“Paying alimony is like feeding hay to a dead horse.” Groucho Marx, movie actor. “I have learned that, not diamonds, but divorce lawyers are a girl’s best friend.”
Zsa Zsa Gabor, movie actress.

Movies have been a popular diversion during the pandemic. What better time to see how movies have handled divorce through the years? A popular topic since the advent of silent movies, A Bill of Divorcement (1922) was one of the first. Ten years later the remake starred John Barrymore and Katherine Hepburn and sound. The movie made Hepburn an instant star.

Divorce movies-comedies, dramas, foreign films-have been made by the dozens in the decades since. They have covered custody battles, fights over property, anger and revenge-just about everything divorcing couples fight about. In 1961 the Italians took a turn in Divorzio All Italiana. Marcello Mastrioani concocted an intricate plan to divorce his wife so he could marry his much younger and prettier cousin. It didn’t end up the way he had planned.

Debbie Reynolds and Dick Van Dyke teamed up in a silly comedy in Divorce American Style (1967), an enjoyable example of why Reynolds and Van Dyke were so popular during the 60s and 70s.

Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas went to battle in the War of the Roses (1989). A comedy? A drama? A realistic look at divorce? Probably all three. This dark comedy depicts the lengths (depths?) to which some people will go to win.

In the 70s, things started to get more serious. Kramer v. Kramer (1979) starred Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep in an emotional battle over their young son. It
won five Oscars and poignantly captured the impact of adult anger on children. Young Billy (played by eight year old Justin Henry) will tug at your heart strings.

I Am Sam (2001), although technically not about divorce, explores the love between a learning disabled father (Sean Penn) and his young daughter (Dakota Fanning) and his battle against a state agency’s efforts to take her away from him simply because he is disabled. The love between father and daughter and their sometime role reversals due to their intellectual differences makes I Am Sam among the best films of that decade. The soundtrack of Beatles’ cover songs is
equally well done.

The 2010 film, Blue Valentine, stars Michele Williams and Ryan Gosling as a couple whose six year marriage is ending. She is looking for more and he doesn’t
understand why what they have isn’t enough. Williams was nominated for an Academy Award.

A Separation, an Iranian film, won the 2012 Oscar for Best Foreign Film. It centers on an unhappy Iranian couple grappling with the same kinds of issues that frequently infect American marriages. This movie quite clearly shows that languages, cultures, and governments may be different, but in the end, people are people.

A difficult, but important, film to watch is What Maisie Knew (2012), a modern adaption of the 1897 Henry James novel. This film, largely from six year old Maisie’s perspective, chronicles the narcissism of her parents through the death of their marriage and their troubled second marriages. Their selfish disregard for Maisie’s emotional needs is a stark reminder of the damage parents can do to their children.

Boyhood was filmed from 2002 through 2013. Using the same actors (starring Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, and Ellar Coltrane, as the boy), the movie follows a young boy from six to eighteen as he grows up with divorced parents who get along reasonably well, but have very different parenting styles. The film received six Academy Award nominations (including Arquette’s win for Best Supporting Actress). There are so many choices. One is sure to suit you.

“In Hollywood, an equitable divorce settlement means each party getting fifty percent of the publicity.” Lauren Bacall, movie actress.

“Dahling, I am an excellent housekeeper. Every time I get divorced, I keep the house.” Zsa Zsa Gabor, movie actress