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Break-Up Movies

January 20, 2010

by John Farr

Three lesser-known movies about spoiled romance.

An Unmarried Woman (1978)


Living comfortably on Manhattan’s Upper East Side with her daughter and lawyer husband, Martin (Michael Murphy), Erica Benton (Jill Clayburgh) seems to have it all. So she’s devastated when Martin announces he’s leaving her for a younger woman. Suddenly forced to adjust to life as a single mom, with all the freedom and hardships that independence entails, Erica must learn how to be self-sufficient-and how to love – all over again.


Driven by a compelling performance from lead actress Jill Clayburgh, who was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar, Paul Mazursky’s sensitive drama is an iconic blend of the so-called woman’s film and a plucky portrait of contemporary femininity. After a shattering split-up lands her in the open market, Erica’s affair with a soulful painter, touchingly played by a scruffy Alan Bates, teaches her how to invest emotionally in another person without submerging her own identity. “Woman” offers a warm, perceptive, comic look at feminine self-reliance that still resonates. A spiritual precursor to “Sex and the City.”

White (1994)


After his beautiful wife Dominique (Julie Delpy) leaves him after six months due to post-wedding impotency, Polish hairdresser Karol Karol (Zbigniew Zamachowski) returns to his native country– not without difficulty, of course–in the suitcase of a friend. Once there, he hatches a crazed plan to make big money and lure back his disillusioned bride. Or is it revenge hes after?


The second film in Polish expatriate Kieslowski’s “Three Colors” trilogy (comprising “Red,” “White,” and “Blue,” after the French flag) takes a cheeky look at post-communist Eastern Europe through the eyes of a scheming striver. The bitingly clever premise is brought to life by Delpy’s seductive Dominique and Kieslowski regular Zamachowski, who portrays the penniless Karol with equal bits of raffish charm and Chaplin-esque awkwardness. Say oui to “White.”

Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)


Seeking escape from heartache after he’s dumped by his hot TV-star girlfriend, Sarah (Kristin Bell), struggling musician Peter (Jason Segel) decides to enjoy a much-needed vacation on the tropical beaches of Oahu. But relief is nowhere in sight when Sarah and her new British-rocker beau Aldous (Russell Brand) turn up at the same resort.


The basic premise of this hilarious relationship comedy might be old hat, but in the hands of producer Judd Apatow (“Knocked Up”) and writer-star Segel, the well-earned belly laughs are tempered with a poignant touch. How many movies can you think of where the couple’s break-up happens in the nude? Segel, Bell, Brand, and the rest of the cast are superb, as is Mila Kunis, the flirty resort employee who just might make “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” a possibility for the heartsick Peter. Finally, a spry comedy that hinges on painful truths about love and sex (lots of it) we can all relate to.

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  • Nikki

    I’d add “Kramer vs. Kramer” because it was one of the few films at the time that showed a breakup from the man’s POV; “The War of the Roses” for its wonderful over-the-top humor; and of course “Divorce Italian Style.” And the film with the greatest, saddest, inevitable break-up “The Way We Were.”

  • rayban

    I’d like to add to your eclectic list, John – “Aimez-vous Brahms”, the film in which Ingrid Bergman is seeing Yves Montand but goes suddenly ga-ga over Anthony Perkins, “Making Love”, that groundbreaking film in which a man (Michael Ontkean) who is seemingly happily married to Kate Jackson develops suddenly a passionate sexual interest in Harry Hamlin and “All That Heaven Allows”, Douglas Sirk’s artful meditation on an unconvential love that runs afoul of the negativism of both children and society (“To thine own self, be true”.).

  • John Farr

    great picks friends….

  • rayban

    Sorry, it’s “Goodbye Again”, which is based on Francoise Sagan’s novel, “Aimez-vous Brahms..”.

  • rayban

    Jason Segel’s full-frontal nudity in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” was . . what? . . both a knockout and somehow touching, too?