There are a lot of things I like about Married Life, a character-driven dramedy starring some seriously heavy-hitting actors. It's incredibly dark, but ends on a sweet and uplifting note. The actors are phenomenal. The costumes and 1940s atmosphere easily sweep us away to a different time period when a night on the town was dancing, nightcaps and movie tickets purchased with a coin or two. Yet despite all the good points, there's a flimsiness to the movie that makes for a mostly forgettable experience.
The storytelling format of the film is a satisfying one: Richard Langley (Pierce Brosnan) narrates as though giving his confessional tell-all, with all the ruefulness of present-day wisdom as he casts his thoughtful glance backwards. He begins by telling us about his good friend Harry Allen (Chris Cooper), a stable, predictable man in a comfortable marriage with Pat (Patricia Clarkson). Soon, however, Harry quietly reveals to Richard that he wants to divorce Pat and marry his mistress, Kay (Rachel McAdams). Harry finds it important that Richard like Kay and he encourages Richard to spend time with Kay when he cannot, as a slightly paternal way of ensuring that Kay is cared for in his absence. This is problematic, however, when Richard falls in love with Kay as well. This triangle soon turns into more of a web, though, so read more.
Being a sensitive guy who genuinely cares for his wife, Harry decides he would rather his wife die than have to live a miserable existence as a divorcee. Unbeknownst to everyone else, Harry plots his wife's murder, believing it will provide him with the peacefulness he needs to marry Kay. At the same time, Richard determinedly works on wooing Kay, and whittling down her loyalty to Harry. This sets up a frightening race against time: What if Kay decides she'd rather be with Richard — after Harry kills his wife? It sounds extraordinarily dark — and it is — but there's something very funny about this film the keeps it from becoming mired in real-life horror.
The movie's strengths lie in the high-quality performances by a talented cast. Yet, in many ways it feels like a stage play that's been videotaped, and I'm hard-pressed to figure out why, in fact, it was made into a movie instead of a play (besides the idea that more people will be able to see it if it's a film, but then again it has such a limited release, this may not prove true). The actors are superb, particularly Chris Cooper as the everyman having a moral meltdown, and Rachel McAdams, whose soft-spoken gentleness and natural beauty make it impossible to take your eyes off her. In many ways the film has all the trappings of a modern-day classic, and yet it falls flat. I was interested in the story as I watched it and then soon forgot all about it.
Photos courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics