“It is not possible to preserve one’s identity by adjusting for any length of time to a frame of reference that is in itself destructive to it.” Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique
Trying to be the perfect wife for the perfect man can be awfully difficult when perfection involves destroying your natural character, but it’s an effort Leah (Gwen Hollander) strives for in this musical short film, Marriage Material.
Having just been dumped by her boyfriend for an elaborate and excruciatingly embarrassing musical proposal, Leah has been coerced by her parents into attending a retreat for less-than-perfect women. This finishing school for single women promises to transform any woman into “marriage material”. Scrutinised as being “too alpha”, Leah must learn to soften her nature and be the submissive, cheery, Stepford wife clone every man supposedly wants.
The group of women in this self-improvement cult is taught the (literal) dance every woman must perform to win the eye of her husband. Through every step, they must plaster on a cartoonishly rigid smile to hide the sadness spilling from their eyes. Each test brings them closer to the final assessment – the date – where they’ll finally be told the final step they must take to fit their allocated partner’s perfect vision.
In classic feminine mystique fashion, Marriage Material covers up the darkly depressing theme of this short with an attractive surface level demeanor – music. Giving off Crazy Ex-Girlfriend vibes, plot points are declared through song, with plenty of sly jokes folded into the mix. The score is catchy and at times hilarious, with lead Hollander boasting an impressive Disney-Princess-style voice. Laura Gardner as the strict matron of this retreat shines with her subtly snide put-downs and “mother knows best” attitude, conveying everything through her smug crooning and arching eyebrow. Flowing between sprechgesang and chorus line surges, the performance of every piece was brilliantly engaging and enjoyable; so enjoyable, you almost miss the troubling subtext of the lyrics.
In the fabricated world of Marriage Material, marriage is the reference you must adjust yourself to fit and if successful “you’ll be yourself…but better”. Writer and director Oran Zegman masterfully merges hopelessness with dystopian cheer. Repressing horrifying themes deep into subtext, Zegman crafts a short film as polished as a 50’s housewife’s kitchen floor. Climaxing to a hauntingly powerful end, this feminist critique of perverse relationship goals will leave viewers speechless, even if they are still tapping their foot along to the relentlessly ironical jovial score.
Dir: Oran Zegman
Scr: Oran Zegman
Cast: Gwen Hollander, Laura Gardner, Diane Kelber
Prd: Maor Azran
DoP: Charlie Cole
Music: Ben Zeadman
Runtime: 25 minutes