Proposing Marriage
Hollywood makes a pitch for an ancient institution.


Everyone seems to be making statements about marriage these days. Pop-star Britney Spears made headlines not long ago when her spur-of-the-moment marriage in Las Vegas to a childhood friend lasted a whopping 36 hours. San Francisco and Boston have been wedding assembly lines for gay and lesbian couples who wanted to tie the knot. Now, Congress is wrestling with whether or not to amend the Constitution to establish the definition of marriage between a man and a woman.

The clamor over marriage turned completely bizarre when news emerged from the Netherlands that Jennifer Hoes, a 30-year-old Dutch student, announced she would be promising to “love, respect, and honor” herself at a wedding designed to marry herself. “We live in a ‘Me’ society. Hence it is logical that one promises to be faithful to one’s self,” she said. All of that marital bliss is scheduled to be celebrated at a $22,000 post-modern wedding feast for family and friends.

In the midst of all this unconventional nuptial chatter, Hollywood has come along and produced a romantic comedy that takes a surprisingly strong stance on marriage. Laws of Attraction is a smart and sassy film starring Pierce Brosnan and Julianne Moore that promotes a seemingly unlikely Hollywood message: Fight hard to make your marriage work.

The movie spins around the romantic banter of two incongruent high-powered and successful divorce attorneys in New York City. It is very clear that lawyers Daniel Rafferty (Brosnan) and Audrey Woods (Moore) have fought like gladiators in divorce court, the last station on the track for irreparable relationships. Broken hearts and hefty financial settlements surround their professional and social world. Rafferty and Woods are drafted to be opposing counsel in the divorce of a high-strung and self-absorbed couple (rock star and fashion designer). They are thrust into combat over an Irish castle that each client wants as a prize.

While Rafferty and Woods are in Ireland collecting depositions, they end up at a festival in the local village. Befitting of an Irish celebration, the alcohol flows and the dancing begins. Since the occasion is inspired by the historic marriage of the town’s founding couple, there is even a priest there to help couples exchange “holy and binding” vows as symbols of their “eternal love.”

The following morning–you guessed it–opposing counsel had tied the knot. Although it sounds a bit like the Britney Spears debacle, this is movie funny, whereas Britney’s situation was not. What ensues is a quite profound grappling with whether or not the two of them should remain married. After all, it is not as though they had been dating. They had really only been sharing pointed barbs at one another. However, like little girls hitting little boys in the sandbox, it really is far more flirtatious than it looks on the surface.

It is the unlikely Daniel Rafferty who makes the pitch for not getting a divorce and staying married. He maintains that if people in court would work as passionately to make their marriages work as they do into destroying their spouse in divorce court, more marriages would survive.

When asked what makes marriage such a unique relationship, Pierce Brosnan said, “It is such a powerful ceremony, whether it be you and your partner and just a priest or a pastor and two friends.” The man most well known for playing the dashing, debonair, and womanizing James Bond continued, “It is such a powerful commitment in the eyes of God–especially when you do it in a traditional way in the eyes of your family and friends. It is a commitment that does elevate you to another level of love and sharing and respect for each other.”

It is that next level of commitment that this movie probes in a humorous and albeit sometimes-crass way, befitting the emotions and anger that are unleashed in divorce court. As director Peter Howitt explains, “The people that you meet in divorce court are the people that have a passion for a fight that you did not know they had in them. Where is that passion and fight when they need it to save their marriage?”

Howitt, who was married for the first time two years ago at age 45, told a group of journalists, “I never thought that I would get married. I know that I will never get divorced because I waited. It is important enough for me to be married now that I will always do the fighting.”

Without being ham-fisted, the film also provides an interesting commentary on the struggle of women to balance career and relationships. “There was sort of this idea that you need to work on yourself, find out who you are, and have a career,” Julianne Moore explained. “And marriage? ‘Well, let’s just see what happens.’ Now people are saying, ‘No, I want this. I don’t want to neglect this; I want to have a balanced life.’” Her character Audrey Woods is portrayed as professionally competent, but socially inept. She struggles with overpowering competitiveness and breathless insecurity.

Much of that social awkwardness regarding relationships in Audrey’s life stems from growing up with her multi-divorced, attractive, and hip mother played brilliantly by Frances Fischer. Without a relationship to learn from at home and working professionally as a divorce attorney, Audrey has no reason to believe that marriage could ever work.

“With women’s liberation, marriage was not important anymore because women had it all. ‘We don’t need a man.’ You know, ‘I don’t need a bicycle because I am a fish’–or whatever that phrase was,” explained Frances Fischer. “I think more important is the idea that commitment…says I am going to stay with you–’You’re my woman and I am your man.’ I think that is what is lacking in this society, people who are really willing to commit and go the distance because people do get divorced so quickly.”

While everyone agrees that there are certainly very understandable and just reasons for the dissolution of a marriage, the point of the movie was that it takes passion to fight to make a marriage work.

“Marriage seems to be a dying trade, which is sad, and people turn to divorce now very easily, very readily, and that is a frightening way to look at the future of humankind,” said Pierce Brosnan. “We need to be committed to each other on a man to woman basis so we can create families of love, and stronger communities.

Considering that there have been more than 38 million divorces in the United States in the last 30 years–one divorce for every two marriages–this is a rather provocative and startling message coming from Hollywood, a town that is talented for publicizing scandalous divorce.

“The world we live in is a more dangerous world,” said Peter Howitt. “If we are going to steady the ship a little bit, the family is a time honored tradition…. Maybe…we are wanting to steady the boat by not being so frivolous and be a bit more solid when we take on a commitment and show some solidity.”

Steve Beard is the editor of Good News.