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Break-Up Movies

January 20, 2010

by John Farr

Three lesser-known movies about spoiled romance.


An Unmarried Woman (1978)

WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

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.

WHY I LOVE IT:

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)

WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

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?

WHY I LOVE IT:

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)

WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

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.

WHY I LOVE IT:

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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