There’s much to love about Gone Girl – it’s deftly handled, gripping and has a robot dog in an important supporting role – but no-one is pretending that it’s doing much for the institution of marriage. Heck, it’s to connubial bliss what The Hound Of The Baskervilles was to pet ownership. And yet while there’s lots more celluloid dedicated to presenting marriage as the ultimate in terror (see also Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?, Husbands And Wives, Blue Valentine and Scenes From A Marriage), there are also plenty of joyous couplings to put the spring back in the step of vicars, wedding DJs and the people who make those tiny vol-au-vents.
Movie: Another Year (2010)
That rock-solid couple movies so rarely bother with, geologist Tom (Jim Broadbent) and his counsellor Gerri Hepple (Ruth Sheen) are the poles around which their less happy pals gravitate, like unsmiling moons around some kind of giant, contended sun. Mike Leigh has such a good ear for the cadences of married life that this pair can get away with treading that fine line between serene fulfilment and irritating smugness with the grace afforded them by several decades setting the world to rights over tea and biscuits. Together, they make a kindly, two-headed married entity – a kind of good-hearted hydra – who offer patient support to their lonely, boozy friend Mary (Lesley Manville).
Movie: Adam's Rib (1949)
We can’t all be Spencer Tracy or Katharine Hepburn – in fact, none of us can, because life isn’t fair – so the best we can do is study them carefully in their natural environment, namely Adam’s Rib, State Of The Union and Pat And Mike, and try to bring a little of their obvious mutual adoration and screwball charm into our own lives. Sure, the parenting game got complicated for them by the time of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967), but even then ‘Trayburn’ get it sussed in the end. Still, being this witty for an entire lifetime without the help of an Oscar-winning screenwriter might get wearying. Our advice? Marry an Oscar-winning screenwriter.
Movie: Easy A (2010)
This coming-of-age comedy isn’t a film about marriage, granted, but it does feature a married couple so enviably together they make you want to storm the nearest registry office and marry the hell out of the first person you see. Take a bow Stanley Tucci, the capo dei capi of movie husbands (here and in Julie & Julia) and Patricia Clarkson. As the Penderghasts, they also seem to have the whole parenting lark sussed, lending loving support as their daughter (Emma Stone) battles with ill-repute and offering sparkling on-the-knuckle advice. “No judgment, but you kind of look like a stripper,” Clarkson cautions her daughter. “A high-end stripper,” adds dad, encouragingly, “for governors or athletes”.
Movie: Beetlejuice (1988)
A strong partnership can survive anything. As The The once sang, love is stronger than death and here’s happy proof as the Maitlands, Barbara (Geena Davis) and Adam (Alec Baldwin), make the best of their surprising entry into the beyond. Their marriage does nearly come unstuck when a certain bio-exorcist arrives and starts rearranging their life – well, afterlife – in his own erratic fashion, but the bonds are strong enough to survive even the sandworms of the planet Titan. Hope for us all.
Movie: Barefoot In The Park (1967)
Playwright Neil Simon has always had a canny eye for the ebbs and flows of relationships, both romantic (The Out Of Towners) and bromantic (The Odd Couple), and this late ‘60s snapshot of newlyweds that he based on his own first marriage (oops) is no exception. Jane Fonda’s free spirit is all Age-of-Aquariusness and splashing barefoot through Central Park, while her new spouse (Robert Redford) is a lawyer of the old school for whom the ultimate act of rebellion would be going without a tie. On a weekend. Somehow they make it work, spending a solid five days of their honeymoon in a hotel suite embracing one other’s differences. But will it last? Of course it will! This is the movies.
Movie: A Star Is Born (1957)
Bear with us: admittedly, this isn’t a look at the unbridled joys of marriage – she’s a Hollywood phenomenon; he’s a spiralling alcoholic and it ends in despair and heartbreak –but it’s still a really moving example of a wife standing by her husband through the toughest of times. Judy Garland’s movie star Esther Blodgett is the loving, career-sacrificing heroine, an ever-patient support to James Mason’s fast-waning producer. In many ways, she’s the anti-Gone Girl. ‘Life Wife’, perhaps.
Movie: Love Story (1970)
The movie that made America go “awww!” and then weep for the rest of 1970, Love Story redefined bittersweet in the movie lexicon. Young marrieds Ali MacGraw and Ryan O'Neal look set for a life filled with love, babies and ludicrously fluffy puppies before cancer strikes and tragedy ensues. Sure, on one level it’s punishing, soapy and features the worst piece of advice about apologising in the history of cinema; but on another level it’s a soft-hearted hymn to the power of marriage in even the direst of straits, and that’s the level we prefer to focus on. It will punch you right in the tear ducts, but give you a big hug straight afterwards.
Movie: 101 Dalmatians (1961)
Whether or not dog marriages (puptials?) are recognised in the eyes of the law is neither here nor there, because Pongo and Perdita are as doting a pairing as you’ll find in cinema. Anyone who can survive the birth of 15 natural sprogs, one dog-napping sorceress, two gormless sidekicks, 84 adoptive tail-wagging charges and a talking cow is either in for the long haul or a sucker for punishment.
Movie: The Sugarland Express (1974)
Steven Spielberg’s movies often feature broken homes and marriages that have long since turned to dust, but this early, intimate one is a tender-hearted Bonnie and Clyde for the baby boomer generation. Empire was still in nappies when it came out but we’re pretty sure its principles for a strong marriage still apply: love, loyalty and a good getaway car.
Movie: The Incredibles (2004)
There are uncanny parallels between this Pixar superhero romp and Gone Girl – bear with us here – in the way its central couple, Bob and Helen Parr, have to adjust to their new suburban life. Bob feels emasculated and bored; Helen just wants some help with the Incredi-kids. But unlike Nick and Amy Dunne, their marriage is strong enough to survive these kinks in the road. Plus, they’re superheroes, so that helps.
Movie: Two For The Road (1967)
Stanley Donen’s clear-eyed portrayal of marriage, in which Albert Finney and Audrey Hepburn romance, squabble and joust their way across Europe, is a lesser-known Gone Girl recovery choice. It shares elements of Amy and Nick Dunne’s we’re-so-cute-I-want-to-punch-us archness – “What kind of people just sit in a restaurant and don't say one word to each other?” the lovebirds ask each other, before settling on “married people” – but this pair are determined to give it their best shot and tackle the tough stuff with love and determination.
Movie: On Golden Pond (1981)
Roger Ebert, a man who knew even more about life than he did about movies (which was a lot), feted this Oscar-winning romance as “a treasure for many reasons”. Chief among them, the great man explained, was “that I could believe it”. Katharine Hepburn and Henry Fonda play lifelong marrieds Ethel and Norman Thayer as they grow old together, and while dramatic tension comes from cranky Norman’s brittle relationship with daughter Jane Fonda and her fiancé, the bond between the peppery, ailing elder and his more open-minded wife is the movie’s heart. “As people, they have apparently learned something about loving and caring that, as actors, they are able to communicate,” lauded Ebert of the on-screen chemistry, “even through the medium of this imperfect script.”
Movie: The Thin Man (1934)
If your marriage has become a bit stale, why not form a two-person-one-dog detective team like Nick and Nora (William Powell and Myrna Loy) and Skippy the terrier? The only qualifications you’ll need are an eye for clues, a head for martinis and a mouth filled with zingers. Wait, no. You’ll also need a colossal dowry, some snarky relatives, an appetite for hard-sleuthing (there were five sequels), and the ability to cheerfully accept that, every once in a while, you will be overshadowed by a small dog. No wonder there was only ever one Mr. and Mrs. Charles.
Movie: She’s Having A Baby (1988)
Adjusting to the transition from single to married life is one thing, but many marriages also involve children and, as Parenthood lays bare, that’s where things can get more fiddly. Perhaps Jake Briggs’ (Kevin Bacon) decision to stall on adding babies to his life is fuelled by his immaturity in John Hughes’ More Serious Grown-Up One, but Kristy’s (Elizabeth McGovern) decision to stop taking birth control without telling him might have been pilfered from the Amy Dunne playbook. But the pair’s ability to puzzle it all out and find a new equilibrium put those of Nick and Amy to shame, and involve considerably less violence.
Movie: The Addams Family (1991)
For most movie screenwriters the very idea of a happy on-screen marriage is poison. Contentedness and harmony? Pah. Dramatic tension needs change, conflict and, occasionally, the brutal murder of husband (Double Indemnity), wife (Rear Window) or lover (Presumed Innocent). Happily, The Addams Family provides enough Gothic mayhem to sustain the serenely happy couple at its centre without Gomez (Raul Julia) and Morticia Addams (Anjelica Huston) having to torture each other out of spite. So they do it for fun instead. “Last night you were like some desperate howling demon... you frightened me,” she purrs. “Do it again.”
Movie: Up (2009)
Hankies out people, because it’s the first-15-minutes-of-Up time. But then, how to omit the tender, hopeful and ultimately heartbreaking opening montage from any guide to perfect movie marriages? All of life is in Ellie and Carl Fredricksen’s union, a romance that only gets stronger with each passing year, as they constantly support, surprise and care for each other over several decades together. See, not every movie couple ends up like Gone Girl’s, although it always helps if your marriage is soundtracked by Michael Giacchino’s Married Life...