom, insight, clever comedy and warmhearted pathos. But as in life, you have to suffer through a lot of down time in “The Groomsmen” to get to the good stuff.
The groomsmen of the title are four pals and relations of Paulie (Burns), who’s about to wed his pregnant fiance, Sue (Brittany Murphy, co-star of Burns’ “Sidewalks of New York”).
Set during the week before the nuptials, the movie follows the antics and anxieties of his best man, brother Jimbo (Donal Logue), and the others in his wedding party: single cousin Mike (Jay Mohr), married buddy Dez (Matthew Lillard) and T.C. (John Leguizamo), who left town years ago and returns to rekindle old friendships and quarrels.
Once best friends, Mike and T.C. have serious baggage to work out between them after a rift years earlier. Married but unable to stick to a job, Jimbo’s drifting into middle age with harsh resentment over the seemingly perfect life younger brother Paulie is building. A bar owner aching to relive the glory days of his youth, Dez stands in as referee among his chums while coping with his own growing pains as a husband and father.
Burns, who hit a career high with the little-seen 2002 crime drama “Ash Wednesday,” has a real knack for capturing authentic neighborhood ambiance. A scene in which the five friends stroll and chatter drunkenly into the night — one knocking over garbage cans, another scolding him and setting them aright — feels so real in sight, sound and tone that you want to throw up your bedroom window and call down for them to shut up (or rush outside and join them for a shot or two of whiskey).
But so much of what comes out of their mouths is insignificant malarkey masquerading as self-important melodrama.
Paulie’s wedding jitters ring particularly false. The other characters have real issues and reveal weighty secrets, while Paulie truly does have a great life beckoning yet can’t seem to stop griping about it. Burns’ typical whiny delivery makes it even harder to empathize with Paulie.
Logue is eminently believable physically and temperamentally as Burns’ brother, Lillard shows an even-keeled man-child side of himself that’s a nice counterpoint to the goofy big-kid roles he’s known for, and Leguizamo’s warmth and wry humor elevate a character whose interpersonal crises feel dated.
The pleasant surprise is Mohr. His character starts as something of a hometown caricature of an adult still living with his dad, but Mohr infuses Mike with soulful sweetness and sadness that keeps growing right to the end of the movie.
You’ll end up liking Mike more than expected, and maybe wishing he and his buds had a more likable movie surrounding them.