Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Date Night -- marriages and commitments

Director: Shawn Levy, 2010. (PG-13)

Summer evening in Portland and I wanted to spend time with my wife. As it was two-fer Tuesday we headed to the historic Bagdad Theater for a showing of, appropriately, Date Night. Though we are about as far from New York City, the setting for Levy's movie, as you can be in the continental United States, contextually this comedy resonated with me as we are a middle-aged couple with kids still at home.

The Fosters, Phil (Steve Carrell, Get Smart) and Claire (Tina Fey), are late-30s dual-income suburban parents with two elementary schoolkids. He is a tax accountant (can you say "boring") and she is a realtor. Their marriage is fine, their home is pleasant, their kids are . . . kids. Life is work, kids, chores, sleep -- predictable and boring. The highlight of the week is Tuesday night: date night. But date night is always the same -- potato skins at the same restaurant, or movies at the cineplex. The highlight of the dinner date is their game of "what's the story" as they spy on other couples and try to guess what is going on for them. Life is routine. They are in a rut.

Both come to this realization in different ways but at the same time, just prior to their next date night. Claire decides to spice things up by getting dressed up for a change. Seeing her like this, Phil decides to abandon the usual and drive into the city to eat at "Claws", the newest hottest restaurant. But this date is a Friday night, and they had no reservation. With little chance of getting a table, when the hostess calls out table for the Triplehorns and no one stands up, Phil throws caution to the winds and claims the reservation. One little white lie that will lead the biggest and worst night of their lives.

Toward the end of this expensive meal ("If we are going to pay this much for crab it better sing and dance and introduce us to the Little Mermaid!"), two toughs walk up to their table and ask them to step outside. Thinking they are with the restaurant, the Fosters go out into the dark alley. Bad mistake. These are not restaurant workers. They are criminals looking for the Triplehorns, who have stolen something from Joe Miletto (Ray Liotta), a mob boss. One ordinary couple caught in a case of mistaken identity. This special date night might be more expense than they bargained for; it might just cost them their lives.

This setup turns this date night into a date night from hell. The rom-com becomes a comic thriller, as Levy introduces guns, chases, and crashes. Indeed, Date Night has one of the funniest, if silliest, car chases in recent history during which Phil and Claire squabble like the older married couple they are.

In some ways Date Night is similar to the recent action comedy Knight and Day. Both feature lead actors  entering their middle years. Both have a person caught up in somethnig well beyond the norm. But whereas Kinght and Day brings Diaz and Cruise together as strangers to become lovers, Date Night starts with the premise of existing lovers who have become too familiar with each other. This movie explores the other end of relationships, set against the dangers of blackmail, mobsters and prostitution.

What makes this zany comedy work is the down-home feel and the chemistry of Carrell and Fey. Amidst the thrills and spills is some serious inner conflict, relationship problems. The very act of facing danger together forces Phil and Claire to face up to some of their problems. Even as they are escaping from the villains, they take time to stop their stolen car and have a heart-to-heart talk.

Levy ofers three different couples as foils to Phil and Claire. The first is Brad (Mark Ruffalo, Zodiac) and his wife. Although they appear only briefly early in the film, they represent what the Fosters could be: "excellent room-mates." But this is not a positive statement. Brad is splitting from Haley. They have lost the spark. Friends perhaps, but lovers no more. Haley now wants to "walk the bird" to find freedom, a freedom that will let her do whatever she wants whenever she wants.

This first view is very common. Love untended withers and dies.When excitement disappears the commitment to marriage appears to be a prison. The escape is divorce. But this is no escape. It is abandonment. "I ' hate divorce,' says the Lord God of Israel" (Mal. 2:16). Marriage is a life-long commitment. When we say our vows, we make a promise before friends, family and God. We can make it last by nurturing the relationship instead of allowing it languish. The freedom to have sex with anyone we want is no freedom. It is a hidden prison. Marriage properly cultivated is true freedom. We can be excellent room-mates and exquisite lovers, if we work at it.

The second couple is Holbrooke (Mark Wahlberg) and his date. Holbrooke is shirtless and hot. An old acquaintance of Claire's, he is an ex-military, black-ops dude who knows he can get a date. His date is hotter yet, a young foreign woman who wants one thing only from a relationship.

This couple portrays the sultry sexuality that is at the heart of many relationships today. Superficial, when the sex gets old, the couple is toast. Today's society is both sensual and sexual, and older couples, like the Fosters, seem stodgy and sleepy. No swingers, they. But in a strong marriage, sex is a healthy and important aspect. Age is immaterial. God made us physical as well as spiritual, and with age comes the maturity and experience of knowing what the other partner wants and desires. We can find our marital sex becoming better and better with time. We may not be the hot couple, but we might find deeper intimacy than Holbrooke enjoyed with his Israeli babe.

The third couple is Taste (James Franco) and Whipit (Mila Kunis), the low-life criminals who were the "Triplehorns". These two are in their 20s and madly in love. But their bickering and posturing are reminiscent of what the Fosters went through in their chase stopover. This is the Fosters 15 years earlier. It is a review of where they have come from and a reminder of where they are today and why.

It is always helpful to reflect back and ponder the lessons we have learned over time. The Fosters had allowed the bickering and struggles of life to strangle some of their passion. But that can be avoided as we remember what brought us together. As they saw the animal magnetism displayed by Taste attracting his woman to him, we can remember what attracted us to our spouse. We can look beyond his or her faults. In the great "love chapter" the apostle Paul tells us love "keeps no record of wrongs" (1 Cor. 13:5). Instead love keeps a record of rights, the right things we liked and still like about our partner. Phil remembered this.

In Date Night when they tell most characters that the took someone else's restaurant reservation, the uniform response is, "What kind of people are you?" Phil tells us what kind of people they are, "I'd do it again, you know? Us, you, me, the kids, all of it. I'd do it again. I'd choose you every time." They are the kind of people who stick together in a lifelong marriage that is growing and thriving. I'd do it again. How about you? What kind of people are you?

Copyright ©2010, Martin Baggs

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