From Rom-Coms to sad, sad psycho-dramas, many films deal with the always intriguing, if sometimes volatile, topic of divorce. Here we have compiled a list of our favorite divorce movies, in order from those that present the issue in a jovial, comedic way, down to those which showcase The Great Split in the darkest possible shaft of light.
It’s Complicated – Cute, cute, cute. This Nancy Meyers film makes divorce seem like just too much fun. It’s hard to not appear that way with a debonair yet mischievous Alec Baldwin and a flirtatious Meryl Streep, at her white wine swilling best, in the lead roles. As these two secretly reconnect after their split, new life is breathed into their relationship, and the sparks fly. Overall, a fun, Rom-Com-trope filled film, but It’s Complicated actually seems more like It’s Unrealistic.
Crazy Stupid Love – This Steve Carell fronted comedy takes a unique look at divorce: from the broken-up-with-husband’s perspective. This heart broken bloke learns about navigating life as a newly single divorcé from a super suave Ryan Gosling, who’s got all the right moves, clothes, lines and bone structure. A little far fetched is how, well, everything plays out in this movie, but it is still very entertaining nonetheless and gives us all some radiant glimmers of hope.
The First Wives Club – Look out, men, here comes a trio of wronged women on a mission. Revenge may best be served cold, but these ladies are HOT. …Well, that’s at least the overriding theme here in this Hawn-Middler-Keaton vehicle. The discarded first wives plan to exact vengeance on their philandering ex-husbands, all of whom divorced said wives in order to get with new, younger strumpets. Ultimately the ladies, phoenix-like, rise from the ashes of their torched marriages and use their ire to do something more positive than just sabotaging their exes’ lives. A feel good movie about moving on.
Sideways – While the primary focus of this superb, winery inspired film (which seems to just get better with age…wink wink) may not be exclusively divorce, the broken relationship highlighted (Paul Giamatti’s), and the freshly forged one that is certain to end in disaster (Thomas Haden Church’s), make quite the potent statement about long term commitment. As Miles’s life crumbles around him, he just can’t cut the emotional cord from his ex-wife. A touching portrait of a broken, self-esteem deficient man, trying to rebuild, where one dominant message resounds: wine cures all ills.
Take this Waltz – This whimsical Sarah Polley piece poses an interesting question: how long can you honor a marriage vow when a) you’re just not that into it anymore, and b) a sexy stranger is continuously smoldering at you and clamoring to get into your pants. Michelle Williams’s heroine is categorically indecisive, and Seth Rogan (who sadly is just not that appealing when he isn’t acting like a total goofball stoner) is nice but numbingly bland. The supporting performance by Sarah Silverman steals this film, injecting a dose of in-your-face reality. This tale is equal parts precious and wince-inducing, but ultimately ends on a note of irresolution, much like life itself.
The Squid and the Whale – Before introducing us to the sullen Greenburg and the plucky Frances Ha, Noah Baumbach took us on a field trip to the Museum of Natural History, to view the giant squid and whale hanging there, forever entangled in battle. Heavy handed metaphor for divorce aside, this is a quality film that explores all of the nuances inherent to the pains of splitting up, from many different perspectives. Stand out performances by Jesse Eisenberg and Jeff Daniels, as his troubled pa, really make this a memorable flick, where we see firsthand the effects of familial dissolution on all members of the clan.
Kramer Vs. Kramer – This classic was one of the first movies to really deal with divorce and its role in the disintegration of the American family. Meryl Streep plays the Kramer who has just had enough of her husband’s inattentiveness and obsession with work. She peaces out and leaves the oblivious Kramer (a mop topped Dustin Hoffman) alone to take care of their tiny tyke. Once he finally gets the hang of how to manage the little booger, Ms. Kramer comes back, seeking custody. Hence, the film’s title. Not to spoil, but the story ends on a very poignant note, with a nice lesson about accepting what is just in life.
Far from Heaven – A very compelling dissection of how a seemingly healthy marriage can quickly dissipate when both parties engage in activities viewed by society as abject ignominies. Speaking here specifically of a 1950’s perfect housewife, played by the sublimely versatile Julianne Moore, who catches her husband (Dennis Quaid – no, not Randy) lip-locked with another dude. This inadvertently leads her to forge a relationship with their gardner, an African-American man (another societal no-no at the time). Ultimately, after really trying to keep their bond going, this couple comes to terms with their true desires as they embark on new journeys.
War of the Roses – In contention for the ultimate divorce movie of all time, this extraordinarily bleak comedy truly depicts a flat out war. This film proves that passion will always remain passion; it just changes form. Once a sexually charged power couple, we see the Roses (Kathleen Turner vs. Michael Douglas) degenerate into violent, vindictive foes that will stop at nothing to defeat their former spouse. A phenomenal element to this divorce epic is how the story unfolds with Danny Devito, as their preterite lawyer, narrating this cautionary tale to a couple about to end their marriage. All in all, we just can’t help but rubberneck at this combusting wreck. Ok, very intentional spoiler here: the film ends with the Roses hanging from a chandelier together, clinging for their dear lives, and it just comes crashing down in a literal/figurative final shattering. That is why this one lands at the near bottom of this descending list of dolefulness.
Blue Valentine – Oh dear lord, someone turn on a light because it is DARK in here. This cinematic foray into melancholic dreariness explores what happens when the oppressive forces of life slowly squeeze every iota of attraction, love and affection out of a marriage. Brutally real performances by both Michelle Williams (she’s apparently really drawn to this material) and Ryan Gosling (intentionally looking the worst His Royal Hotness ever has), at the various stages of their disintegrating union. The only thing to really take away from this exercise in anguish is that sometimes things implode, no matter how hard you try to keep them together. Warning: don’t watch this film if you are already feeling “blue.”
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