Andrew Gurland's Mail Order Wife exposes documentary egos
Issue date: 10/14/05 Section: Entertainment
Fahrenheit 9/11, Super Size Me, Born into Brothels... There is a disturbing trend in filmed documentaries, now more than ever, where the obvious topic at hand does not seem to be the subject, but the director. The only phrase for it is "bleeding heart filmmaker," an egotist whose primary aim does not seem to present a document to the world but to puff up its presenter, so that he may receive a few pats on the back for presenting his subject so selflessly. (The irony goes several levels deep.) Michael Moore is a perpetrator and a popularizer of the concept, but he is not its creator; it may be as old as the documentary itself. These films admittedly have their own sense of entertainment and thoughtfulness, but one would be hard-pressed to deny that it does get annoying sometimes.
Acting as something of a casual antidote to this trend is Mail Order Wife, a sometimes brilliant mockumentary (thinly disguised as a normal documentary), which, of course, doesn't even come close to examining its purported subject. Andrew Gurland, a pompous documentarian who has "accomplished many great things" in his life, turns his camera on Adrian Martin (Adrian Martinez), a pathetic, overweight doorman from Queens who has decided to invest his time (and the filmmakers' money) in a mail order bride. When Burmese bride Lichi (Eugenia Yuan) arrives upon our shores, Andrew starts bringing up questions as per Adrian's intentions (is she a bride or a housewife?), and the husband jealously shuts the documentary down. Some months later, Lichi tires of Adrian's treatment, and rushes to the filmmaker's aid; while Andrew pats himself on the back for doing the right thing, he himself becomes enthralled with the woman, and drops everything else from his life to accommodate a sexual relationship. All seems to be blissful (beyond tiptoeing around Adrian, anyway), but as Andrew and Lichi drift apart, the project becomes what can only be described as a "stalkumentary," with Andrew using the film as a petty excuse to obsess over Lichi and perhaps salvage his own self-image on camera.