I took a chance on this one. I needed to see a romantic movie with the husband. The romance tank was running on empty.
So there was this movie with mixed reviews that was written by Dave Eggers and his wife. I am on the side of those who loved A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. Plus I have heard that they are very much in love, and have a happy family.
But it was directed by Sam Mendes. Yep, Mr. American Beauty and Revolutionary Road. I would have figured this film was all about
putting down the middle class -- angst and alienation. Well, we decided to go for it and discovered that, while there is a sense of both in this film, overall the movie is sweet in its earnest look at love and parenthood.
Now the very first scene is not for the shrinking violets out there. It is a very...um... intimate scene in which a long-time couple, Burt and Verona, discover they're pregnant in an unusual way. (A scene I think the Foley artists worked overtime on.) But if you can get past it, and don't mind a bit of bad language here and there, you will follow this couple on a journey of discovery as they try to decide where to raise their child.
I hear that The New York Times "sniffed" that "this movie doesn't like you." And the Washington Post reviewer had this to say (my emphasis):
"Burt and Verona practice the same brand of exceptionalism that sends countries into wars, marriages into crisis and children into lifelong therapy... (it) has a happy ending every bit as synthetic as the middlebrow entertainments its protagonists no doubt despise... the final shot of the movie features Burt and Verona alone, with their backs to the audience and, by extension, the world. Ready, finally, to become someone else's idea of hell."
Why do I suspect that the WashPo reviewer and other nay-sayers like her -- in addition to being ardent liberals (sends countries into wars?!)-- saw themselves in one of the characters that was frowned upon in this movie? Either that or they have doubts in general about their parenting and don't like the idea of being "judged" -- or they've chosen not to have children and have contempt for all parents -- but those are wild guesses. Because the movie I saw was none of the things she mentioned.
Instead, I saw a movie that examined the extremes of under-thinking parenthood (as seen in a loud-mouthed mom who says disparaging remarks in front of her daughter) and over-thinking it (the couple with the family bed that eschews strollers), and how we all must find a balance we can live with, so we as couples and we as families can find our way.
In addition to the caricatures of poor parenting, Burt and Verona also visit a very happy couple, who apparently have adopted four children of various ethnic backgrounds. Burt and Verona decide they want to be like them, and consider living nearby. They then discover that there is a sadness in this couple's lives.
They have just endured their fifth miscarriage. The husband speaks of how maybe they shouldn't have waited so long to try and have a baby, and how tragic it is that so many young girls get pregnant... They love their adopted children, but they have this unbearable feeling of loss.
Now, Roger Ebert described this couple as not really being happy, and the WashPo reviewer scoffed that this was portraying adoption as "second-best." I would argue that this couple was indeed happy, but there was this separate desire that had not been fulfilled. People can have both dreams. Mourning the loss of one does not take away from the other. (Maybe the reviewer had closed herself off and did not hear the heart-breaking line about watching their babies fade away. How could you not have sympathy for that?)
But what I really liked about this movie was that it reminded me that we all need to be mindful of who we are as parents. At one point, Burt points out that he thinks that being a parent should bring out the best in us. That it should make us better than we normally are. It sorta reset my parenting compass.
And it also filled the romance tank. Verona says, "No one is in love like us, right?" I squeezed my honey's hand. Because that really describes us. I hope it describes you, too. For that is a great part of being a parent. Remembering that we love each other, like no one else, and that we're in this together.