I just saw Date Night, Tina Fey and Steve Carell’s new romantic comedy/thrilling caper. It was cute, the kind of film that is perfectly enjoyable but perhaps not especially memorable. But what it does contain, in place of unforgettable laugh riots, is one of the more refreshing depictions of a married couple to show up in mainstream culture for quite some time.
In a media dominated by images of oafish, layabout husbands and angry, overcritical wives, a film that presents familiar marital issues from both sides, without relying on lame “women are always like this; men are always like that” humor is something to get excited about.
Married couples don’t come off particularly well in popular culture. Movies, TV shows and advertising are littered with confused, incompetent and often even uncaring fathers and husbands. We are constantly being told that middle-aged men don’t have a useful place in modern family life, that ever since middle and upper class women starting taking on full-time jobs, men lost their familial role.
Rather than try to solve the problem or help out more around the house or with the kids, pop culture often tells us that all men want is to hide away with their male friends and drink, or watch football on TV to escape their families, or have affairs.
Wives, on the other hand, are often portrayed as domineering and cold, bitter about the pressures they face and uninterested in sex or fun. In their quest to do it all, these women have apparently lost the joy in life, and they spend their time ordering around their henpecked husbands and yelling at their children.
Modern couples certainly do face a lot of problems, and the movement of women into the workplace and the public sector, while clearly a huge positive, has caused quite a shake-up in the structure of American families. But a mass media which is dominated by the Jon and Kate Gosselin version of marriage, where both partners become vicious and unlikable, or the Sandra Bullock-Jesse James version, where we’re left wondering if a woman really can have huge career success and a healthy relationship at the same time, is not helping.
So maybe try to see Date Night. The main characters are a surprisingly relateable married couple, who face the same pressures of full-time jobs and full-time parenthood that so many Americans do and who find themselves in a marital rut that many will find familiar. But unlike the Gosselins, or the father on the couch with a beer while his wife deals with the kids, or the wife berating her husband for an honest and small mistake, this couple deals with their problem like caring, emotionally mature adults.
The husband wants to help out more around the house and with the kids, and the wife wants to let him support her more; they just aren’t quite sure how to do that. And so they talk about their problems, and they come up with viable ways for each of them to improve.
It’s a pretty revolutionary cinematic image.