We’ve had Johnny and June in “Walk the Line,” Katharine Hepburn and Henry Fonda’s grouchy old-timers in “On Golden Pond” and real-life marrieds Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton bickering their way through “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
But they’ve been the exceptions. Usually, when it comes to Oscar couplings, the academy seems to prefer the sizzle of first love to the monotony of matrimonial nesting. This year, however, for better or worse, it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that ring. From the royals in “The King’s Speech” to the moms in “The Kids Are All Right,” this year’s Oscar pairs have been to the altar and back.
And, if we’re to glean anything from this crop of couples, it’s that, whether you’re battling Scooter Libby or the advances of your sperm-donor kids’ sexy biological dad, marriage is a train that doesn’t make it back to the station without leaving a little blood on the tracks. Caution: Minor plot spoilers ahead.
‘THE KING’S SPEECH’
The marriage: King George VI ( Colin Firth), a.k.a. Bertie, and Elizabeth ( Helena Bonham Carter), a.k.a. the future Queen Mum.
The message: Bonham Carter says she decided to play Elizabeth as a “marshmallow made with a welding machine.” Elizabeth still believes George can beat his crippling stammer long after the future king has thrown in the towel. She reassures him through his self-doubt and, when they finally find an effective speech therapist, she has the self-knowledge to step back and let George develop a close relationship (an early bromance, if you will) with said therapist without becoming jealous.
“We live in a world where people emphasize development of the self,” “Speech” director Tom Hooper says. “It’s me, me, me. And, actually, this film says that sometimes you can achieve that best version of yourself by opening up to other people and letting them in.”
Will they make it? Elizabeth and George remained married until George’s death in 1952.
The marriage: Becca ( Nicole Kidman) and Howie ( Aaron Eckhart) had a storybook union — great Westchester house, great sex to the musical stylings of Al Green — until the accidental death of their 4-year-old son.
The message: Most fictional tragedies occur because of some kind of tragic flaw. That’s not the case here, which might make this couple’s challenge even greater. How do you stay together in the wake of an inexplicable, irreparable loss? Howie wants to hold on to his son’s memory; Becca needs to start anew.
“What I love about the writing is that they’re both right and both wrong,” says director John Cameron Mitchell. “That’s why it’s not easy. There’s no right way or wrong way here. The question is, can they find a way together?”
Will they make it? “My Scottish granny used to say, ‘Love me little, but love me long. Because little and often fills the purse,’” Mitchell says. “Howie and Becca had that early passion, but now, through this, they’ve forged something deeper. When she takes his hand at the end, it still gets me.”
‘THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT’
The marriage: Groovy earth mama Jules ( Julianne Moore) and perfectionist doc Nic ( Annette Bening) have raised two teenagers, remodeled a cool Venice house and lived to tell the tale. But the sudden arrival of their kids’ sperm-donor dad forces them to examine aspects of their marriage they’ve long ignored.
The message: It doesn’t matter whether you’re straight or gay or shop at Trader Joe’s or Stater Bros., if you put day-to-day living ahead of your partner, you’re screwed.
“When you’re trying to keep a house together and keep the kids together and just get through life, it’s easy to start feeling unseen and unappreciated,” says “Kids” director Lisa Cholodenko, who has a 4-year-old with her longtime partner, Wendy Melvoin. “Life is chaotic and, no, you can’t analyze everything or you’d be on the couch all day. But every once in a while, yeah, you need to take inventory.”
Will they make it? Jules does stray, but it was … you know … the father of her child. She was confused and, yes, turned on. But it’s in the past, and Nic seems to have forgiven her.
The marriage: Dean ( Ryan Gosling) and Cindy ( Michelle Williams) enjoy a charming courtship involving old-timers and ukuleles. A few years later, they’re married, miserable and having bad, drunken sex in the world’s worst motel room. Where did the love go?
The message: Director Derek Cianfrance sees “Blue Valentine” as a cautionary tale about the erosive — and corrosive — power of time.
“When they started out, they were two fish in the ocean,” Cianfrance says. “Now, as time has passed, they’re fish in a bucket, trying to get to the ocean of opportunity again.”
Adds Gosling: “There’s some deep problems, but they’re not aware of them. Before I did the film, I asked a couple of friends — since divorced — what their biggest problems were with one another. She piped up: ‘He never squeezes out the sponge.’ She was livid about it, convinced there was some ulterior motive. Obviously, they had big issues, but the sponge was taking all the heat.”
Will they make it? Cianfrance says the “movie doesn’t end. It stops.” Williams hopes it was “just two bad days in the marriage” and that they can start anew. Maybe. But watch the movie. Those are two really bad days.
’ FAIR GAME’
The marriage: CIA operations officer Valerie Plame ( Naomi Watts) and former U.S. ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV ( Sean Penn) deal with the fallout of the public disclosure of Plame’s profession.
The message: Opposites attract. When Wolf Blitzer interviewed Plame and Wilson shortly before the film opened, he played word-association. First name: Dick Cheney. Plame gave a long, measured response. Wilson simply said, " Traitor.” Next name: I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby. Again, Plame answered thoughtfully and at length. And, again, Wilson kept his response succinct: “Traitor.”
“They really are the odd couple,” director Doug Liman says. “The first time they saw the movie, Joe’s bawling his eyes out. And Valerie is sitting there stone-faced. She turns to Joe, and says, ‘Knock it off. Get it together.’ That’s their relationship in a nutshell.”
Will they make it? Well, they did survive Cheney.