No one can turn love into a battlefield quite like Hollywood. Here are a few films where marriage isn’t so much a contract of mutual compassion but a source of heavy (and we do mean heavy) conflict.
Both brilliant and maddening in equal measures, Stanley Kubrick‘s final film follows a married man’s strange sexual odyssey through the hidden (and forbidden) corridors, alleys and back rooms of New York City after he’s driven to jealous madness upon hearing of his wife’s erotic fantasy involving a stranger with whom she once shared but a brief glance. Before it’s (almost) completely undone by a horrendous blah-blah-explain-everything scene involving Sydney Pollack and a pool table, Eyes Wide Shut is a mesmerizing journey, playful and unpredictable in its twists, turns and revelations. Tom Cruise is terrific, and Nicole Kidman is quite good as long as she’s not asked to play stoned… and it is she who delivers Kubrick’s last words: “Fu**.”
A weirdo mystery that sat on the shelf for a couple of years before being given a limited release, All Good Things features Ryan Gosling as the son of a wealthy real estate developer who falls for a beautiful student (Kirsten Dunst); they get hitched and try to embrace the country life in Vermont, but dear old dad soon lures them back to NYC, where their relationship begins to disintegrate (as seems to be what happens to marriages when Ryan Gosling is involved lately). Dark family secrets start boiling to the surface, and soon Dunst disappears without a trace — from there, the story picks up 20 years later, after Gosling’s best friend ends up dead. See what happens when rich people marry poor people? While it’s way too convoluted for its own good, All Good Things will keep you guessing as to just what the hell is going on up ’til the very last frame.
A sexy, steamy erotic thriller that’s not nearly sexy and steamy enough, Original Sin features Antonio Banderas as a wealthy Cuban businessman whose supposedly plain-Jane pen-pal-turned-bride ends up looking like Angelina Jolie; lots of sweaty sex follows, though it’s soon apparent that this dream girl come true might be up to no good. It’s absurd and sometimes even embarrassing, yet Original Sin can be a sinful treat, too, when it actually feels like going all the way with its lurid premise. Jolie was nominated for the Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Actress in 2001 for her performance in both this and in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, which might be the most preposterous thing about the movie — Angelina’s the only one involved who seems to know how silly it all is and is at least trying to have a little fun with it. (The same goes for Tomb Raider, at that.)
There’s all sorts of trouble in paradise in Todd Haynes’ dark portrait of 1950s American suburbia, as the seemingly perfect marriage of Cathy and Frank Whitaker (Julianne Moore andDennis Quaid) starts to strain (to say the least) upon the revelation that Frank kinda likes boys more than girls. The miscast Quaid tries hard (Haynes originally tried to get James Gandolfini, Russell Crowe and Jeff Bridges before settling with Quaid), but this is (not surprisingly) Moore’s show all the way — she can act her way through a Haynes film with one hand tied behind her back after their intense 1995 collaboration, [safe]. Haynes and Moore also explore issues of race and class when Cathy develops a unique friendship with an African American gardener (Dennis Haysbert, who’s also excellent). A ticking time bomb of a drama that finally explodes when it just can’t take no more, Far From Heaven is a startling and ultimately heartbreaking piece of work.
A sometimes charming but ultimately devastating portrait of a couple’s divorce and the impact it has on their young son, Kramer vs. Kramer features Dustin Hoffman as Dad and Meryl Streep as Mom, who both won well-deserved Oscars for their performances. But it’s the relationship between Hoffman and his son (Justin Henry) that’s the real heart and soul of the movie, a relationship that begins with bitterness and unrest until it slowly but surely turns into something built on trust and compassion. Robert Benton also won Oscars for his directing and screenwriting duties for this 1979 film that challenged Hollywood’s previous portrayals of fatherhood vs. motherhood; many consider Kramer vs. Kramer to be a prime illustration of ’70s second-wave feminism.
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