Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

"Adam's Rib," "Date Night" and Comedies of Remarriage

How do you refresh a marriage, that date that never ends? When I read last Sunday's advance piece in The New York Times about Date Night which invoked Stanley Cavell's 1981 book Pursuits of Happiness, the philosopher's reflections on the genre of film he dubbed the "comedy of remarriage," I thought the writer was stretching the point. How could he compare a movie classic like George Cukor's Adam's Rib, the comedy pitting district attorney Spencer Tracy against lawyer wife Katharine Hepburn, with Shawn Levy's film starring Steve Carell and Tina Fey as a mild-mannered accountant and Realtor who resuscitate their flatlining marriage when they are mistaken for con artists?

"Adam's Rib," "Date Night" and Comedies of Remarriage

Katharine Hepburn plays verbal tennis with Spencer Tracy, her evenly-matched partner, in "Adam´s Rib."
Katharine Hepburn plays verbal tennis with Spencer Tracy, her evenly-matched partner, in "Adam's Rib."

How do you refresh a marriage, that date that never ends? When I read last Sunday's advance piece in The New York Times about Date Night which invoked Stanley Cavell's 1981 book Pursuits of Happiness, the philosopher's reflections on the genre of film he dubbed the "comedy of remarriage," I thought the writer was stretching the point. How could he compare a movie classic like  George Cukor's Adam's Rib, the comedy pitting district attorney Spencer Tracy against lawyer wife Katharine Hepburn, with Shawn Levy's film starring Steve Carell and Tina Fey as a mild-mannered accountant and Realtor who resuscitate their flatlining marriage when they are mistaken for con artists?

As it turns out, not so much of a stretch. Date Night, which owes much to the deadpan improvisations of the equally matched Carell and Fey, turns out to be a most enjoyable example of what Cavell described as a genre of movie where the goal isn't to get the central pair together -- but to get them back together again. (Lately this narrative has been co-opted over by bromances such as Wedding Crashers and I Love You, Man.) Me, I never expected to read the names Cavell and Carell in the same sentence, but there you are.

The thrust of comedies of remarriage such as The Lady Eve, The Philadelphia Story, His Girl Friday, Adam's Rib -- and yes, Date Night -- is that the couple either grows up together -- or grows apart. These seemingly frivolous entertainments are stealth films of reaffirmation.

Your favorite remarriage romance? Date movie (as in movies about dating)?  I like the remarriage romances Adam's Rib and Monkey Business (the 1952 comedy with Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers). As for date movies, oh, Annie Hall, Clueless, (500) Days of Summer, He's Just Not That Into You, Love Actually, Love Jones, Mississippi Masala, Shopgirl and Something New. You?

Carrie Rickey Film Critic
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Carrie Rickey Film Critic
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