Review: 'Married Life'


TORONTO -- "Married Life" teeters between film genres, not ever quite making up its mind what it strives for -- romantic farce or Hitchcock suspense, comedy of manners or crime melodrama. Then too, this is yet another pastiche of 1950s studio films, which gives the film a sheen of artifice and formality. So despite adultery, betrayal, seduction and attempted murder, nothing really seems at stake in this film from writer-director Ira Sachs ("Forty Shades of Blue"). It's just bad behavior in the 'burbs.

To market this neither-here-nor-there movie, MGM will have to lean heavily on its cast of Pierce Brosnan, Chris Cooper, Patricia Clarkson and Rachel McAdams and it's tag line -- A man decides to kill his wife because divorce would cause her too much pain -- which makes the film sound more dark and quirky than it actually is.

The script by Sachs and Oren Moverman (based on a pulp novel by John Bingham) definitely starts out in a whimsical mood. We're deep into the '50s -- even though it is actually 1949 -- where men wear ties all times, smoke constantly, swim in three-martini lunches yet drink coffee before bedtime. By all reports, it was really bad coffee too.

Harry (Cooper), a self-effacing yet surprisingly determined businessman, invites his nattily dressed best friend Richard (Brosnan) to one of those liquid lunches. He informs Richard that he intends to leave his wife Pat (Clarkson) for his much younger girlfriend Kay (McAdams). He says Kay truly loves him for himself, while Pat only wants him for the sex.

"We all have to put up with something in life, Harry," Richard cautions his lifelong friend.

Then on cue, Kay makes a grand entrance to the restaurant, causing a stir among all the men, most especially in Richard. Almost immediately, Richard is determined to steal Kay away from Harry.

One scene and the wheels are set for a comedy of manners. But Sachs shifts gears. He gets stuck for awhile in toned-down domestic melodrama with Harry struggling to find a way to break the news to Pat; Richard romancing Kay, although in very low-key fashion; and Richard, who apparently has an open invitation to Harry and Pat's "cottage," making the startling discovery that Pat has some sexual action on the side. From 1949, it's suddenly 1966!

But these farcical situations gradually give way to Hitchcock suspense as Harry decides the only decent thing to do is poison Pat to death. Sachs even supplies the iconic image of a potentially homicidal husband bringing an ominous tray upstairs to his wife, right out of "Suspicion."

It is the suspense element that wins out at the climax followed by an exceedingly lame denouement that tries to pull the movie back into comedy and pastiche. Little wonder the performances by very clever actors feel uncertain. What world are these people in? Or rather, what movie world do they inhabit?

The 1949 details are on the money yet contain none of the dazzling satire of "Far From Heaven." Sets, costumes and cinematography have done a fine job of reminding viewers that for all renewed interest in early '50s fashion, it was a rather dull era, visually speaking.

MGM and Sidney Kimmel Entertainment present an Anonymous Content/Firm Films production
Director: Ira Sachs
Writers: Ira Sachs, Oren Moverman
Based on the novel by: John Bingham
Producers: Sidney Kimmel, Jawal Nga, Steve Golin, Ira Sachs
Executive producers: William Horberg, David Nicksay, Geoff Stier, Adam Shulman, Matt Littin, Alix Madigan-Yorkin, Bruce Toll
Director of photography: Peter Deming
Production designer: Hugo Luczyc-Wyhowski
Costume designer: Michael Dennison
Music: Dickon Hinchliffe
Editor: Affonso Goncalves
Rich: Pierce Brosnan
Harry: Chris Cooper
Pat: Patricia Clarkson
Kay: Rachel McAdams
Tom: David Richmond-Peck
Running time -- 90 minutes
MPAA rating: PG-13