We are in love with the “Bridal Chorus,” with white dresses, with elaborate floral displays. People, especially women, are conditioned from a young age to work towards this. During his 20 years as a wedding videographer, director Doug Block has shot every imaginable variation on this fantasy as played out in real life. All of them seem like joyous, fun affairs, but that’s never any indication on how the relationships at their cores will work out. Curious about his clients, Block reached out to some of the more memorable pairs whose nuptials he documented. Eleven of them sat down to talk with him, and that forms the basis of 112 Weddings.
Clips of their ceremonies play alongside interviews with them in the present. The women look more haggard, the men have lost hair and gained guts and none of them are as bright-eyed as they were back then. They have thoughts, if not quite wisdom, to share on marriage. None of what they have to say is terribly eye-opening. In fact, every subject that the doc broaches was tackled more succinctly in the (fictional) interstitials that played throughout When Harry Met Sally. It’s hard work, kids change everything, sometimes you need a break from each other, blah blah blah, you know the score.
What the film doesn’t say about marriage is more interesting than what it does. I was intrigued by an idea that occasionally peeks into the subtext of what the couples are talking about. What purpose, precisely, does marriage serve in a world in which half of them end in divorce, and at a time when a lot of people manage to make do living together without any formal contract?
One particular couple, Janice and Alexander, originally had a “commitment ceremony” in lieu of a real, legal wedding because they looked into the history of marriage and disliked how it originated as a rite of ownership. But 13 years later, as Block joins them again, they share a different viewpoint. Age, it seems, has beaten the society-defying spirit out of them. When another couple discusses the benefits of marriage, all are advantages conferred upon such unions by the government, rather than concrete emotional justifications. Unintentionally, the movie gets at how institutions maintain a societal status quo. A lot of romantic comedies end in the chapel, and this is to the same end of reinforcing marriage as a norm. That fantasy of flowers and white dresses doesn’t exist in a vacuum.
112 Weddings is neither a dissection nor an interrogation of that fantasy. It indulges it. Although some of Block’s subjects have since gotten divorced, one couple in a quite upsetting way, the movie ultimately works to instill a reassuring feeling about the institution of marriage. Is that a bad aim? No, but there’s not much more to the doc than sappy sighs of contentment. Still, it’s scattered with lovely bits, most of them off-the-cuff remarks in the wedding tapes. It’s the special magic of home video. There’s value in the social play at such cultural touchstones, one of the few times in any given person’s life when all of their extended family is likely to come together. There’s a universality there that grants even the brief clips we see some weight.
Given that strength, I wish that the documentary had concentrated solely on the weddings themselves. It would be wonderful to explore the myriad ways different people act out the ritual, but doing so might require a more diverse group of subjects than Block’s clientele. 112 Weddings is like a cake that’s mostly whipped frosting — tasty enough, but weightless.
This review was originally published on June 30, 2014.