Images sourced from VUE Cinemas

Images sourced from VUE Cinemas

I asked on my Facebook page recently, “what, in your opinion, is the most romantic movie?” I needed to do a survey for an upcoming speaking engagement, so I was taking votes. The response was overwhelming!

We women love our chick flicks!
My daughters and I have the whole five hour version of Pride and Prejudice memorized (comes in handy for long car trips.)

Whenever I comment on movies on this blog, though, inevitably some commenters say “you shouldn’t watch movies”. I understand. There certainly are some movies I won’t watch. But movies are a way of telling a story, and a story can resonate in a way that mere words can’t. That means that movies certainly can be dangerous, since they can get under the skin and wiggle where we don’t want certain ideas. But they can also uplift, and inspire, and touch us in a way little else can.

Take the best answer to the question “what, in your opinion, is the most romantic movie”? One woman said, “the first 8 minutes of the movie Up.” I completely agree! I have never seen such a beautiful portrayal of love and marriage as Pixar did in that 8 minutes. I think everybody should have to watch that when they’re considering getting married. Marriage is for the long haul; it’s not about marrying the person you love when you’re young; it’s about marrying the person you want to grow old with. How special! And a movie in 8 minutes could do that; words alone could not. Movies can be wonderful vehicles of portraying real relationship truths.

Now movies and romance novels have a definite downside: they can make us wish so much for a hero like THAT GUY that our husbands never measure up. But at the same time, movies can also inspire.

Vue Cinemas has a great roundup of what relationship lessons different “chick flick” movies teach us. It got me thinking: what relationship lessons have I seen in movies lately? I’d like to follow Vue Cinema’s example here and list some of the better ones that have to do with marriage:

Date Night.

Rip roariously funny, but the reason I loved it so much was how it focused on what marriage is like in real life. The scene where she had just put her mouth guard in and so he realizes they’re not going to have sex had my husband laughing so hard I thought he’d pass out. That’s what marriage is like! And then the conversations they have about her being a control freak, and her never letting him do anything around the house were so perfect. They showed how often we women feel put upon, but sometimes we’re doing it to ourselves.

The make up scene at the end, when they have pancakes together, was just lovely. There is a scene in a strip joint (though it’s far funnier than sexy), but I have rarely seen a movie which so accurately depicts marriage, and shows how a couple who has disconnected can learn to connect again.

Lesson: Don’t settle for boring in your marriage. Keep it fun not out of habit but because you truly do love each other. So make time, talk, and don’t give up.

Crazy, Stupid Love.

I guess I just like Steve Carrell, but I was so impressed with this movie. I thought I’d hate it for the first 45 minutes, because it’s all about a younger, cooler guy (Ryan Gosling) teaching an older, just dumped guy (Steve Carrell) how to attract women for anonymous encounters. It seemed so shallow. But the ending is really satisfying (and comes with a twist my husband and I never saw coming). Both Gosling’s character and Carrell’s ex-wife realize that commitment and stability are actually far sexier than living an empty life, a lesson that Carrell knew all along.

The movie is far from perfect. There’s too much sex outside of marriage, and the teenage thread was kinda gross. But honestly, it’s great to see a movie that depicts getting divorced as a destructive, selfish thing, and getting and staying married as a higher calling. I’m not saying everyone should see it, but I am grateful it was made. It’s an important voice in this culture.

Lesson: If you want to live a happy, fulfilling life, commit to one person forever, and don’t give up. Having multiple partners is far emptier than having one who loves you–that you love in return.

Hope Springs.

I’ve written about this one before, too, and I just loved it. Again, you can pick apart little bits of this movie–it shows Meryl Streep doing something rather inappropriate–but it’s so marriage affirming. (Oh, wow, I just realized this one had Steve Carrell, too! I guess he’s on a roll. Does he have a great marriage himself or something?). An older couple (Streep and husband Tommy Lee Jones) have grown apart. They sleep in separate bedrooms. They never really communicate. The marriage has grown cold.

And in desperation doormat Streep informs her husband that they are going for counseling or they are splitting up.

Much of the counseling revolves around sex, and not real issues of communcation, etc., but again, it’s a story of a marriage grown cold that is resurrected because the couple decides to push through their problems and not give up.

Lesson: Never stop communicating. Keep talking, and keep making love. Be spontaneous. If you’re in a rut, fight to get out!

Character wins; infatuation loses.

It’s Complicated.

Another movie with Streep! In this one, she was dumped several years ago when husband Alec Baldwin divorced her for a younger woman. Now she feels unattractive, but she’s slowly coming into her own again. And when she does that, Baldwin, who finds that life with a younger wife is distinctly unsatisfying, wants the marriage back. But now Streep has realized that life can be bigger than Baldwin. What will she choose?

Again, many will find the movie has some parts you wish they had left out. But the overall message is great.

Lesson: Stick with the wife of your youth, and you’ll be happy. Mess it up, and you’ll regret it.

I’m glad they’re making movies like these. Sure, it would be nice if those movies didn’t have objectionable scenes, but in our culture which is so anti-marriage, I love it when popular movies come out that the general public will see (Fireproof is great, but most people won’t see it) that also praise marriage.

And then, of course, there’s my favourite marriage movie clip of all time, from Shall We Dance:

Do you notice a common thread in those movies that I like, though? The couples are already married (or recently divorced). They’re not movies about finding the one you love and marrying; they’re movies about dealing with the day-to-day of life and marriage.

Hollywood does a better job with marriage movies than with traditional chick flicks.

With traditional chick flicks, as fun as they may be, I fear that the wrong message is given. I’m in the middle of reading Gary Thomas’ book Sacred Search about how to choose a mate (and I’m LOVING it! I’ll be talking about it soon), and one of his big warnings is don’t get married just based on infatuation. Don’t let feelings be your deciding factor in choosing your mate for life. This whole idea that if you find that “one” person you’ll feel complete and you’ll never have any trouble is a big lie (and entirely unbiblical). Marriage is about commitment, not feelings. We need to think it through and choose wisely.

That’s why I love Pride & Prejudice. Elizabeth originally has an infatuation with Wickham, but when she examines his character the infatuation disintegrates. At the same time, she originally dislikes Darcy. But when she examines HIS character, love grows. She doesn’t “fall in love”; she makes a choice.

Author Jane Austen showed this even more vividly in Sense & Sensibility, whose whole theme is that romantic infatuation is immature; mature love requires choice and belief in character. Austen shows a contrast between Marianne and Willoughby and Edward and Lucy on the one hand, and Marianne and Brandon and Elinor and Edward on the other. Character wins; infatuation loses.

Movies where people are drawn to each other, and end up together because they’re “swept away” give us an unrealistic picture of love and marriage. That’s a good conversation starter when you’re watching movies with your teens:  Is that match really a good idea? Can you see them together in ten years? Do you think love is enough? Because in most movies it’s not.

If we started believing the lessons of the “marriage” movies, instead of of the “love” movies, and teaching these lessons to our kids, perhaps we’d end up with stronger marriages in the end.

SheilaSidebarAboutMe - Romance in the Movies: What Does it Teach Us? Sheila Wray Gregoire has been married for 27 years and happily married for 22! She loves traveling around North America with her hubby in their RV, giving her signature "Girl Talk" about sex and marriage. And she's written 8 books. About sex and marriage. See a theme here? Plus she knits. Even in line at the grocery store.
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