Starring: Andrew Gurland, Eugenia Yuan, Adrian Martinez, Deborah Teng, Charles Debold
Reviewed by Jeremy Silman
Rating (a 1 – 6 scale): 5
It’s a sign of the times to see people showing little or no reaction to extreme violence and human suffering on a massive scale (the harsh realities of war and the casualties it brings, or natural disasters), yet blanche in the face of the embarrassing foibles that make up the true human condition. Mail Order Bride
doesn’t candy-coat romance. It doesn’t bring on a gag reflex by talking about the "triumph of the human spirit.” In the real world, love doesn’t conquer all. And, when push comes to shove, people are more often than not self-serving, egocentric, and demand a certain set or morals from everyone but themselves.
This dark little comedy, in classic mockumentary style, sets us up with hopes of the usual facile but feel good happy ending (e.g., girl finds bad man, girl is saved by good man, they live happily ever after) and then pushes our faces in something that’s extremely uncomfortable: reality. Man hating his fellow man, and man doing whatever it takes to get what he wants, isn’t the stuff of dreams, but this kind of look in the mirror can – once we get over the hideous image looking back – prod us into laughing at just how silly we all are.
Let’s take each of the three main characters and, after a bit of head scratching, you’ll realize they are all Joe-everyman:
Adrian Martinez leaps into the role of Adrian Martin with relish. An unrefined, unattractive, lonely, sexually "depraved” man who works as a doorman in Queens, Adrian decides that the way to find a mate is through a "mail order bride” agency. Such agencies are a dime a dozen nowadays, and usually traffic in Russian or Asian women. The agency in the film (Paradise Girls) has a minor role in the actual match-making process: they supply a list of women looking for husbands, and the suitor writes to them and hopes to create some kind of connection.
I find it funny to see how many people look at these agencies as morally reprehensible. Yet, after voicing their righteous anger, they sit down in front of their computer screen and spend hours exploring their dating service, chat room, or simply jump right to porn.
The very beautiful Eugenia Yuan is magnificent in the role of Lichi, a young Burmese woman living in extreme poverty that would (and does) do anything to improve her situation. Adrian writes to her, using such catchy pickup lines like, "I’m in the security field, own a house and drive a Cadillac El Dorado.”
Lichi writes (in heavily broken English) something to the effect of, "I walk to market, my sister sold as sex slave to pay parent’s bills, I eat pig sometimes.”
Ah, love is in the air!
We’re finally left with Andrew Gurland (playing himself), a filmmaker who owns a nice apartment, has money, and possesses some sophistication.
Let’s sum up: A glance will tell us that Adrian is not very likeable (and his later actions make him even less so), Lichi is a helpless victim and must be saved, and that Andrew will be the hero who will save her from the Adrian troll.
But is this sugary view of how things should be real? Snap out of it! Each character has his or her agenda, and each is true to it (even if it ultimately proves counterproductive to their interests).
Does the discovery of Adrian’s non-mainstream sexual desires make him a bad person? Not at all!
Lichi willingly entered into a relationship with Fred Flintstone. Is she really the innocent girl looking for her Prince Charming? Only in fairy tales!
Andrew is smart, successful, and full of himself. Is he a hero? Only in his own mind!
We might view these characters in many ways, but rest assured that they view themselves as "right.” One of my favorite conversations in the movie puts this into perspective. Andrew to Adrian: "You disgust me.” Adrian retorts, "You disgust me too.”
Ultimately, Mail Order Wife
is funny, extremely well acted, and at times somewhat disturbing if you’re unable to laugh at yourself. If you are looking for a feel good movie, this probably isn’t for you. But if you’re looking for laughs, surprises, and moments of delicious discomfort, you’ve come to the right place.