Better luck next time, Harry.

Married Life

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


            “Married Life” is a feast of cynicism and irony without the spice that could bring it alive. But maybe that’s the point. Maybe the secrets of married life have become so familiar and mundane that director Ira Sachs believes the only option is to plant his tongue firmly in his cheek and serve up the dullness of marriage.

            The opening credits roll to a jazzy version of “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Baby,” – a promise of a spritzy romantic comedy. But immediately we meet Harry (Chris Cooper), a buttoned up businessman sunk in middle-age depression. He will announce over lunch with his closest friend Richard (Pierce Brosnan) that he is about to cure his doldrums by divorcing his wife to marry his lover. At this point the lover, Kay (Rachel McAdams), arrives at the top of the restaurant stairs in what is supposed to be a heart stopping entrance. At first sight, friend Richard also falls for Kay.

            The enduring problem of this film: Rachel McAdams’ Kay is so unimaginably dull it is impossible to believe that burnt out Harry and studly Richard could both want to marry her. Am I too dense to grasp the possibility that Director Ira Sachs may have deliberately painted Kay as a blank slate these men can write their futures on? Is her empty vessel the ultimate irony? I don’t think that’s what Ira Sachs had in mind. More likely, it’s bad casting for McAdams who has succeeded in other films. Unfortunately, in this one, she tugs the movie back to ground every time it tries to lift off.

            Look at her colleagues: Pierce Brosnan, Chris Cooper, and Patricia Clarkson. And then remember that in this movie no two of these terrific actors, regardless of how they couple, seem to belong together. Just don’t look for good chemistry. A film that should be nimble and droll turns to leaden farce.

            About leaving his wife, Harry says to Richard, “I can’t bear to hurt her. She only came to life physically. She loves sex.” Harry wants something beyond sex, something deeper, and then Kay appears. Better luck next time, Harry. The delicious irony arrives when Harry, in order to protect Pat from suffering because he loves her too much, decides to kill her. The rest of the movie dithers around some ‘50s set pieces (flowered curtains, flowered wallpaper, decanters) while Brutus the dog becomes a practice run for the mercy killing. In a mild flirtation with wit, Pat (Patricia Clarkson) reveals her secret side with relish.

            “Don’t let it end like this; you think I’m a monster,” says Kay. It’s a Bette Davis line without Bette Davis. If this movie is supposed to be an exercise in irony, then the script failed. If the script is adequate, then the actors failed. When one of the men says “It’s funny, isn’t it, what we do for love?” we can only think, “Not really; funny it isn’t.”


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