Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Marriage and a movie

New York magazine, in an article on the marriage and movie partnership of Jennifer Jason Leigh and Noah Baumbach:

[Leigh speaking] "...this was always my childhood idea of what a marriage would be."

...she relaxes as she describes her notion of connubial bliss. It's a familiar fantasy, one that animated Joan Didion's memoir of her life with John Gregory Dunne, an ideal I remember picking up like a virus in high school, when I read about Woody Allen's relationship with Mia Farrow, back in those sweet and innocent days, before the fall. There's another model, of course, in which love is poisoned by competition: Baumbach himself portrayed it with acid specificity in his memoir of his parents' Park Slope divorce, The Squid and the Whale. But Leigh and Baumbach are clearly aiming for something different from their parents' lives (she's the child of artists who split up as well): marriage as an idyllic, never-ending brainstorm among supportive equals.

[Later in the article]

Much of Leigh's own personality, she acknowledges, was shaped in response to her older sister, a wild child who was the muse not only for Georgia but for her mother's earlier TV film Freedom, and who is currently a drug-addiction counselor in California.

"She was a very--" Leigh begins, then pauses, struggling to describe their childhood dynamic. "I mean, who knows why, exactly, because I could point to my parents' divorce, I don't know, I was 2 at the time, she was 5! But she had a very, very difficult time, and she was a very emotional kid. A lot of acting out. And so I was a very good kid."

Leigh remembers "literally going off to clean my room" when her sister freaked out. She can recall her own inner dialogue: "I don't want to be that. I don't want that attention. That's scary."

Other than the celebritology factor of a movie actress married to a filmmaker, who just happened to make a critically acclaimed and very personal (although rather disturbing) film about children of divorce, this article struck two separate chords with me.

First, I was a little taken aback by the cynicism of the author. I know, I know, this is New York magazine, the magazine for a town that defines cynicism. Maybe I've been out of the NYC aura for too long and have started to adopt the sunny optimism of the South. It's true that my wardrobe this summer contained a lot of pink and almost no black; but then isn't pink the new black?? Still Nussbaum's denigration of a happy marriage as "fantasy" and something picked up "like a virus" seems a tad mean. Why can't two people be happy, especially two people who have already seen the mean side of marriage? Can we just let these lovebirds enjoy wedded bliss, and perhaps even wish them a lifetime of happiness together? Is that too much to ask?

The other thing that struck me in this article was Leigh's comments about how she and her sister reacted differently to their parents' divorce, one child acting out and the other trying very hard to keep it together and be the good child. Same family, same divorce, different kids, different reactions.

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