Saturday, September 6, 2014

Best Movies About Divorce

Movies and Divorce Make Good Bedfellows

When Zsa Zsa Gabor joked, "I'm an excellent housekeeper. Every time I get a divorce, I keep the house," her humor helped diffuse the more tragic aspect of divorce -- the shattering of a couple's dream of "happily ever after." Like Zsa Zsa Gabor, Hollywood movies often inject humor into the subject of divorce while at the same time focusing on its more poignant, heart-wrenching facets.

The emotional buffet of sadness, anger, fear, joy and hope served up by movies about divorce mirrors the range of feelings movie viewers experience on the other side of the silver screen. It can be therapeutic for people in the process of getting a divorce -- or recovering from its aftermath -- to see the theme of divorce explored both comically and dramatically in a movie, helping them view their lives in a larger context and maybe even laugh at their own troubles.

Whether tragic, comedic or both, here is my list of the top 10 movies about divorce:

The Squid and the Whale (2005)

When this movie came out I was confused by its title and thought it was a nature documentary rather than a fictional movie about the effects of divorce on a nuclear family. Coincidentally, the film's home movie-ish style makes you feel as if you're watching a documentary. A dramedy in the best sense of the word, The Squid and the Whale brilliant depicts the bright and dark sides of a dysfunctional family (and whose isn't?), deftly showing how children of divorce are unhappily trapped in the middle of their parents' melodrama.

Le Divorce (2003)

Though allegedly starring Kate Hudson and Naomi Watts, these stellar actresses play second banana to Paris in this visual feast for the eyes. The "progressive" French attitude toward marriage is nicely juxtaposed with the more conventional American dream of monogamy.

The Parent Trap (1961 and 1998 versions)

When it comes to Parent Trap movies, Haley Mills' original trumps Lindsay Lohan's sequel, or could that just be my baby boomer bias? I saw the original Parent Trap as a child and loved the comical conspiracy between the twin girls separated in early childhood by their parents' mistaken notion of what was best for them after their less-than-amicable divorce. This movie captures the yearning felt by some children of divorce for their parents to get back together and the lack of sensitivity some divorced parents have concerning the impact of divorce on their children.

Stepmom (1998)

Art predicts life here as real life home wrecker Julia Roberts plays, what else, a cinematic home wrecker in this nightmarish scenario of The Other Woman becoming your children's new mother. Susan Sarandon steals the movie here as the dying mother who puts her own interests second to that of her children by befriending the shallow wife of her children's father and turning her into a better woman in the process.

Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)

This movie rakes the dark side of feminism over the coals as Meryl Streep plays a character even more unlikeable than the dragon lady fashion editor she portrayed so convincingly in The Devil Wears Prada. After divorcing her son's father and splitting the scene, the Streep character returns to town and tries to regain custody of their child and move him thousands of miles away from his father, a former dolt played by Dustin Hoffman with whom the boy has sweetly bonded. Some children of divorce may find this custodial tug of war theme hits too close to home.

Divorce American Style (1967)

Though tame by modern standards, Divorce American Style was a somewhat scathing satire on divorce and upper middle class manners in its day. Divorce American Style makes the cut of top 10 divorce movies in part because it shows how attitudes toward divorce have not changed all that much in the past 40 years (besides, who can resist spending a couple of hours with such classic actors as Dick Van Dyke and Debbie Reynolds?). Perhaps the saddest scene in the movie is when all the children and step-children get picked up from school except for one unclaimed girl, lost in the shuffle by the confused lot of divorced parents.

Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married? (2007)

In this black spin on divorce American style, four couples of various levels of unhappiness meet at a mountain retreat, one of which ends up divorced by the end of the movie (hey, it doesn't help that the guy's girlfriend crashes the party). The movie explores the 80/20 rule, in which the men confide they get 80% of what they want from their wives within their marriage but still want that 20% they don't have with someone else. Without spoiling the ending, the wayward ex-husband ends up being more than a tad regretful at the very satisfying conclusion of this movie.

Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)

What list of movies about divorce could exclude Mrs. Doubtfire, starring an irresistible cross-dressing Robin Williams. The former Mork & Mindy star plays a divorced dad who decides to impersonate a 60ish female housekeeper so he can spend more time with his children. Aside from the first-rate physical and emotional comedy supplied in spades by this heartwarming film, Mrs. Doubtfire exemplifies the importance of putting one's children first after a divorce.

Far From Heaven (2002)

More a movie about the dissolution of a marriage than divorce, this hauntingly beautiful and poignant film set in the 1950s shows what happens when a marriage is based more on image than substance and husbands are not true to themselves (does a certain famous golfer come to mind?).

The Brothers McMullen (1995)

Although no one gets divorced in this movie, The Brothers McMullen is a movie about people who could get divorced but choose not to. From the opening scene in which the mother of three adult sons flees to Ireland shortly after her abusive alcoholic husband bites the dust, to the scene in which the wife of the oldest son discovers his affair, to that of her husband breaking off his affair and vowing at his father's grave site to be a better man than his father was, this movie is a testament to not only sticking marriage out, but making it work. Hard to believe this entertaining, dialogue-rich gem was made for a mere $28 million, a thrifty pittance even in 1995.

This article was originally published on a quondam website platform in December 2009. It appears here for historical purposes.

Update September 2014: If I were to add one movie to this list right now it would be Enough Said (2013) with Julia Louis-Dreyfus and the late James Gandolfini. This gifted pair play Eva and Albert, two divorced middle aged people who gradually fall in love after meeting at a party. Coincidentally, one of Eva's clients was previously married to Albert and thinks her ex is a total loser, which causes Eva to question whether her new guy is a catch or clunker. This poignant movie has more twists than a pretzel and is one of the most honest depictions of middle aged post-divorce romance I've ever seen.

No comments:

Post a Comment