Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Married Life (2007, Ira Sachs)

There are many fans of Sachs' last film, Forty Shades of Blue, out there, but I wasn't really one of them. Consequently, I found Married Life to be a real leap forward for him stylistically. What really stuck out to me was how lightly he treads on his period setting- rather than using it like Far From Heaven to comment on the widely-accepted conventions of the times, Sachs' approach is far more subtle. Rather than taking the approach of breaking open the squeaky clean mores of the fifties- with the shocking (SHOCKING!) revelation that all is not well with Ward and June Cleaver- Sachs' characters are all fairly good characters who are teetering at the edge of a more modern, Freudian style of self-actualization. At several points in the film, characters repeat the line, "I can't let our happiness be built on the unhappiness of another," and to me that's the key. For many in our contemporary society- with its self-help tomes and overanalysis- self-centered happiness is seen as the acme of existence, and anything that impedes this happiness is seen as counterproductive to the forward progress of our lives. But in a marriage, such self-centered questing is more than callous- it's the antithetical to the idea of the marriage oath- "for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, as long as you both shall live." Not being married, I can't speak from my own experience, but from what I do know, the marriages that last aren't the ones who've never experienced difficulty, but rather the ones who've been able to weather the storm. The characters in Married Life stand astride these two ideas- the modern-day need for happiness and the old-school commitment to making a successful marriage. Even the single characters- Rich (Pierce Brosnan) and Kay (Rachel McAdams)- respect the latter, even as their efforts appear to push the marriage of friends Harry (Chris Cooper) and Pat (Patricia Clarkson) apart. Rich is particularly surprising- what appears on one level to be a self-serving flirtation with Kay (who begins the film as Harry's mistress) ends up helping his best friend as much as it does him. And at the center of the film is the strange and ultimately touching love story that takes place between Harry and Pat, two characters who seem to exist at cross purposes but who care about each other too much to cause the other any pain. The murder plot in the story is a little too literal an expression of this in my opinion, but it ends up leading to a lovely- and it must be said, impeccably acted- climax in which the two stand in separate rooms, a closed door between them, and reckon with their improprieties while they try to mend what they've almost lost. As a portrait of a man learning to love his wife, it isn't nearly the equal of The Age of Innocence, but it's well worth a view. Rating: 7 out of 10.

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