For excellent reason, there have been many lists compiled with the best divorce movies. I'm talking about the modern classics -- War of the Roses for it's darkly comedic take on the effects of escalating tensions. And Kramer v. Kramer, which broke ground exploring -- via a heavily-banged moppet -- one father's custody heartache. Let's not forget Le Divorce, The Squid and the Whale, Intolerable Cruelty, The First Wives Club, The Laws of Attraction, Adam's Rib.
I recently saw a more recent movie that left me breathless for the probing and sensitive way it portrayed the break up of a marriage (number one on this list) and I thought that it was time to compile a new list of divorce movies*, highlighting those with fresh takes on separation and its emotional and familial ramifications. Out of respect for the roller coaster ride attendant to most separations, included are four with drastically different tones -- pick and choose what best fits your mood:
1. Take This Waltz (tone-contemplative and quiet): This 2011 movie starring Michelle Williams and Seth Rogen follows a young wife as she meets and becomes enchanted with a handsome and rather forward stranger. She's been happy enough in her marriage, but the stranger is suddenly everywhere: on her flight, in her cab, coincidentally living down the street. Is it fate or something a little less magical? Although the story arc is a familiar one -- temptation, seduction, decision -- director Sarah Polley goes a little deeper by extending the movie past the wife's choice and exploring how the end of a relationship informs the beginning of another. This is a thoughtful and lyrical examination of individuals in retrograde and whether their patterns of behavior are ever broken.
2. The Good Wife (fast-paced and entertaining): Okay, so this is a small screen offering that's also about a Chicago law firm, but TGW started out as the ultimate separation story; the whole thing kicked off with Alicia Florrick rebuilding her own life and career after the betrayal and broken promises of her husband, fallen politician Peter Florrick. In recent seasons, there's been some not-so-neat rekindling between the two, in addition to the extra-marital temptation -- for Alicia -- of Will Gardner. Because all three characters are sensitively written and acted and complex and likable, the yo-yoing is more engaging than annoying. TGW gets bonus points for divorce lawyer David Lee -- hilarious, acerbic and manipulative -- in my opinion, one of the most entertaining characters on television (with interesting, high profile cases to boot).
3. Blue Valentine (dark and depressing): Admittedly, this list is a Michelle Williams fest, but only because she deserves it. (Full disclosure: I watched Blue Valentine because I was blown away by her performance in Take This Waltz.) Blue Valentine, and its well-publicized scene of Ryan Gosling (also excellent) threatening to jump off the Manhattan Bridge, examines the demise of a relationship by interspersing the couples' last moments together with scenes of their doomed start. It's a character study as much as anything else, but it also sensitively shows how you know -- and why -- the end is the end is the end. Sometimes two people are just... toxic. (This one is also the most depressing on the bunch, though -- if you're looking for even an ounce of hopefulness, a tiny little sprig of a bud on a tree that might possibly signal spring somewhere, look elsewhere.)
4. It's Complicated (light and comedic; real estate porn): Nancy Meyers uses all the standard rom-com tricks in this very watchable movie about a California bakery owner who has an affair with her ex-husband You'll laugh, you'll feel good watching Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin -- because it's impossible to feel bad watching Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin -- you'll drool over everything from the food to the home décor. (Even the messiness of getting back together with an ex and keeping it a secret from three grown children appears kind of... fun and, in a way, not all that complicated.) It's Complicated examines the issue of "closure" and its complications: how much of a relationship's demise is timing or youth? Is there maybe always something -- a little spark -- remaining between two people who have once been in love? So, there is some food for thought, but it's certainly not forced on you. It's possible to watch the entire movie at face value, for the fun performances and that house-my goodness -- that amazing house and don't even get me started on the garden.