Films on the Plane – changing perspectives on love, sex, marriage and kids

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Warning – some spoilers

As the Ouldlets get oulder I, once again, get to enjoy watching a film or two as we take long intercontinental flights, such as last Thursdays 8 hour hop from Singapore to Sydney. On the advice of a good friend I started with 500 Days of Summer, which I can heartily recommend. It’s

An offbeat romantic comedy about a woman who doesn’t believe true love exists, and the young man who falls for her.

That’s right, a young man falls in love with a woman who doesn’t believe true love exists. Foolish? Perhaps, but then you can’t really control how you feel can you? (Which, of course, is not the same as saying you can’t control how you act upon your feelings). The first thing that struck me was the moment when he celebrates his love. The movie breaks into a great little song/dance number:

Isn’t that a wonderful 2 minutes? It’s full of beautiful little details and sharp reflection of the lyrics.

So now here’s observation #1 – this scene comes not when they share their first kiss but after they share their first night. That’s the moment of celebration for him. A kiss, we should infer, is not enough. You haven’t really established a relationship until you’ve slept together.

The film progresses to tell the story of their growing together and then growing apart. Tom, the young man, is left absolutely crushed when Summer, the girl, breaks up with him for fear of him getting too attached. It only gets worse when she goes on to get engaged to someone else. She had originally told him that she had no interest in love and now she loves someone else. It makes him lose his own belief that love can work. And it’s all played across 500 days (500 days of Summer – geddit?)

Shortly before the end they meet up:

In terms of thinking through break-ups, I think that’s really helpful, although hard to hear. The reality is that prior to marriage people fall in love, and often with people who don’t love them back. As she reflects on her own experience of finally truly falling in love she delivers the money quote:

I kept thinking, “Tom was right … it just wasn’t me that you were right about”

Tom’s dream of true love wasn’t false, it had just been invested in the wrong person.

Loved almost all of it, not least the non-linear way in which the plot developed. This is a great film to give to a friend mourning a break-up. Not too much cheesy stuff (except for the last scene), just a really helpful reflection on what it means to love, lose, and love again.

It was a long flight, and the Ouldlets were going well, so I decided to risk another. Friends with Kids drew my attention:

Two best friends decide to have a child together while keeping their relationship platonic, so they can avoid the toll kids can take on romantic relationships.

Take a look:

Now, at first sight you think this is going to be yet another attempt to demonstrate that “alternative” families can work. That notion might be reinforced by the film title’s tagline

Family doesn’t always go according to plan.

and yet the stunning thing is that, eventually, it does; it goes exactly to plan – much to the surprise of everyone involved.

Key moments of discernment are brought about by Ben, one of the other characters – somewhat ironically since his own marriage/family are disintegrating due mainly to his own folly. He and his wife Missy have a great relationship while childless, based (it seems) on a very active sex life. But when the kids arrive everything falls apart, not least due to his inability to step up to the transition from energetic lover to dedicated father/husband. In a key scene the friends  are all together at a ski lodge and Ben, already drunk long before dinner even started, berates Jason and Julie (the friends with kids) about how little they have thought the whole thing through, particularly in terms of what their son needs. Of course in part it is a lament at the state of his own marriage and yet the worst  role model in the room manages to make the most sense. Jason and Julie have, indeed, done something appalling – denied a child 100% biological parenting ; sacrificing the best outcomes for their child at the altar of their own desire to have a child. Here’s how Jeff Beck puts it,

This film contains one of the most irresponsible couples ever featured in a romantic-comedy. Who in their right mind would ever conceive of such a bizarre experiment, let alone carry it out? Sure it’s merely the writer’s (Westfeldt) attempt at comedy, but it never comes off as funny because this couple is purposefully bringing a child into a loveless marriage and an already broken home, which is ironic given that their original plan was to avoid the unpleasantness of a divorce.

But the story is, of course, not yet over for Jason goes on to meet up with Ben (who has, by this time, left his wife and children). Sitting at the bar, Ben is the one who forces Jason to confront how he truly feels. He loves Julie and he loves his son. And it’s entirely right that he does. Perceptively he notes that Ben’s marriage fell apart because he thought the romance had gone. But, in Jason’s words, the romance is the vomit and the changing of nappies and the tantrums and the sleepless nights because it’s done together with the other person. And so Jason makes his way to Julie’s house, to establish everything as it should be – not Friends with Kids but Parents with Kids; Family going according to plan.

It’s fascinating how both films end up, in their own way, affirming those “traditional values” that we are told are so replaceable and fluid. There is a deep truth in both of them, even if Friends with Kids‘ script is not as good as 500 Days. The outcome of both is deeply satisfying for the viewer. In each we have incomplete relationships – sex without committed love, children without marriage – but on each occasion things are resolved as they should be – Tom learns that his dream of deeply committed love is well-founded, Jason learns that true love and commitment are found in the almost-banality of married family life.

A refreshing reassessment of what love and marriage and family really are and, perhaps, some useful conversation fodder as our culture continues to debate those topics.

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