April 24, 2008

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Married Life (PG-13)
A husband plans the ultimate in confrontation-avoidance break-ups — poisoning his wife so he can be with his mistress — in Married Life, a very dry martini of a late-1940s dramady.

Harry Allen (Chris Cooper) is the very picture of the post-war ideal — from the natty suit he wears at his corporate job to his lovely wife Pat (Patricia Clarkson) in a big suburban house. Plus, he has a the mistress — Kay (Rachel McAdams), a platinum blonde who offers Harry hope of a life full of all the romantic and emotional richness he doesn’t have with Pat. Pat, you see, thinks “love” is really just about sex and everything else is just companionship. Such an attitude would suit some men fine, but not Harry. His friend Richard (Pierce Brosnan) thinks Harry’s nuts to rock the boat with a divorce but Harry thinks Kay is his chance for happiness. But even though Kay is his dream, Pat is still his dear friend, the mother of his children and all that. He can’t imagine leaving her. Can’t imagine breaking her heart. Wouldn’t it be better if he didn’t have to hurt her? Wouldn’t it be better if she just, say, fell asleep one night, peacefully, and never woke up?

Complicating this scheme, however, is Richard, who, like all Pierce Brosnan characters, has just enough of the rake in him not to stop from falling for Kay too. And you can bet your “Give ’em hell, Harry” button that he’s not going to be shy about his desires.

Married Life is a strange little movie. See it with the sound off or listen to the music and the tone of everyone’s voices without paying strict attention to the words and it will feel like you’ve stumbled onto some strange 1950s drama, one that airs in the middle of the afternoon on some obscure cable channel and will never get a Criteron DVD release. But listen to the dialogue and you have something a little sharper, a little weirder. The humor is utterly vermouth-less — very crisp, very tart. The emotions are muted — longing and weariness push passion or anger deep into the wings. The performances are both stylized and modern — Clarkson can deliver “dearest” and “darling” with a brittle naturalism and Brosnan is the very picture of a fading Cary Grant. The whole movie has a slow halting feel to it and the end made me think nothing so much as “Oh. Huh.”

Married Life is like a period mystery novel that you happen upon but find yourself unable to put down. It’s not perfect, not electrifying but it is weirdly, coolly satisfying. B-

Rated PG-13 for some thematic elements and a scene of sexuality. Directed by Ira Sachs and written by Sachs and Oren Moverman from the novel Five Roundabouts to Heaven by John Bingham, Married Life is an hour and 30 minutes long and is distributed in limited release by Sony Pictures Classics.