The majority of film plots about what it’s like to be married are as welcome and as much fun as a friend who slips you a mickey. All the gender mythology Hollywood produces can feel like an assault on a rational mind through its narrow scope, mean spirit and reductive characterisation. At the cinema we’re too often mistreated by depictions of women as the shrew, basketcase, clingy, desperate type while men are rendered as perpetual children, horndog, selfish commitment-phobes. The celluloid short hand rates as lazy at the very least for failing to capture how complex and messy real-life marriage can be. Movie makers either conclude at the altar in the Jane Austen tradition or else delight in showing us folks who are miserable or on the way to a fractious divorce in the “War of the Roses” tradition. When was the last time you saw a happily married couple onscreen?
In “Before Sunset” Ethan Hawk’s character tells Julie Delpy’s that he and his wife are like people who used to date but who now just run a day care centre, as a description concerning the state of being married with children. “Date Night” begins with this premise when Phil and Claire Foster (Steve Carell & Tina Fey) are pounced on by their offspring at 5am, endure a day of routine and then have a listless ‘date night’ at a suburban steakhouse where they share potato skins (was there ever a more disgusting food trend? Some chef figured out a way to sell folks husks that would otherwise be thrown in the bin). Under five minutes in the run time, Claire interrupts Phil twice saying “I’ll just do it, it’ll be easier” to make a sandwich or buy the right present. The next scene cuts to their book club meeting that consists of five women and Phil. The text up for discussion involves a girl having her menarche under Taliban rule. One book club lady bleats that she was literally crying at the menarche scene and yells at Phil that he doesn’t know what it’s like to have your period under the Taliban, to which Phil snaps sotto voce that she doesn’t either. It’s no co-in-ka-dinky that Hollywood leaves the man have the last word and look like the only sensible person present, while he also gets to remind a woman how good she has it.
Phil’s rescued by the host’s husband Brad (Mark Ruffalo) who ribs him about doing the book club, you know since he must be de-sacked by sitting around listening to all those yammering women. Brad confides the soon to be announced divorce with his wife Hayley (Kristen Wiig). Brad quotes his wife as saying she wants the divorce because she’s “strangling in a noose of sameness.” Cut to the women talking in the kitchen, Hayley admits she feels choked by the roles and routine they perform. She wants to go dancing and have sex with three men at once. Fey channels Liz Lemon’s cold fish aversion to sex in the scene when twice a week is too much for her character and too little for Wiig’s. The film drags out the Mars and Venus mythology, but it doesn’t trade upon it in the long run.
“Date Night” was worth viewing just for the conversation in the car during another date night that went awry when they took someone else’s dinner reservation at a fancy seafood place in Manhattan. Claire and Phil are on the run from thugs when an argument bubbles up. It’s the most authentic-sounding conversation I’ve witnessed onscreen in recent memory. Phil asks why she doesn’t “light up” for him the way she did for Marky Mark’s shirtless character. Claire responds in a tirade about her routine of feeding, cleaning, booger scraping leaves her with little more than the energy to fall into bed at the end of the day. But then Phil also has a point. We can see that he was crushed to see his wife flirt and sparkle. Phil says her day could be a whole lot easier if she trusted him to tasks and he’s right. Why play the martyr and do everything yourself until you’re miserable and exhausted? There’s little joy in being a control freak about every minor detail such as how much jelly goes on a sandwich. Have your husband share the workload. This moment between them seemed honest and realistic. Their rapport as a couple demonstrates one of the great things about being married: you make it through together. They communicate in the special language you develop with a significant other; each fills in the gap for the other; badinage flows as easy play. Marriage is more than roles and routine as Hayley and Brad would have it. Sometimes it’s really fun.
Additionally, I was a sick shade of green over the dress Fey sported for the big night out. The colour and cut are perfection. Although her outfit did bring to mind Edel’s post about women in action movies getting stuck in ridiculous high heels for the tasks at hand. At least Claire reminds him as they climb a fire escape that’s she’s doing everything he is only in heels. There are also several entertaining cameo appearances.
“Date Night” is a cut above the standard Hollywood treatment.
The film will be released on DVD in Ireland next month.