Tuesday, 1 February 2011

2010 in Review: Marriage is hard

Blue Valentine, which I’m yet to review, offers up what is probably the most stagnant portrayal of marriages that’s potentially off-putting in its desire to capture that tedium that marriage sometime reaches. I can’t decide if it’s my favourite portrayal of marital bliss (or lack thereof) this year since it has the advantage of focusing resolutely on the marital relations between the lead characters. Chloe pretends that it’s interested in examining the stagnancy of marriage but that’s just really a smokescreen for Egoyan’s agenda (not that I’m really sure what those are). This year wasn’t one full of romance – or of marriage, expect in incidental bits. We could probably add Rabbit Hole and The Kids Are All Right to Blue Valentine as two that deal significantly with it – though it’s not the main arc in either. I still think it’ difficult to pinpoint a single theme for The Kids Are All Right, since sperm donation seems especially vague and unsatisfactory – and that moment where Jules confronts her family to give her semi-soliloquy of sorts (Julianne’s strongest moment) functions as a major plot point for the film. Rabbit Hole is about dealing with grief, but like its potentially precise tagline (the only way out is through) the only way to assess Becca and Howie’s reaction to their son’s death is to examine marriage.
In The Greatest something similar occurs. When Susan and Sarandon take in the woman that’s carrying their dead son’s child – Pierce’s Allen reaches out to her getting some sort of closure, something that Susan’s Grace is lacking. The Greatest is an imperfect flick but it has its moments and though the two seem like a very odd couple, The Greatest is more obvious (not necessarily a bad thing) in examining how grief pulls a family apart. Unlike, Rabbit Hole, they don’t start the story eight months after the death. Brosnan was no stranger to tenuous marriages this year, though, playing opposite Olivia Williams in The Ghost Writer. I’d say he was better opposite Sarandon even The Ghost Writer is a better film. The marriage between Adam and Ruth is very incidental in The Ghost Writer, and Polanski doesn’t seem interested in it for its own sake – just for plot purposes, which – to an extent – is how Cobb and Mal’s relationship emerges in Inception. True, Marion Cotillard’s wonderful actressing is responsible for creating an emotional centre of sorts for Inception, its methodical way is sorely lacking in that department. I’m not fond of Leo here, though he soars most in his scenes opposite Marion – but as interesting as the arc is, it’s still Nolan’s most unconvincing.
That potentially unconvincing marriage makes me think of the King & Queen in The King’s Speech. I’m still fascinated by that arc in the film, even if Bonham Carter’s Queen Mother and her inclinations are poorly addressed. More than Rush’s admittedly good work, the film has its strongest grasp on me in two scenes – Bertie’s disastrous first meeting with that kooky voice coach, and that story he tells his daughters with the Queen silent in the background. Helena’s face has always been an enigma, but it’s even more exasperating here because she’s not playing an ostensibly mysterious character. I’d love to see Hooper (or maybe, Seidler) revisit this marriage since I’d be more invested in that relationship – though The King’s Marriage doesn’t have much of a ring to it. A bit like Eat Pray Love – Julia does all three beautifully, and her general charisma is invaluable, but my favourite portion of the film is neither eating, praying nor loving. I’m still overly fond of that New York chapter, and though I’ve been remiss in mentioning him Billy Crudup is intriguing opposite Roberts. Instead of Gilbert’s somewhat selfserving trip around the world, I’d not have minded a simple deconstruction of that marriage relationship. As little love as I have for Hofencer’s Please Give, though, I’ll laud it for the relationship between Platt and Keener which is handled so sensitively that I’m surprised at how insincere how everything around it seems. Maybe it only seems good in perspective. 
Patricia Clarkson played two wives this year, and the marriages seemed incidental in both. It’s difficult to deny the awesomeness of her and Stanley Tucci in Easy A, but Cairo Time is a puzzle – it’s perhaps the flipside to Blue Valentine. Juliette seems to be experiencing a bit of tedium in her marriage, though even that seems like too active of a word. That gentle placidity is one of the smartest things about Cairo Time, how it just all floats around, not aimless but not assertively. And more than Blue Valentine’s almost shocking teidum Juliette's dissonance in Cairo (most of the time without her husband) is probably the strongest example of a marriage gone stale, but not a bad marriage.
Marriage is hard, and it’s even harder making them work cinematically. Which married couples stood out last 2010 for you?


MrJeffery said...

interesting writeup on a connective theme in many of the best films of the year. 'blue valentine' was the most devastating i thought. it's difficult to stay in love with an addict.

Fitz said...

Unfortunately, I never caught Blue Valentine or Rabbit Hole. The only film I could elaborate would be The Kids Are All Right. Specifically the scene where Moore is explaining to the kids how tough it is after so long, but what we're really looking at is Bening's face. Great scene.