It starts out so well in the movies. Boy meets girl. Boy and girl fall in love. Hearts patter on until about three quarters of the way in, when boy and girl break up due to some obstacle that threatens to keep them apart. They wallow in their heartache until the last seven minutes of the flick when boy or girl realize the foolishness of his or her ways. With little time to spare, the protagonist rejects all modern technology and travels over bridges and through airports, by foot, cab or horse, to the place where the other is, just in time to declare their eternal love. The credits and final track roll on and we exit the theater with our hearts high from the happily-ever-after ending. Once again, love conquers all! But does it? If 50 percent of marriages end in divorce, what are the chances that Harry and Sally are still going strong?
Fueled by my happy 20-year marriage and a long stint writing romantic comedies, I have always considered myself a die-hard romantic, until recently, when a project involving meeting and interviewing divorcees' opened my eyes. I began to wonder if the Hollywood ending is partially to blame for the divorce rate. Does Hollywood create a false expectation that love conquers all? Does the "meet cute" story line have some play in the long-term success or demise of a marriage? Maybe it would help to realize that we do not know what happens to the happy couple after we leave the theater. Perhaps that pair that we yearn to emulate are not even together by the time their movie is available on Netflix. It's not as if we are on Harry and Sally's Christmas card list or can check their relationship status on Facebook.
The reasons that people divorce are usually far from original and, with few exceptions, can be smacked into five well-known categories:
1. Money problems
2. In-law problems.
3. Trust issues.
4. False or altered expectations.
5. And the anti-Hollywood ending: One or both is no longer in love.
Taking this into account, one can actually foresee which movie couples will make it to the romantic, till-death-do-us-part ending of Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams' characters in "The Notebook" or divorce court like George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones in "Intolerable Cruelty." Perhaps my predictions will help put the Hollywood ending into perspective.
Let's start with one of my all-time favorite movies, "The Graduate." I know they had tremendous passion and a killer soundtrack, but since Romeo and Juliet, there has not been a couple laden with more complicated in-law issues than Benjamin Braddock and Elaine Robinson. Add the fact that Ben seemingly has no intention of getting a job in "plastics" or anything else and that Elaine did not seem to finish her studies at Berkeley -- money problems are sure to play a part in their demise as well.
Another goner, though it pains me to say it, is Sabrina, the chauffeur's daughter from the 1954 and 1995 movies of the same name. Sabrina and Linus are completely mismatched and not just in the clichéd upstairs-downstairs kind of way. They have little in common and will undoubtedly have trouble meeting each other's expectations. I doubt that the beauty and charm of both Sabrina and Paris in the springtime will sustain Linus much past his first missed merger. Sadly, I believe that Sabrina will wake up some day soon and see the grumpy old man twice her age lying beside her for what he really is; a grumpy old man, twice her age, lying beside her. Disney's "Lady and the Tramp" may have suffered a similar fate, though they probably stuck it out for the sake of the puppies.
While I don't think Julia Robert's "Pretty Woman" is turning tricks again, I find it hard to believe that she is dropping her kids off at an Upper East Side preschool and picking out ties for Edward at Barneys. Still, I do believe it is plausible that Roberts is nuzzled up with Hugh Grant and a good book in "Notting Hill."
Rhett and Scarlett of "Gone with the Wind": Married. Frankly, I don't give a damn that they weren't together at the end of the movie. Those two belong together.
Frances "Baby" Houseman and Johnny Castle of "Dirty Dancing": They may have had the "Time of Their Lives," but I am pretty sure that's all it was.
Jack and Lucy from "While You Were Sleeping": Married. A perfect match on all counts.
Jack and Annie from the action-packed "Speed": Relationships that start under such intense circumstance rarely last. Don't believe me? Try to find Keanu Reeves in the sequel, "Speed 2."
Fiona and Shrek in "Shrek": Positively happily ever after.
Sandy Olsen and Danny Zuko in "Grease": Divorced, but in the fashion of Bernard Slade's "Same Time Next Year," meet under the boardwalk each August for some "Summer Lovin'."
And while I hope the widower Sam found love again with Annie in "Sleepless in Seattle," with barely two minutes of shared screen time, it's hard to predict their staying power. But don't be discouraged. I am pretty sure from my short stint peering into the world of divorce there is a great chance that Meg Ryan has an even better gig than the one in rainy Seattle. I am confident that her Sally will be strolling through Central Park with Harry until they are old and gray and cast in the remake as one of those sentimental old couples retelling their "meet cute" story to a whole new generation of hopeless romantics.