This post is part of a series called Bad Movie Breakdowns. For more click here.
Marriage Retreat, one of the best examples of a Cheesy Christian Comedy. This movie has a lot to discuss from its overacting to its bizarre scenes that leave viewers scratching their heads to that ridiculous baby bump prop. The good news is that this movie actually has a lot of potential as it (sort of) attempts to grapple with an important topic for Christians. It is also actually funny although often not for the reasons they wanted it to be.
There is no better place to start when breaking down a film than the beginning. The beginning of this film is a real doozy featuring lots of narration and rather blunt and cheesy attempts at humor. Here is the first scene:
Mark here is apparently quite chilly for some reason. This is obvious because of the way that he has dramatically wrapped himself in an overly large blanket and periodically acts like he is shivering or something. What is not obvious is the point of the whole scene. There is never really an explanation for why he is so cold other that the fact that it might be intended to be a heavy handed metaphor for the state of their marriage. Subtlety is going to be a big problem for this film and this scene is a great example of that. Writers need to stop treating their audience like little children and and employ some wittier humor that is clever and makes people think. The only thing to laugh at here is how silly the whole scene looks.
Then there is the age old problem of narration. The choice to force feed info to the viewers. Again, trust that the audience is intelligent and show them the story rather than telling it. I am not watching this so David A. R. White can read me a book.
On the plot side of things there is really no explanation for this scene. Why is he cold? What is so important about 43 days? We may never know.
Let’s watch the narrator explain the other characters to us:
The loud record scratch sounds are definitely not necessary. There are also a lot of better ways to introduce characters and backstory than to narrate over flashbacks. Add to that the fact that this backstory is pretty silly. It does not really help us to understand these characters. Is each of these couples going to be mad about one little thing? Surely the marital issues could be fleshed out a little more. The narrator still sounds like he is telling a story to children, “and then one day.”
The characters and stories just get worse from here:
Oh boy, where do I start with this one? Tommy Blaze’s acting? Asian stereotypes? Not one but two record scratch noises? Cheesy puns? or my personal favorite, typing furiously on a keyboard while ostensibly playing online poker.
An aside: I might be being overly picky here but I find the use of the phrase “on the other side of the coin” distracting. It should be used when contrasting two opposite or at least different persons, points of view, etc. Here it is used not because these two men are being contrasted but apparently because the writers thought it sounded clever. I’m sorry but I couldn’t let it go. Attention to writing details is important.
We’ll finish this post with Mark’s explanation of the problem with his marriage:
There are some of the same issues here but this clip isn’t actually that bad. Mark and Claire’s conversation in bed is pretty well written dialogue that explains some of their issues. Mark’s joke about kids growing up is even kind of funny and delivered pretty well. It is still basically unexplained why this conversation set them off into a spiral of non-communication for exactly 43 days or why this has anything to do with the house being so cold. We also have to see more of David A. R. White’s sad attempts at acting cold (body language acting skills can really set apart a quality actor) But this is one of those parts of this movie that shows potential and could have been more developed. I would suggest opening the movie with this conversation and then expanding the characters and their issues through meaningful dialogue. Instead we get force fed narration, silly jokes, and caricatures in place of characters.
The introductory scenes of movies are very important because they set the tone and lay a foundation for the plot. Movie creators should be very careful when crafting the beginning of their film for this reason. I cannot stress enough the importance of quality character development and showing rather than telling. These are basic writing tips that must be used in order to set your film apart from the sea of cheaply produced nonsense that is already out there. Marriage Retreat’s opening falls flat but hopefully others can learn from their mistakes.
Here’s some bonus content for you:
Yes that is a real still from the opening credits and no I do not have any idea what is going on there.