In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it.
Originally posted on Cinema76.
“I’m 42. I should’ve been divorced by now,” laments Steve Markle who, after proposing to his long-term girlfriend on Christmas, has found himself single. Suddenly alone and well past the age when most people settle down, Steve is at a loss. He’s a weird dude with strange passions and an aptitude toward being awkward in social situations, and it’s been years since he has set foot in the dating scene. He is, as they sarcastically say, a real catch. But Steve is a creative guy, and he’s got a plan to reassert his romantic viability if it’s the last thing he does.
HIs plan? Shoot a documentary about his dating woes, and interview women from all walks of life to see what it is that they want from romance. And who knows? If he talks to enough ladies, maybe one of them will fall prey to his charms. Maybe he can emerge from this project with a new romantic partner. Maybe he can finally find that special someone who isn’t afraid to be weird, has a passion of her own, and generally has her shit together.
And is physically attractive.
And is of a specific age range.
Admittedly, the film begins in relatively problematic territory. This guy, no spring chicken, has a pretty large list of demands when it comes to seeking a mate. In addition to this criteria, his methodology leaves a lot to be desired. By telling this parade of potential paramours he’s making a film about “interesting women” he’s luring them in on false pretenses. And his narration, which doubles as his moment-to-moment internal monologue, often takes the form of him wondering if he should make a move on his current subject. While he’s not a threatening personality in any way whatsoever, there’s a skeevy feeling that manifests from this entitlement— one which could derail a documentary such as this one at the outset. However, this unnerving starting point is essential. The personal growth that occurs as the project develops more than earns the exploitative nature of the premise.
By taking this bold approach, Markle has brought something refreshing to the table. Namely, he’s put together an uncensored look into the mentality of a modern man — a member of a group that is routinely told to be in touch with their emotions, only to then be told that they can only do so in very limited and pre-packaged ways. As such, the inclination toward self-censorship ends up being a tool for repression. And as we all know, repressed emotions tend to manifest later in terrible, sometimes dangerous ways.
While on his mission, Markle meets a litany of creative and exciting women from all walks of life. He pays a visit to his elementary school crush, now married with kids of her own. He visits a controversial blogger who used online dating as a method for free meals. He spends time with a hat-maker, a tattoo artist, and a gun lobbyist (well, he gets stood up by a gun lobbyist). He visits a dominatrix, a professional cuddler, and even spends a day at sex club to see just what he’s missing out on with his lofty goal of a monogamous long-term relationship (I do have some misgivings about the way this one segment was shot — the club strictly forbids cameras, a fact that Markle ignores — but the fellow patrons are at least kept anonymous, and are not subject to ridicule). What all of this amounts to is a form of exposure therapy. By embedding himself into these situations with these commendably diverse people, and then forcing himself to review and edit the footage, Markle begins to learn that perhaps it’s not the outward forces of the world preventing his happiness, but rather his own approach to being social. Furthermore, maybe it’s his very definition of happiness, and his idea of what is required to attain it, that is really lacking.
While the honesty of Shoot to Marry is what gives it meat, the entertainment value is what gets us through the door, and front to back, this is a very entertaining film. Our protagonist’s weirdness is charming, and he always has a bit of self-deprecating, dry wit handy to punctuate the pity (and occasional resentment) we feel towards him. Clever editing drives home the punchlines, all of which are made at the expense of Markle, and never of his subjects. In this way, we end up with a comedy that finds humor in the broad, expansive definition of “the human condition” without casting judgment upon the many subcultures Markle finds himself dipping into. It forces us, the viewer, to go on a similar journey toward inward growth and away from outward judgment.
While I shan’t spoil the shape this story eventually takes, I must once again commend the openness on display. Very rarely do we get to see a man’s internal monologue, warts and all, out in the daylight. Shoot to Marry is proof positive that this vulnerability is the key to strength, and honesty, whatever form that may take, is the only surefire way to reach happiness.
Shoot to Marry is now available for digital rental and purchase.