Living in a Movie

Josh Freed’s “Five Weddings and a Felony” paints a damning portrait of post-college life

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“Was it clean?”

This was my mother’s reaction when I told her that Josh Freed filmed one scene of his debut documentary, “Five Weddings and a Felony,” in our basement. I assured her that no one had hooked up there that night—at least not until the camera was turned off.

“No,” she said. “I mean, was the basement clean?”

My mother isn’t the only one I know who fretted about the movie, because every member of my immediate family appears on screen in “Five Weddings.” The second segment of the film centers on the engagement and marriage of my brother and sister-in-law. My sister-in-law’s sister, Paulina, is Freed’s main love interest. And near the end of the movie, I speak to the camera for about 30 seconds.

The film is a first-person documentary about one summer in Freed’s life. Over the course of a few months, he attends five weddings of his high-school friends—including my brother’s—while trying to sort out his own complex love life. The movie involves Freed shuttling from wedding to wedding, flirting with Paulina, hooking up with attractive Jewish women and losing himself in a maze of Portnoy-esque insecurity.

The movie goes a little heavy on the Jewish male neuroses and but it’s compelling because Freed portrays himself and his friends honestly and unapologetically. He does this by turning his life into one huge movie set, filming many of his interactions that summer, including conversations with friends, dancing at the weddings—even some pillow talk.

More than anything, throughout the movie, Freed fails to overcome his own irresponsibility. And though he has insisted time and again that the filming process did not affect any of his life choices, I can’t help but think that the movie drove the filmmaker’s lack of deliberative judgment. By filming his life, he removed himself from it. By sticking a camera between himself and his friends he turned them into characters, so that when he hooked up with one and then flirted with the other—or when he slept with Paulina, but failed to love her—he didn’t feel like he was hurting anyone real.

But Freed is not alone in his detachment from life and the responsibility that comes with it. People in his situation—20-somethings with a college degree and no attachments—are told both that they must settle down and that this is a time for them to explore. Near the beginning of the movie Freed points out that this is a “typically mixed message from baby boomer parents to my generation: Explore, take advantage of the transformed world we brought about for you, figure out what you want—but in the end, please do what we want you to do.”

The film works because Freed represents a whole class of people—Jewish or not—who have yet to traverse into adult life. Told by their parents that they could be whatever they wanted when they grew up, they’re living another decade of adolescence, free to make mistakes and not yet bound by demanding careers. Commitment freaks them out because they haven’t ever had to commit.

During my star turn in “Five Weddings,” I’m sitting in a bar advising Freed on his relationship issues. That wasn’t our first time meeting up to drink and talk about life. At our previous get-together, I remember that I was the one who was scared to confront marriage, success and adult responsibility. In a sense, we were having the same conversation, except that the roles were reversed.

But it wasn’t the same conversation, because now I had the camera in my face. When I talked, I wasn’t talking to Freed but to the red light shining in my eye, listening to my words to make sure that I was articulate and maybe even funny. It’s possible that I would have given my friend the same advice had I been speaking off the record, but I have no way of knowing.

And at the time, it seemed like it didn’t matter. After all, we were out of college, in our twenties and living in a movie, so our problems could only feel so real. But they were real. And after the camera turned off and the movie played, that’s all that we had left.

To find out more about “Five Weddings and a Felony”–including times and dates of future screenings–visit www.fiveweddingsmovie.com or like the film’s Facebook page.

Ben Sales is the editor in chief of New Voices.

One Older Response to “Living in a Movie”

  1. Rachel
    December 8, 2010 at 1:18 pm #

    I think he definitely made decisions based on the movie. After all,he didn’t know how to end the movie even while making it. But it was while watching film with Paulina that he decided to get back in touch. So, they started talking again and he went to that last wedding with her. I won’t give away what happens, but anyway, would he otherwise have gotten back together with her?
    He could have either come up with something boring about being by
    oneself and figuring things out that way. Or he could grace the audience with Paulina’s cuteness again. I definitely think he made the right decision stylistically, but let’s be honest: he made the decision for the movie.

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