When the narrator of a film called Married Life describes the institution as a type of "mild disease" after the opening credits, it's hard to be optimistic about the events about to transpire.
From the title to the flippant demeanor of the film, Ira Sachs' Married Life (rated PG-13 for thematic elements and a scene of sexuality) seems intent on unveiling the silly underpinnings of modern relationships, but this comedic twist on a noir story lacks heart.
Harry Allen (Chris Cooper) has strayed from his wife Pat (Patricia Clarkson) and fallen for the younger and blonder Kay (Rachel MacAdams). As this is 1940s polite society, Harry can't bear the thought of hurting Pat. So to avoid the embarrassment of a divorce, he plots to kill her. But he makes the mistake of introducing his caddish friend Richard Langley (Pierce Brosnan) to his new love interest. Richard is soon plotting to steal Kay for himself. Meanwhile, devoted Pat is actually carrying on an affair with the Allens' mutual friend John (David Wenham). Married life!
Even with the assumption that marriage is about appearances, the whole murder thing is hard to swallow. As a result, Harry's failings turn him into a weaselly irritant. With his British accent in this sea of Middle Americans, Richard acts like a viper about to pounce. Even so, it is hard to sympathize with the spineless Harry when his girl gets stolen. Only Pat manages to maintain a modicum of sympathy. Her efforts to shield her husband from the indignity of her departure begin to make some sense.
While the cast is impeccably coifed and their approximation of 1940s life all very well turned out, there is a cold center to Married Life. The film is so convinced of the absurdity of matters of the heart that it barely matters whether it ends tragically or comically. Married Life! Who needs it?