Falling somewhere between rom-com and break-up drama, a recent crop of films test the nature of matrimony—and show how ideas about infidelity and divorce have changed
Steve Carrell has a fine moment of pure swagger in this past summer's Crazy Stupid Love. His character, a swept-together professional named Cal Weaver, has endured the disclosure of infidelity by his wife Emily (Julianne Moore) and her request for a divorce, the confusion and indifference of his children, and a high-rent makeover by pickup artist Jacob Palmer (Ryan Gosling). After a blundering introduction to the singles' scene, he finally lands his killer line—"You're the perfect combination of cute and sexy"—on a teacher (Marisa Tomei) and takes her to his bachelor apartment. The next night, the doors of the bar open on a smiling, laughing, confident Cal, in slow motion, settling in for a montage of effortless seduction. Not quite married and not quite divorced, Cal Weaver becomes a joyful advertisement for taking a break from marriage.
Crazy Stupid Love exemplifies the growing genre of marriage-crisis movies, stories pitched between the winking optimism of the romantic comedy and the somber twilight of the divorce melodrama. In movies as varied as Hall Pass and The Kids Are All Right, as well as classics like The Grass is Greener (1960) and Two for the Road (1967), we meet the characters years or decades after ice-cream dates, meet-cute ER visits, and wedding photos have given way to domestic struggles and sexual frustration. Since these films all rely on nods of recognition from the audience, they must attempt to depict married life in realistic terms. To trace the genre's evolution over the years is to trace the evolution of American attitudes toward partnership, divorce, and adultery.