You’ve been sheltering in place for two months now. If you’re lucky, you’re hunkering down with a spouse, someone who is your best friend, the love of your life, and the person who is driving you absolutely mad at the moment. Maybe the best thing to do is sit down and watch a movie about how bad marriage can be, and remember all you’ve got to be thankful for.
“Marriage Story” (Netflix)
This came out in November, but that feels like years ago, doesn’t it? It’s time for a rewatch. Noah Baumbach’s critically-acclaimed tale of the end of a marriage, is almost a divorce procedural, documenting with surgical precision the way the legal process can turn once-friends into mortal enemies. It features terrific performances by Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver as the unhappy (un)couple, and memorable supporting turns by Ray Liotta and Laura Dern, who won an Oscar for the role, as her cutthroat lawyers.
“Two for the Road’ (Amazon Prime)
This 1967 masterpiece from Stanley Donen (“Singin’ in the Rain”) chronicles several vacations through Europe in the long, deteriorating relationship between a brusque architect (Albert Finney) and his clever wife (Audrey Hepburn). It’s full of beautifully-composed shots and stunning avant-garde costume design, but the real trick is that Donen jumbles up the timeline, vacillating so rapidly between moments bitter and sweet that he creates a singular and complex mood. I believe that mood is called marriage.
“A Married Couple” (Criterion Channel)
A fascinating documentary from Canadian filmmaker Allan King, “A Married Couple” makes a riveting narrative from the absolutely ordinary. King got to know his subjects – a married couple with a child who live outside Toronto in 1969 – and then let his cameramen film them at their most intimate moments. The arguments between husband and wife are full of hard-earned wisdom about life and love. Watching them stumble and fall, regroup and fall again might be just the solidarity you need.
“Husbands” (Amazon Prime)
As unpleasant as being in the house with your husband can be, at least you can keep your eye on him. This 1970 classic by filmmaker John Cassavetes captures the terrible magic of three grown men – played by Cassavetes, Ben Gazzara, and Peter Falk – on the ultimate lost weekend. Mourning the death of their friend, they drink, travel, and womanize. It’s thrilling storytelling, aided by Cassavetes’s trademark naturalism, but it’s no fun for anyone, just a long, dark night with a dawn that brings no clarity. It’s a good reminder that being with your spouse is always better, and that dreams of bachelorhood are just the stuff of fantasy.
“Take This Waltz” (Amazon Prime)
One of the great underseen films of this century, Sarah Polley’s “Take This Waltz” shows how a marriage can fail not with a bang but with a whimper. Michelle Williams plays a young Toronto writer with a kind but unspectacular husband (Seth Rogen). When sparks fly with a new neighbor, she cautiously follows her instincts away from her marriage and suffers some unexpected results. Anchored by a beautifully low-key performance by Williams, “Take This Waltz” probes the complexities of new marriage without ever judging its participants.
Parenthood (Amazon Prime, Hulu)
Okay, now for a little levity. This multi-generational dramedy from Ron Howard details the pain and pleasure of four grown siblings played by Steve Martin, Dianne Wiest, Tom Hulce, and Harley Jane Kozak. Each is in a slightly different domestic situation, and director Ron Howard juggles them marvelously. Come for Steve Martin in a cowboy hat making second-rate balloon animals, and stay for the best dramatic work that he, Keanu Reeves, and Rick Moranis have ever done.
“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” (Amazon Prime)
The undisputed champion of films about domestic distress, Mike Nichols’s 1965 adaptation of Edward Albee’s hasn’t aged a day. Watching Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, as an embittered middle-aged couple, tear into each other over many drinks in the presence of a younger, happier couple is an often painful experience, but the writing, acting, and directing is so sharp and insightful it’s thrilling all the same. One of the greatest films about marriage that went bad, and one of the hardest to watch.