By Susan Kandell Wilkofsky
The documentary “The Truth About Marriage” is a refreshing and often hilarious look at a problem that is not often addressed in our society.
Why are relationships — particularly marriages — so difficult to maintain? Why can’t we consult “the manual”? Probably because there isn’t one. Not even an app for it. (Hey millennials — that might be a good project for you to develop.) So, what’s an Emmy-nominated documentarian, filmmaker and editor to do? Roger Nygard set out on a quest to answer seemingly impossible questions: Why is marriage so hard? What can we do to improve relationships? He shares his expansive findings with a grateful audience.
Writer and director Roger Nygard is not a name familiar to most of my readers (yet), but I bet you’ll recognize his work. He is best known for his wildly successful documentary “Trekkies” and has directed episodes of popular television shows such as “The Office” and “The Bernie Mac Show.” You’ll often see his name on the credits of many eminently celebrated series including “Grey’s Anatomy,” “The League,” and Emmy-nominated episodes of “Who Is America?” and “VEEP” as well as “Curb Your Enthusiasm” as film editor. Quite a résumé!
After making the documentary “The Nature of Existence,” he searched for a new topic that, in Nygard’s words, “is even more inexplicable than existence itself: marriage.” He recognized that society encourages singles to become couples, but from that point, they’re on their own. Given today’s divorce rate, it’s painfully apparent that without some guidance, we’re ill equipped to deal with issues that inevitably arise. We’re not given any tools that would aid in the maintenance of a loving relationship, so often they fail. Nygard set out to solve the mystery of the happy relationship, and perhaps learn something that he could apply to his own life. Spoiler alert — Nygard is single.
He takes a comprehensive two-pronged approach; first, he exhaustively interviews dozens of experts in the field. We get practical hints and tips from renowned therapists, educators, matchmakers, relationship specialists and coaches, psychologists and marriage counselors. He even consults with his 100-year-old adorable grandmother (who makes a mean cranberry pie). Then he turns his attention to several friends/couples to discover what they’ve learned on their perilous relationship journey. As colleague Doug Williams and wife Ada state, “We call each other the ‘work in progress.’” Doug continues, “I do the work and she makes the progress!” Ada shakes her head in agreement.
It’s interesting to note that many of the experts consulted in the film are Jewish including Rabbi Lazer Brody, an Orthodox rabbi and a marriage counselor who translated “The Garden of Peace: A Marital Guide for Men.” Julie Schwartz Gottman, Ph.D. (author of “10 Lessons to Transform Your Marriage”) and John Gottman, Ph.D. (author of “Why Marriages Succeed or Fail”) also weigh in and offer concrete suggestions to the clueless.
One of the more entertaining couples interviewed are Don Blanquito (formerly Alex Cutler, a Jewish MBA from Los Angeles turned rapper) and his dazzling Brazilian wife Yasmin. Blanquito (a dead-ringer for actor Michael Rapaport) was the most single (and likely to remain that way) person Nygard knew. He learned to sing in Portuguese just to attract Brazilian women and penned songs with spirited lyrics such as, “I wanna be single forever, but I don’t want to die alone.” Seven years later, Nygard returns to Brazil and is astonished to discover that Blanquito is happily married and the proud father of a little girl. And then a little nugget of documentary gold is mined when Yasmin nonchalantly acknowledges a stunning revelation.
As a follow-up to the film, Nygard has written a companion book “The Truth About Marriage: All the Relationship Secrets Nobody Tells You.” The book is an essential primer for anyone who is thinking about getting married or would like to improve his or her current relationship. And that’s just about … everybody. You’re in luck — both film and book are being released on Valentine’s Day (apropos, no?). Perhaps this should be required reading in all high schools. Educators, if you’re paying attention you may want to add the fourth “R” to your curriculum — Relationships.
I met Roger last year when 3 Stars Jewish Cinema hosted the film at the USA Film Festival in April. He was in the middle of a worldwide tour, making the rounds of the film festival circuit with “The Truth About Marriage.” Charming and witty, he regaled the audience with tales culled from the filming process.
One of the things we discovered about him that day is that he’s single and available. So if there are any matchmakers reading this review, I can attest to the fact that he’s smart, accomplished, handsome and armed with a stack of relationship advice. Let’s assist him in meeting his bashert. He probably even knows what that means, having learned Yiddish while working with Billy Crystal. OK, so he’s not Jewish — but no one’s perfect!
The film is not playing in any local theaters, but you can see it in the comfort of your own home. The documentary will hit video on demand (VOD) Friday, Feb. 14 (iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Vudu … the usual suspects, then streaming platforms thereafter). The companion book will also be available on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble on that date.