4/18/10

Marriage in the Movies - 12 Great Husbands of Film

Here's to the husbands, and in many cases on this list, the fathers of film that run into life's little crises and just keep on going. After all, bad husbands are easy to find on film. They're onscreen cheating on their wives, reveling in their mid-life ennui and in some cases, indulging in murderous rampages. (That's you Jack Nicholson.) We're accustomed to scum-bags on screen. So what about the good guys?

Most movies are about people getting together or breaking up, not simply about married life. So it's slim pickins if you're looking for a romantic comedy featuring married folk.

With the divorce rate climbing ever higher, and film becoming more true to that real-life statistic, I think a celebration of fidelity in cinema is in order. But I am a populist after all. I noticed when I got married, that the movies that portrayed happy marriages, or at least stable marriages, were few and far between. So I've taken a shine to films that I've loved, both from the past and present, that have written marriage as an actual positive and not just fodder for tragedy.

1. Mr. Incredible - The Incredibles (2004) - Mr. Incredible finds himself slammed with a mid-life crisis. He starts down the path of drifting away from his wife and children, as so many men do, only to re-connect with them after realizing the error of his ways. A pretty typical plot really...only in this case, he rebounds in a way that empowers the entire family. Literally.

2. Steve Freeling - Poltergeist (1982) - Horror movies are notorious for bad husbands. Husbands who never listen to their wives when they say, "We should probably move because the walls are dripping with blood and I'm hearing voices." Even as recently as Paranormal Activity this pattern has been repeated. But Poltergeist is the one shining exception. Here, Craig T. Nelson takes yet another spot on the list for his portrayal of a husband supporting his family through, of all things, a nasty haunting. A husband who never forgets that his wife is still a woman throughout the ordeal. A husband who is honest about his stress, loses his cool now and then, but always comes through as a figure of unending support, taking action, and responding intuitively to the needs of a family. This is a movie just as much about family as it is about ghosts. It's also rife with metaphor if you're willing to watch for it. Take for example, the rope scene. The husband literally holds on to his wife and creates a supportive base from which she can go into a scary situation and solve a problem. On top of all that, darn if Craig T. Nelson isn't just a very attractive fella...

3. Phil Foster - Date Night (2010) - Jake and I just saw this last weekend. (Jake's my husband if you're new to the blog.) Aside from the genius casting, the character of Phil pines for a better life with his wife and not without her. He's bored, but there's never even a question or mention of infidelity. It's a great portrayal of a husband who knows his wife well and is jealous for her affections. The dinner scenes the two share prove that they can still make each other laugh and enjoy spending time together when they get the chance to take a break from their overscheduled lives.


4. Peter McAllister - Home Alone (1990) - When the chaos hits, Peter McAllister stays as calm as humanly possible. He never hushes his wife, never puts the blame on anyone else, and always work toward a solution.

5. Clark Griswold - The National Lampoon Vacation Movies (1983 - 1997) - The man may be the worst vacation and holiday planner in the history of the world, but he's a good husband. A bumbling one, but a good one. One who welcomes relatives, wants to impress in-laws, and tries to usher his wife to as many tourist destinations and special moments as humanly possible.

6. Nick - The Thin Man (1934)- This is one of the all-time best marriages in film history. Nick is a detective who accepts constant help (and sass) from his wife whom he trusts completely. Nick and Nora have fun together and know each other well enough to work as a great team. You'd be surprised at how modern the relationship seens for a film that's nearly a century old.


7. Joe Dayton - Return to Me (2000) - When I was a senior in high school, I saw this movie in the theater four times. It was my first experience loving a movie so much that I went to see it again alone multiple times. It's a near-perfect romantic comedy with Bonnie Hunt's trademark humor. But one of the best parts of this movie is the portrayal of Bonnie Hunt's husband by Jim Belushi. The character is more of a cartoon than a reality. But despite some of his bravado, he can always be seen helping with the kids as well as getting laughs. He makes his wife laugh, he opens his home to his friends, and he's an energetic husband who makes it clear (in comical ways) that he only has eyes for his wife and still finds her very attractive.


8. Chief Martin Brody - JAWS (1975) - The man stares down a Great White Shark to protect his family, I mean really, what else can you ask for? He leans on his wife in times of trouble, he doesn't cavort with the good old boys, and he kisses his wife goodbye like a knight going off to battle. Of course, the book offers a very different take on the marriage of Martin and Ellen Brody. But we'll just ignore that. Roy Scheider's brilliantly understated portrayal of a modern man turned iconic hero likely speaks to the hidden rescuer locked away inside of every man. It's that ancient idea of man vs. nature, and it's symbolically valuable to the idea of marriage in more ways than meet the eye.

9. Tom Reilly - The Ex (2006) - This was a little known movie that spoke to the young couple crowd. The plot followed a married couple with a new baby as they left their city life (and professional passions) behind in order to "settle down" in a small town. Tom finds himself as a square peg in a round hole when he takes a job at his father-in-law's company, a yuppie advertising agency. Tom has to find a way to make progress and figure out the best way to be a husband and father in the face of change and pressure from other family members. Instead of simply eating the stress that life throws at him, he finds a way to work it all out, albeit sometimes a bit clumsily. This is another great flick where the couple's problem is not the constant danger of breaking up, but is instead the obstacle of figuring out how to transition from one phase of life to the next. In reality, if marriages were in constant danger of divorce just to create a sense of suspense or desire, who could live with that? Instead, this movie takes a light-hearted look at some of the more realistic struggles, and trust me...they're just as entertaining as the ever popular "risk of infidelity and divorce" storylines.

10. Rick O'Connell - The Mummy Returns (2001) - Most action adventures find two people thrown together and falling in love on the run. But this sequel (love it or hate it) shows what happens after the initial adventure. Again we have the small moments of stolen affection, (similar to those that can be seen in Poltergeist) displaying that little known fact about husbands and wives, that they can still have a vibrant and healthy marriage after many years and having children. It's something that's rarely seen in most movies. I like the idea of marriage as a continuing adventure. Why can't we married folks have big summer blockbusters? We can! Thus proving that commitment can work in every genre, even one maybe meant to mostly sell popcorn.

11. Jack - Mr. Mom (1983) - When Jack loses his job in this eighties classic, a dashing and charismatic Michael Keaton digs down deep to support his wife's career ambitions. He learns the ropes at home and takes on child-rearing responsibilities while she's out bringing in a paycheck. The film shows a husband making a concerted effort to connect with his wife, even as the temptation of infidelity presents itself. It's a film about masculinity, gender roles, comedy, and how to keep the spark alive, even (or especially) under duress. It's a film that serves as a reminder, life comes in phases, and Mr. Mom doesn't bail during a tough phase that might send many fictional men packing.

12. Paul Rusesabagina - Hotel Rwanda (2004) - This gut-wrenching drama celebrating a real-life-hero has several scenes of tender affection between Paul (played by Don Cheadle) and his wife, even amidst life-threatening danger. During a genocidal military occupation, he even finds time for a rooftop dinner to help ease her stress. Also, he seems to actually enjoy his relationship with his wife and his character appears to be stealing a few minutes with her for his sake as well as for hers. A reminder that there is an alternative option to the old "ball and chain" steretypical complaint. You can actually love your wife and enjoy spending time with her, it's true America! Don't believe the hype.

I realize after looking at this list, that there's romance in the idea of fidelity, whether the movie industry ever catches on or not. That the plot (and life) possibilities don't stop after, "I Do". We all experience doubts and troubles, quarter-life crises and mid-life crises, biological changes and scared phases and career changes and external forces at work. It's not the fact that you have those problems that makes them bad, it's how you deal with them inside of your marriage that can change you life...as they say in the marriage vows, for better or for worse.

Runners up would be Steve Martin in the Cheaper by the Dozen movies, George McFly post-future transformation, and maybe even Rick Moranis in Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. Sure he probably should've had child services called on him, but he always fixes his mistakes right?

In fact, I was surprised that I couldn't think of more memorable movie husbands. I even did a run down actor by actor in my head, I stared at my DVD collection, and I browsed IMDB. So tell me...who am I missing? Because I know I'm missing some obvious ones.

6 comments:

xoxoxoe said...

It seems like more comedies are willing to have good dads and husbands in them than dramas. Hmmm. Craig T. Nelson may have just invented the category.

Good call on the Mummy. Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz had great chemistry and the second movie, while not great, was fun for their banter and interactions.

Call me a dork, but Shrek is doing the whole journey - husband, father, etc. He's still a cranky ogre "with layers," but also a loving husband and dad. And can still save the day, sequel by sequel.

I also love single dad Paul Blart.

I like how Bill Murray in What About Bob insinuates himself into Richard Dreyfuss's family, eventually making Dreyfuss a better dad, and ultimately becoming a good husband himself by marrying Dreyfuss's sister.

About A Boy doesn't exactly have a great dad in it, but it sure plays with that issue/absence as it builds up a family for the boy regardless.

Mr. & Mrs. Weasley in the HP films.

That's all I can come up with, off the top of my head.

Audrey M. Brown said...

Excellent suggestions. Especially Mr. Weasley. Great one especially! But doesn't Richard Dreyfuss end up going insane in the end of, "What About Bob?" haha! I guess maybe that's better than how uptight he was in the beginning, haha! Glad I'm not the only one that not so secretly loves Brendan Frasier in the Mummy. I'm just a hopeless populist. Give me a good popcorn movie, and I'm SO happy.

xoxoxoe said...

Richard Dreyfuss does end up going nuts, temporarily - but is "cured" when he objects - too late - at Bob's wedding. It was a family favorite, especially with my dad - kind of movie. i wish there were more movie couples like the Weasleys - the types you "visit" and then want to move in with them, sort of like harry does.

Tyler said...

Continuing with the Dreyfuss theme, Mr. Holland's Opus.

maryjanesanddaisychains said...

I'm so glad you included Joe from "Return to Me." Word on the street is that Bonnie is leaving TV to return to writing and directing. Can't wait. : )

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