starring Chris Cooper, Pierce Brosnan, Patricia Clarkson and Rachel McAdams
screenplay by Ira Sachs and Oren Moverman
directed by Ira Sachs
Rating: ♦♦ (out of five)
Based on the book Five Roundabouts to Heaven by John Bingham, Married Life is interesting. It’s well done, but I only liked it marginally. That does not mean that it was badly written, badly directed, or badly acted. It was not, and I can recommend it to others confident that you will appreciate it better than I did. But for myself, I was lukewarm towards it. Largely it is because of character actor Chris Cooper who has a starring role here, and whom I have never liked. The way he looks upsets me. I’m just not into him. Not only in this movie, but in any movie I have ever seen him in - This Boy’s Life (1992), October Sky (1999), The Bourne Identity (2002), Syriana (2005). Married Life is a better movie than Tropic Thunder, but I cannot rate it higher just for sheer enjoyment.
Married Life makes some good observations. Married life is not easy, and it’s complex. People and couples don’t talk about it - especially in the 40s when this story is set - but sex is all around. Married life is the life of a sexually active pair, so there ... And most importantly, married life does not mean happy life necessarily. Or, once you experience the tedium of living closely with another person day after day your definition of and expectations of happiness change. It’s only natural. You do not always like the person that you love, but that’s okay. It sounds contradictory, but it’s not. Too often when people - especially children - think of love they think of it in terms of a fullness of liking. But Love is qualitatively different from Like, and it is so much bigger that love can easily embrace both like and dislike without disqualification. Exactly the same story could be directed by Woody Allen or Mel Brooks with diametrically opposite results, much more adolescent humor.
I think too many people associate marriage with happiness too closely because they are confused. In modern times too many take happiness not just as a rightful expectation, but as a human right by itself. And, they confuse the condition of experiencing contrary feelings as being incompatible with their idea of a happy state. So, if they experience contrary feelings while in their marriage they wrongly conclude that the marriage doesn’t work, or their choice of partner was wrong, and seek an escape - divorce, murder, whatever.
This is the condition that Chris Cooper finds himself in. Sort of like his seven year itch. Or, maybe exactly like it, I don’t know. He is married, but he has a girlfriend. He confides his girlfriend to his best friend, Pierce Brosnan. But Brosnan falls in love with the girl himself after meeting her. So Cooper is plotting how to divorce his wife and marry his girlfriend, and Brosnan is plotting how to steal the girl from his best friend.
Next, Cooper decides to kill his wife because he is too sentimental to break her heart with news of a divorce. But it doesn’t come to that. Things settle out with the married couple as they forge a new comfort level and discover what it means to be middle aged and married, and Brosnan gets the girl. Everyone lives - happily ever after? That has yet to be seen.
I am reminded of the words from what I think is an old Cole Porter song, “We settled down as man and wife/to solve the riddle of married life.” Is marriage a partnership or is it a war? Is it just intimacy without affection? My lips are sealed because I’m afraid my wife will hit me (again) if I speak my mind.