Married Life: Frustrating, Sort of Like Marriage

Anachronistic is the best word to describe Married Life, which will be arriving at Landmark’s Edina Cinema on March 21st. The film’s frustratingly whimsical tone washes out its better, darker moments, leaving little to say about marriage.

Based on the 1953 pulp mystery novel Five Roundabouts to Heaven,
the film follows the relationships and ethical dilemmas presented by a
man and his wife, a man and his mistress, a wife and her lover, and the
rakish friend that likes the mistress. The sum of those four parts is
supposed to be some sort of conversation about marriage, but it never
really emerges from its pulp mystery origins. What does emerge is a
story you’ve seen before: Man decides to kill wife to be with
mistress. I kept waiting for the movie to offer up something new, a new
breath of life into a tired story, but ultimately it falls short.

The problem is rooted in the source material. Commenting on the
reason he chose the story, writer/ producer/ director Ira Sachs
explains, “I wanted to make a film that spoke gently and honestly about
the complexities and intricacies of marriage and intimate life, and
here was a plot—however outrageous it might seem—that in the end could
do so in a way both direct and metaphoric.” Unfortunately the direction
Mr. Sachs takes with the story, a split between whimsical and serious,
is neither complex nor intricate, making it difficult to take the film
seriously.

Mr. Sacks also thinks you’re an idiot. There is a constant, droning
voice-over during the entire movie, and the characters are shallow and
poorly developed. With only the slightest provocation they spout off
their entire life stories, discussing relationships and feelings with
the clumsy hands of the screen writer pulling the strings in abrupt,
jerky motions.

The uncommonly talented cast does a lot to calm the uneven
writing. Chris Cooper, the pain and disillusionment fused into every
pore, delivers the sort of nuanced performance that we’ve come to
expect from him. Rachel McAdams is similarly able to shock a semblance
of life into Kay, the thinly written object of affection for both
leading men.

The acting makes the darker moments of the film resonate, but it
hits so many bad notes with its thin plot and whimsical execution that
it’s difficult to take seriously. Ultimately the film neither chills,
nor comments on marriage at all, but simply wilts away in mediocrity.