In this article, we share 5 divorce movies that you might want to watch, revisit or avoid. We will be asking his colleagues Diane Genders and Faye Bentley for their choices in coming weeks.
In the meantime, you can let us have your thoughts about divorce in the movies, how it is depicted and which ones had an impact for you over on our Facebook page by clicking here.
2. Mr Popper’s Penguins
3. War of the Roses
4. Mrs Doubtfire
(and one to look out for at the end of the list…)
I was a huge Steve Martin fan. Parenthood marked something of a shift in his work from a less zany style to a more mature, reflective tone. The divorce aspect is played out through Dianne West’s character and her struggles to care for her two children through their colourful adolescent chapters. A very young Joaquin Phoenix and Keanu Reeves feature .
Mr Popper’s Penguins
My children would never forgive me if I did not include this wonderful family film. Jim Carrey plays Mr Popper who finds himself responsible for half a dozen highly anthro-morphosized penguins. He has to juggle this new found responsibility with his responsibilities towards his children and coming to terms with his ex-wife’s new relationship. There is something very old-school about this utterly charming film. You could almost imagine James Stewart playing the lead role.
War of the Roses
This is a classic black comedy and one of the best divorce movies ever. There is something horribly irresistible in watching Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner spiral downwards into the most spectacular self-destruction. The context in which this story is told is that Danny DeVito is recounting what happened when divorce went wrong. In that sense the story almost becomes a morality play or fable. The message behind it, regarding conciliatory approaches, mediation and settlement is as relevant now as it ever was.
Ask most people about divorce movies and they will think of Mrs Doubtfire (The other is the heart wrenching and harrowing Kramer vs Kramer) The late Robin Williams does an excellent job in bringing his stand up comedy persona to the divorced father who will do anything – ANYTHING – to get to see his children. There is a cloying pandering to Hollywood’s need for happy endings here, as with Mr Popper’s Penguins which I do find troubling and this is the reconciliation fantasy. We know that children often want nothing more than for mum and dad to get back together. Watch out that these films do not raise unrealistic expectations in that regard. Sadly, it rarely happens in real life.
Twister is the surprise choice for this list. To my mind though it is a divorce movie in the kind of way that Gremlins is one of the best Christmas movies. The divorce element is seen in Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt coming to terms with the end of their marriage. One of the central plot devices is that Bill needs to get his divorce papers served on his estranged wife – cue lots of near misses and portentous shots of legal documents blowing in the wind. The reconciliation myth plays out once again in this one as well. There is probably an essay somewhere online about how Twister is a metaphor for the end of a marriage but I haven’t got time to search for it right now.
One to track down – The Squid and the Whale
I have not seen this film yet and only found out about it when I was preparing for this article. Wikipedia suggests that it is “A 2005 American arthouse comedy-drama film written and directed by Noah Baumbach and produced by Wes Anderson. It tells the semi-autobiographical story of two boys in Brooklyn dealing with their parents’ divorce in 1986. The film is named after the giant squid and sperm whale diorama housed at the American Museum of Natural History, which is seen in the film.” On the basis of that write up I am guessing it is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea but for me personally, it is ticking all of my boxes.