Monday, September 6, 2010

Did You Hear About the Morgans? -- marriage and forgiveness

Director: Marc Lawrence, 2009. (PG-13)

A long long time ago (1994) in a land far far away (England) a young actor (Hugh Grant) won both a Golden Globe and BAFTA award for playing a stuttering and self-effacing Englishman (Four Weddings and a Funeral). Since then, Grant has gone downhill. On this decline he has teamed up with Marc Lawrence three times recently. Indeed, Lawrence has only directed three movies, so must see something in Grant that does not come across on the screen. This latest partnership is is an entirely forgettable, only slightly funny piece of fluff that has a few good jokes in an entirely predictable plot.

Grant plays Englishman Paul Morgan, a prosperous lawyer in New York. Paul is married to Meryl (Sarah Jessica Parker), a fabulously successful New York realtor. However, their marriage is dissolving and they are separated. Their lives and careers have led to their estrangement, but his infidelity played a big part. When Paul tries one last time to reconcile with Meryl, their failed date finds them accidentally witnessing a murder, and they become the only two people to see the killer. The US Marshals whisk them off into the witness protection program, to the small-town of Roy, Wyoming.

Landing in Wyoming for these two city-slickers is akin to moving to a third-world country, such is the culture shock. Their hosts in the backwoods are Clay (Sam Elliot) and Emma Wheeler (Mary Steenburgen), the local US Marshals. These are gun-totin' rednecks, who understand PETA to mean "People eating tasty animals."

Hugh Grant has played this same role throughout his career and it is almost a caricature now. Looking older than he should, he is growing tiresome. His chemistry with Parker is lacking. But the acting of the two support veterans, Elliot and Steenburgen, make up for the leads. They seem to inhabit their roles like old clothes, comfortable and believable together.

The murder gives reason to move the main characters into the unknown situation. It provides impetus for the fish-out-of-water tale. For most of the film, the camera focuses on the character arc of the soon-to-be divorcees as they rediscover each other and rekindle romance. But the murderer has to reemerge to allow the plot to conclude.

It is interesting to see a romantic comedy that focuses on a married couple rather than singles coming together. As refreshing as this is, it is not developed fully, just like the characters themselves.

The only noteworthy point of intellectual engagement comes toward the end, when Clay Wheeler interjects into an argument between the Morgans, telling them that it takes effort to make a marriage work. This is sage wisdom from a grizzled veteran, who has had his share of marital strife. And it is true.

Most Hollywood rom-coms present the couple coming together prior to marriage. Rarely have they experienced married life and come to find it loses its initial glitz. Here, though, that has occurred. Real life is like that. The humdrum routine of ordinary life can take its toll. We can forget to nurture the relationship we promised to maintain until death. Little by little, life can erode the wedded bliss until the marriage is ready to collapse. God does not want this. He wants the husband to actively love his wife deeply (Eph. 5:25) thereby earning the respect that she will continue to give him (Eph. 5:33). Theirs should be a partnership of mutual submission (Eph. 5:21), rather than self-actualization.

Additionally, forgiveness plays a key role in this relational nurturing. Paul's infidelity breached the trust that is the foundation of the marriage. But once done, his repentance seems legitimate and he is seeking forgiveness and reconciliation. Apart from forgiveness, wounds fester and go septic. Bitterness and estrangement are the fruit.Marriage cannot thrive or even exist in the face of such attitude. If we want to develop a healthy marriage we must be willing to offer forgiveness to our spouse when he or she has hurt us, even with such deep sin as unfaithfulness. If not, separation and divorce seem inevitable. Forgiveness may be difficult, but it is divine. And it is divinely enabled in our lives through Spirit-empowerment (2 Tim. 1:7) . . . if we are followers of Jesus.

Did you hear about the Morgans? Yes, well maybe you enjoyed it more than me. No, then I suggest you skip the film but work on your marriage. And also on your forgiveness.

Copyright ©2010, Martin Baggs
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