These are hard times for lovers. Longtime companions may not be endangered, but they’re in danger. Everywhere people are saying that passion doesn’t last. When you fall in love, it might be forever, but at some point, you’ll probably look at your husband, your wife, your lover, and feel frustrated, annoyed, bored, or simply not be turned on. Do you choose flight, or, as the Cheryl Cole song suggests, fight fight fight fight fight for this love? And if you pick war over peace (for all its cons, the single life’s biggest pro is the possibility of great sex without ongoing personality clashes), do you bring other soldiers onto the battlefield to spice things up?
My entertainment is raising the same questions. Lately, it seems, all the movies and TV shows I’ve been watching seem to be telling me that love is a beautiful thing, but it’s hard to hold. If you’re lucky enough to be holding on to it a decade later, don’t let go, or die trying not to. And even if arming love with the potential to leave casualties in its wake is going a bit too far, the more unassailable premise is still intimidating enough to keep me up at night: Relationships are hard.
That’s what Julianne Moore’s character wearily suggests in The Kids Are All Right while delivering a monologue aimed at her own longtime companion (Annette Bening) and their two children, after the kids’ search for their biological father leads to Mark Ruffalo (revisiting the loveable cad he introduced in You Can Count on Me 10 years ago) and the near ruin of the sperm-bank created family unit. One of my friends is certain that Moore’s speech has all but guaranteed her an Oscar nomination next year. I think Bening’s dinner-table reaction after a particularly shocking realization is more likely to secure her a spot among the nominees, but analyzing Oscar odds is not my purpose here.
I saw the film on a recent rainy afternoon in Sydney, where it opened the week before last, and throughout it, I kept wondering what it would be like to be a teenager and find out that Mark Ruffalo is my dad. Would I still think that he’s smoking hot? Was his character going to be the stereotypical straight guy and fantasize about a three-way with Bening and Moore? And who was that stunning black actress playing Ruffalo’s booty call?
At the end of the film, I was a little bit confused, too. Not just because I wasn’t sure why the film had received such near-unanimous acclaim when it’s not much more than a meandering month or so in the life of a non-traditional family featuring excellent acting but no specific purpose and no discernible character growth. Right before the credits roll, Bening, for all that her relationship and family had endured, seemed to be as Type A as ever; Moore was still kind of aimless; and the kids were all right but not much more. If I were their parents, I’d love them for sure, but I might not be so sad to see them pack up and go off to college. (The daughter, played to perfection by Alice in Wonderland‘s Mia Wasikowska, was particularly exasperating in her ambivalence and frequent insolent outbursts.)
No, I didn’t really get why the critics loved The Kids Are All Right as much as they did, but I was also perplexed by how tough the movie was on long-term relationships. Do they really have to be so f***ing hard? An equally fitting title might have been How Do You Keep the Music Playing After More Than 10 Years of Love and Marriage and Kids? — or something like that.
In Date Night, the answer was by going out with your partner and leaving the children at home at least one night a week. And if that doesn’t work, get mistaken for a criminal couple that bears a strong resemblance to James Franco and Mila Kunis, spend an action-packed night being chased by bad guys, and make two trips to a fabulous apartment owned by a shirtless Mark Wahlberg lookalike. If that doesn’t get the music cranking for at least another decade, forever love probably wasn’t meant to be.
Sex and the City 2 told me that it’s all about your friends, five-star accomodation in a far-flung land, and an unexpected run-in with the one who might have gotten away — if you or one of your friends is lucky enough to land an all-expenses-paid trip to the Middle East. If not, maybe spending a couple of nights a week alone in your bachelor or bachelorette pad will do the trick. (Just be sure to get your partner’s consent before inviting other soldiers onto your battlefield.)
How do you keep the music playing?