Overlooked Film of the Week
Mail Order Wife
Do the names Andrew Gurland and Huck Botko mean anything to you? They are some of the most talented mockumentarians I have ever seen, and they are also some of the most dangerous. Around the time of "Jackass" and "Punk'D" and "Viva La Bam" and other shows of the nature, Andrew Gurland and Huck Botko were hard at work on their own brand of "reality" comedy. They would make "dessertumentaries" where they made fake documentaries about desserts. Except they weren't anything about cooking. Turns out Gurland had some bad blood with his relatives so he would make pastries with hobo spit in them or even sometimes heroine invested blood. His family would then eat the pastries with these mystery ingredients baked into them. They also made a mockumentary called "Broken Condom" where a man who feels he was manipulated into making a child with his wife shames her terribly for getting pregnant. I should mentioned that these movies are listed as comedies. Probably the most well known movie Gurland and Botko were involved in was 2010's horror film "The Last Exorcism" They wrote the script on that one, and were set to direct when they went to make "The Virginity Hit" instead, a mockumentary about a group of friends trying to get their virgin friend laid.
I never saw any of Gurland and Botko's early work, I did enjoy both "The Last Exorcism" and "The Virginity Hit.'' I do know that their work has been met with just as much hostility as it has praise. Their style of comedy isn't the typical slapstick stuff, nor is really offbeat. Its a dark comedy for people who are not easily offended. So it might be tough recommending a movie like this in the politically correct, SJW landscape we live in today. But I am curious to see what my audience would think of "Mail Order Wife."
"Mail Order Wife" is indeed a mockumentary. That is indeed important to note right before we get into a discussion of this movie. Its a complete fiction, just like the rest of Gurland and Botko's work. After so many mockumentaries and found footage films that have piled on top of each movie year, I think audiences get the idea of how fake these are. The days of "The Blair Witch Project" are over, and I think people understand that these types of movies are fake. They weren't always regarded that way though. In the early days of found footage, many people were fooled by the device. I read about a screening of "The Pourkeepsie Tapes" that took place at a film festival in Austin, Texas in 2007. The people who presented the film tried to sell the film screening as real, and when the audience found out that "The Pourkeepsie Tapes" was indeed fake, there was quite an uproar of negativity at the festival. I think a lot of the early Gurland and Botko stuff was met with poor word of mouth because people believed what they were seeing. So it should go without saying that "Mail Order Wife" is indeed fake.
It's also exactly what you think when you hear that title. A documentary crew gets the approval of Adrian (Adrian Martinez), a chubby doorman who is tired of living alone, to make a film about Adrian's purchase of an overseas wife. The documentary crew help with all the expenses of the overseas wife, just as long as they can film it. Adrian seems like the average Joe kind of guy, who genuinely tired of being alone. Soon, Adrian meets his new bride Lichi (Eugenia Yuan) at the airport. Soon, things begin to be weird fast. Adrian shows Lichi how he likes his toliet cleaned, how much ketchup goes into his chili, how he feeds his pet snake, and its not until Adrian tricks Lichi into a meeting for an eventual sterilization that she leaves Adrian and the documentary is shut down. Much like the duo's other stuff, this comedy has a very hard edge to it. There moments of this film that did make me laugh quite a bit, and other moments I was shocked to look at the screen. There is no tongue-in-cheek antics in most of the early half of the film, which makes this movie more shocking to watch. You don't know if you should be offended or laugh your nerves out.
Five weeks after the doctors visit, Lichi shows up at the documentary director's apartment (Andrew-played by Gurland himself). Lichi has a video tape and it plays like a creepy smug film and Lichi has been the star of Adrian's disgusting fetishes. You can see how Gurland and Botko were approached for "The Last Exorcism," while this is a comedy, there were moments that did just fill with dread. They walk the thin line of horror and comedy like its a tight-rope waiting to snap. Andrew is sympathetic toward Lichi and eventually they form a relationship.
But is Andrew a better match for Lichi over Adrian? Will Andrew be any different compared to Adrian? The film's grand metaphor is that loneliness is like a disease. And sometimes when we are desperate, we can walk all over people. When we feel power like we never have before, we can abuse it quickly. Its a great portrait of how being lonely can lead to disturbing behavior. Yes, there are some laughs, but I will warn that they are bitter laughs and I can't remember seeing a darker comedy in recent memory. It is truly one of a kind.
Adrian Martinez is somebody who you will recognize. He's been in "Office Christmas Party," "The Blacklist," "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," "Focus" and "American Hustle" to name a few. But this is the best work of his career so far. I will also say that Eugena Yuan is the anchor for the entire film and she carries this difficult material with ease. I can't even imagine telling an actor what they wanted Yuan to do in some of these scenes, I don't know how you begin to discuss it. But its clear she jumped fearlessly into this role and into this world, and the experience is richer for it.
"Mail Order Wife" is a poster boy for not being for everyone, but if you are in the mood for a dark laugh, this will fit the bill perfectly.