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Winsor McCay -- The Master Edition

A new DVD offers an opportunity to see films by a master of animation —Andrea Birgers (DVD review...)

Gertie the Dinosaur, born of Winsor McCay

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As a documentary, Mail Order Wife is unethical, disturbing, and completely irresponsible. But as a black comedy, it’s acerbic, shocking, and very funny.

When you go see it, take a friend or two with you. Say whatever it takes to get them to join you, but make sure they haven’t read any reviews (spoilers ahead). You and your friends will see completely different movies.

Behaving Badly

Happy American couple not so happy
Happy American couple not so happy

You, of course, have read some reviews, or at least this one. I’m afraid it’s impossible to talk about Mail Order Wife without acknowledging that it’s a scripted black comedy made to look like a documentary.

Adrian Martin (Adrian Martinez) works in the real estate business. He owns his own car and he has a house. He’s a real American catch, or so he tells his mail-order bride-to-be, Lichi (Eugenia Yuan). Filmmaker Andrew Gurland (Andrew Gurland) is there to record the nuptials for the documentary we are apparently watching. Gurland agrees to pay for half of the expenses, an ethically questionable choice for a documentary producer.

After corresponding with Adrian for three months, Lichi comes to America, and begins her life almost immediately as Mrs. Adrian Martin. But Lichi is clearly uncomfortable with the situation, starting with the proper feeding of Adrian’s snake Chipwich, and continuing through his ketchup-and-beans concoction he calls “chili.” And after that, it’s not even funny what Adrian subjects her to, particularly for your friends whom you carefully haven’t told that this is all scripted.

Blair Witch II

It gets so bad, in fact, that Andrew, our filmmaker, steps in and tries to help Lichi. While Adrian is away, Andrew will come to visit Lichi, or even take her out on the town. After some time, Andrew arranges to move her out of her husband’s house and in with him, all without telling Adrian.

But Andrew, who has a girlfriend, falls for Lichi, and he proves to be no better a man for her than Adrian was.

There is a third act to the film that I won’t give away, but it involves more bad behavior from just about everyone involved.

Mail Order Wife was made cheaply, a look justified by its amateur-filmmaker premise, like The Blair Witch Project. It goes to show that given the right story, even a cheap-ass project like this can be entertaining, emotionally wrenching, moving, funny, all the things that a real, grown-up, multi-million-dollar movie can be.