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Mail Order Wife

A documentary filmmaker pays for a lonely New York doorman’s mail order Burmese bride. In exchange, he gets to document the couple’s experience in the spirit of cinéma vérité. What happens when the proverbial “fly-on the-wall” starts to have feelings for his subject?

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While found footage has become synonymous with horror and mockumentaries about fake musical artists, Mail Order Wife demonstrates how the format can tell an altogether different story. The IRL directors Andrew Gurland and Huck Botko – and, yeah, it gets a little confusing because Gurland also plays the film’s fake documentarian – use both a familiar story and a somewhat gimmicky device to examine issues of race, ethnicity, class, and gender politics. How many other films can do all that and still make us laugh? The filmmakers more or less obliterate the fourth wall in their meta-meta-meta-storytelling techniques, which should intrigue all the film school nerds out there. And just to add one more layer of complexity, Mail Order Wife features a memorable cameo appearance by controversial baseball star Jose Canseco.

As documentary filmmaking becomes more a part of our everyday lives through social media, directors will need to explore ways to incorporate this type of storytelling into their own works. While this film was made before the age of Instagram, the directors clearly understood the growing impact of cameras on human behavior. Could this film serve as a model to future directors who want to depict characters who are self-aware of the omnipresent cameras in our society? Or is the documentary format here too niche to work outside this specific narrative model?

More often than not, viewers expect films to explore social issues in a certain format (Oscar bait biopics, serious dramas). Yet comedy can actually be a more effective way to explore the nuances of a specific issue without hitting the audience over the head with a message. Does this idea apply to Mail Order Wife? Were the filmmakers trying to pose thoughtful questions about the broken immigration system in the United States? Or were they simply using a cultural trope to tell a goofy story in a somewhat unique cinematic format?

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