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Everything I Know about Divorce I Learned From the Movies

War_of_the_rosesThe Reuters news agency is quoting Paul McCartney as saying that his ongoing divorce proceedings are like “going through hell.”

My heart goes out to him.  Not that I’ve ever been divorced myself, mind you, but I’ve seen a few zillion movies in which people get divorced and in not one of them has it ever looked like fun. (I admit it, everything I know is from the movies.)

Sure, back in the 30s you had the occasional screwball comedy about divorced couples having wacky adventures, but they always got remarried at the end. (These movies always seemed to star Cary Grant, too—My Favorite Wife, His Girl Friday, The Awful Truth, The Philadelphia Story.)

By and large, though, movie divorce is an ugly, painful thing. For instance:

The War of the Roses (1989)—The ultimate bad divorce movie. Directed with unrelenting comic ferocity by Danny DeVito, its depiction of a breakup in which both parties (Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner) refuse to make any concessions is so bleak (albeit hilarious) that it’s amazing that anyone who ever saw it could go on to get married.

The Squid and the Whale (2005)—In which we learn that divorce is so disruptive for the kids that it may lead them to passing off Pink Floyd songs as their own composition. Or worse: I’ve never felt comfortable in a public library since seeing how the younger son of the couple played by Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney reacts to their breakup.

Heartburn (1986)—Not even Jack Nicholson can get away with everything: the most memorable scene in this comedy, based on Nora Ephron’s book about her failed marriage to political reporter Carl Bernstein, is the finale in which Meryl Streep gives him a rather larger serving of cream pie than he might have wanted.

The Good Father (1985)—Anthony Hopkins gave one of his most pain-filled performances in this relatively unknown British drama as a man, still seething with rage over his own divorce, who encourages a meek friend (Jim Broadbent) to go for the throat when his wife leaves him for another woman.

Shoot the Moon (1982)—Albert Finney and Diane Keaton play a middle aged couple growing apart after 15 years of marriage in director Alan Parker’s wrenching drama. (Fans will be happy to know it’s finally being released on DVD next month.)

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