Thursday, January 14, 2010

Perfect Imperfection

Written by guest blogger Kristen of Motherese. Thank you, Kristen, for being my first writer in the series!

Although I stand by my assertion that traveling with small children is not, technically, a vacation (unless, of course, you are fortunate enough to travel with a staff of childcare professionals), there were moments on our trip east last month in which Husband and I indulged in some vacation-like activity.

To wit: we watched three movies.

The first was my family's annual viewing of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol (the
fabulous 1984 made-for-TV version starring George C. Scott)
. The second was the pleasant, but perfectly predictable The Proposal, starring Sandra Bullock in the, well, Sandra Bullock role. (But this time around she's cute and mean, and then cute and nice, instead of just cute and nice the whole time.)

The third movie was Marley and Me.

Now, in my mind, this movie had a few strikes against it going in. First, I don't care much for Jennifer Aniston. Second, I don't care much for dogs (I know, that's downright un-American of me; and I probably just lost any chance I had of attracting any new readers with this guest posting gig). Third, I have trouble seeing Owen Wilson as a comedic lead since his suicide attempt a few years ago. And, as if those reservations weren't enough, I usually prefer dramas to romantic comedies.

But you know what? I was wrong about this one.

Marley and Me may not be a great piece of American cinema, but what it is is a strikingly realistic portrait of marriage (just with better highlights, nicer outfits, and a house that's shabby chic rather than just shabby).

Based on the memoir by John Grogan, the movie traces the lives of Grogan and his wife Jennifer. And their dog Marley. But the movie isn't really about the dog. It's about the excitement and pain and love and heartbreak of marriage. It's about life. Real life. The things that happen to real people, real families.

(Spoiler alert: if you're planning to see or to read Marley and Me, skip over the doublespaced list below in order to avoid learning major plot points.)

A couple falls in love.

They get married.

Although he is eventually successful, his first job out of school is distinctly unglamorous.

They love each other.

She's ready to have kids before he is.

He figures out that he's ready too.

She has a miscarriage.

They love each other.

She gets pregnant again. And again. And again.

She works from home, then gives up a job she loves to stay at home with their kids.

They love each other.

They move in order to find a safer neighborhood for their children.

He works too hard.

She suffers from postpartum depression.

He spends time in his car at the end of the day to buffer himself against the chaos that he knows he'll find behind the door to his house.

He sees his childless colleague hired away by the New York Times while he weighs a career move against what is best for his family.

They fight.

They love each other.

The dog dies.

But they love each other.

Throughout it all, they love each other.

Perhaps John and Jennifer don't get the full Hollywood ending to which we have become so accustomed because the Grogans themselves aren't Hollywood characters; they are real people living in Pennsylvania and not only figments in the minds of a screenwriter.And I have to wonder if Grogan's book - and then the movie - were commercially successful not just because of the cute dog - and, okay, he was really cute - but because millions of American couples felt gratified to see the rhythms of a real marriage considered worthy of big screen treatment. They were relieved to see that they weren't alone.

And seeing such a portrait is relatively rare, I think. Many movies, even the good ones, seem to offer extreme versions of marriage: the madcap (like the zany dad and the long-suffering mom in Father of the Bride) or the pathological (like the two collapsed partnerships in American Beauty).

But just as it was once helpful for me to realize that not every new mother is perfectly happy, it was refreshing here to see that some marriages are, like mine, perfectly imperfect. You know, a marriage where some days are all about being madly in love; others are about making it till bedtime; and most are a combination of the two. A marriage that really is for richer, for poorer, in sickness, in health, for better or worse. A marriage that bends and twists, that is buffeted by the storms of children and illness and economics, but that doesn't necessarily break.

Where marriage is concerned, perfect isn't normal. Normal isn't perfect. Nor is it constantly comedic, nor deeply flawed. Normal is, often enough, perfectly imperfect.

How instructive to those contemplating making the leap to see it all writ large on-screen - the ebb and flow of luck, health, and happiness, and, ultimately, the endurance of love that characterize a successful partnership.

Which book or movie has provided you with the most accurate picture of marriage?

If you are also participating in the Won't You Be My Neighbor series, sign the linky below with your guest's blog post! (Make sure you copy and paste the URL of the post, not your whole blog site.)

(Image: Babydog by Mr Senseless via Wikimedia Commons. Image is in the public domain.)

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