5 Weddings and a Felony

TRAILER

Five Weddings and a Felony is a nonfiction, mumblecore romantic comedy. Over-educated, underemployed twenty-something Josh Freed took his little Flip camera to the front line of modern courtship — his bedroom — bumbling and mumbling as he attempts to get laid and grow up.


When all else fails in your love life, film it.

A Rom-Com Documentary.


Josh Freed
Comedy, Documentary 76 min 2013

*3 Day rental, unlimited views

12 Recommendations
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I began making the film that became Five Weddings & A Felony when I was 24 as a courtship strategy to win over a woman I felt unworthy of, with no idea what I was doing, hoping just the fact that I was doing it would impress her. It (the film) was abandoned several times as I fled relationships I was afraid to commit to, but I kept returning to it because the women in my life just seemed so screen-worthy to me, and I hoped the footage might illuminate the mystery of why such beautiful creatures would ever be attracted to me. It didn’t. It shall remain a mystery. But over the 4 years it took to finish it, the film came to represent for me my slow march toward adulthood – as if only a complete document of all my selfish behaviors and irrational fears would allow me to move beyond them.

 

Doc NYC preview: ‘Five Weddings and a Felony’

 

 

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The inaugural DOC NYC film festival will take over New York this weekend featuring a program that mixes films by icons of the genre such as Errol Morris and Werner Herzog, with highly-personal shoestring efforts.

One film that fits in the latter category is Five Weddings and a Felony, a lively and intimate first-person confessional about first-time director Josh Freed’s confusing quest for a meaningful relationship. The doc will have its world premiere at DOC NYC on Saturday, Nov. 6 and screens again on Nov. 9.

Freed began shooting the footage that would become Five Weddings and a Felony to impress a woman he was trying to date. A graduate of Columbia University’s film program, Freed interned for filmmaker Barbara Kopple and later landed a job in 2007 as an associate producer on Very Young Girls, director David Schisgall’s documentary about child sexual exploitation in the United States. When production on that film ended, he continued working with Schisgall, producing web videos for Vanity Fair and editing an episode for the PBS’ news show Frontline.

At the same time, he was filming his burgeoning courtship of a woman named Katja, who, we’re told in the film’s accompanying narration, had written a screenplay with a big-time director and experienced the type of success in the film business that had eluded him.

When the relationship ended a year later in 2007, he turned his lens toward two friends who were planning to marry, Adam and Liliana (an Orthodox Jew and a devout Catholic), in hopes of restoring his faith in romantic love.

Around the same time, Schisgall began writing a screenplay and didn’t have any work for Freed. So, the aspiring director pitched the idea for a personal documentary about the trials and tribulations of his courtships. The producer liked the idea and provided Freed with a camera and enough financial support to allow him to sub-lease his apartment in New York and move in with his parents in Chicago to work on the film.

‘I think I had to make it because all these exes were getting married and I felt like I wanted to understand how they got to that point that was so far beyond me,’ says Freed.

In May, 2009 the film became a full-time project. He filmed his trips around the country to his friends’ weddings, and documented both a budding long-distance relationship with Liliana’s shy younger sister Paulina, and flirtations with old flames he’d find himself on the dance floor with various receptions. All the while, Freed’s constant existential self-questioning proved a seemingly insurmountable barrier to his own happiness.

When he returned to New York with the footage, Schisgall liked it and agreed to pay him a small salary to finish the film. ‘He was excited by the intimacy and the tenderness of some of the moments,’ he says. ‘There’s a scene in the kitchen with Paulina where we’re talking and I’m jealous and she looked at me with this tenderness. And I remember him telling me, ‘You know that look? You spend a lot of money and a lot of time trying to get an actress to give you that genuine look on camera and you got it right there.”

Freed shot half the film on a Flip cam and the other half on a few different high-def camcorders such as the Sony HVR-V1U HDV. By the time he was finished, he had 200 hours of footage, which he cut and re-cut with Schisgall providing advice not only as a producer, but as extemporized psychoanalyst. ‘Some times I would put a different scene in and he would have an insight into what was going on in a scene that I hadn’t seen in the same way or consciously understood,’ says Freed.

One problem inherent in the first-person diary film is the camera’s impact on the unfolding drama. Several times, his friends, girlfriends and family members would question the authenticity of his behavior in the heat of the moment, but Freed insists he never did anything for the sake of a good scene.

‘[The camera] does take your attention away a little bit and it’s hard to fully be in that moment,’ he admits. ‘But I think as I got used to it and my subjects got used to it, it got easier.

‘Finishing this film was a very important step,’ he adds. ‘Even if it gets bad reviews or doesn’t get any distribution, I finished it and I feel good about the storytelling and the characters and a lot of things in it. That’s going to help me along in both my career and my life.’

- Real Screen - Kevin Ritchie

 

DOC NYC Review | Jews in Love: "Five Weddings and a Felony"

BY ERIC KOHN

First-person diary films are usually a tricky proposition. When filmmakers turn the cameras on their personal lives, the results depend entirely on the creators' appeal. Most people have a hard enough time casting themselves in the daily ritual of life without the interruption of the record button. There's a certain amount of hubris necessary for anyone willing to repeatedly push that button, look directly into the lens, and smile. So when director Josh Freed's documentary "Five Weddings and a Felony" opens with footage from his bar mitzvah, followed by his adult voiceover explaining his lifelong obsession with "My Dinner with André," and then veers into his relationship troubles, it becomes quickly obvious that we're stuck with him. His ubiquity is at once a strength and a weakness.

With his handy Flip camera constantly rolling, Freed demonstrates a filming obsession on par with Doug Block, whose squirm-worthy family portraits make it difficult to look away even when they border on invasiveness. Freed also invades his own story and drags a few people with him. Haplessly drifting from one seemingly well-meaning relationship to another, he launches on a long-term search for love -- and for enough footage to complete his first movie. As he continually admires his friends' abilities to find their mates and settle down, Freed begins to resemble a man-child of the Seth Rogen order, apparently incapable of anything save for instant gratification. As director and star, Freed evidently acknowledges his annoying behavior and casts himself as a comedic anti-hero.

That means that the early scenes of "Five Weddings and a Felony" can feel somewhat irksome, but Freed eventually finds his way to an intriguing scenario by establishing a few recurring characters. Unsurprisingly, most of them are women. After one girlfriend nudges him in the direction of filming his love life, he begins capturing pithy disputes, massive throwdowns and even pillow talk. He also nabs some free advice from his therapist-mother and interviews a former flame. However, his journey doesn't really kick into gear until he falls for Paulina, the sister of a woman engaged to his old friend. With Paulina, Freed discovers someone willing to tolerate his possibly effeminate ways. Saving him from further aimless wanderings, she also saves the movie.

As the title implies, the structure of "Five Weddings and a Felony" revolves around Josh attending five weddings (none of which are his own) and encountering one felony (a friend, busted for peddling pot and forced to confront his fiancée about it). The appeal of these scenes comes from the ongoing Seinfeldian chatter that Freed and his friends constantly engage in. The result is a survey of his life.

Perhaps for this very reason, a colleague described the general tone of "Five Weddings and Felony" to me as "documentary mumblecore." Like many of the entries associated with the second word in that makeshift term, Freed's movie contains garrulous young white people endlessly babbling about relationship problems. That in itself calls into question the nature of the project: Freed's status behind the camera makes it hard to accept his behavior in front of it, and he becomes more an object of resentment than he probably intends. "You're an asshole because you're selfish," a friend tells him, acknowledging the recording device. Based on how we see him behave, it's hard to disagree, but in Freed's better moments, he retains enough charm to make the genre elements click. It's a D.I.Y. relationship comedy set in the real world.

Then again, I never saw a correlation between the qualities defined as mumblecore and modern Jewish mannerisms. Freed revels in his Jewishness, at one point drawing a strained parallel between the philosophizing in "My Dinner with André" and the ancient Talmudic arguments he studied in high school. Paired with the equally whiny personalities that dominate Freed's bubble, his feature amounts to a snapshot of urban twentysomething Jewish culture.

As it happens, through some of those same avenues, I'm in a serious grey area with my decision to review this movie. I don't know Freed, but I know people that do, including one who makes a brief appearance as the documentarian's old pal. That said, Freed's reference points rarely hit home for me -- that's a world I left a long time ago -- but it struck me that his camera goes almost too deep into a subculture of overeducated youth for anyone entirely removed from it to fully comprehend his particular blend of smarminess and self-doubt. His technique could be termed autobiographical ethnography: It probes the depths of young Manhattan Jewry and proves that, despite the nebbishy tics, they're just like us.

For audiences more intrigued by the larger ideas pertaining to romantic confusion, the movie has enough inoffensive soul-searching to sustain the overall narrative. At times amusing but sometimes quite glib, its entertainment value often lies at odds with Freed's charismatic pose. He's so overly confident that the story automatically gains some analytical points when someone puts him down. Those moments are too rare, but I find it valuable to note that while I won't call myself a major champion of "Five Weddings and a Felony," I'm impressed by the extent to which it undoubtedly entertains both its subject and anyone in sync with his sensibilities.

criticWIRE grade: B

 

 

- Indiewire - Eric Kohn