Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Move Over, Darling

Doris Day and James Garner star in this remake of the 1930's screwball comedy My Favorite Wife which originally starred Cary Grant and Irene Dunne. Move Over, Darling gives its predecessor a delightful nod, and still updates the characterizations and situations for the decades-later rewrite. A woman, lost on an island for years while her children grow, returns from a heroic rescue on the day her husband declares her dead and remarries. The problem remains one-sided as she intercepts the honeymoon and pressures her husband to break it to the histrionic new bride. Things even out, though, when the poor bigamist learns that his wife wasn't alone on the island for all those years. She lived with a beefcake who's just as happy to disrupt the marriage and snag the faithful, returning wife.

The original screwball paced itself more evenly, with a lengthy sine-curve of problems and resolutions until everyone finally reconciles. The update moved much more in the mountain-climbing pattern we're accustomed to until the delightful conclusion.

Oddly, Doris Day doesn't sing as much in this as Irene Dunne did in the other, and where Irene Dunne was playful and teasing, Doris Day played up the belligerence, which felt more realistic, as reactions go. That pouting anger seems to indicate that the film didn't just emerge in color, but it also changed genres. Screwball comedies depend largely on the Manic Pixie Dream Girl tradition. An MPDG is alluring for her maturity in immaturity. She's affectionate and kittenish, even (especially) when she's torturing the straight-man husband/lover/stranger, but she doesn't throw tantrums, take the hard line, care about money, or betray real emotion. She's ridiculously unrealistic, but nevertheless attractive for audiences of all gender orientations because she imbues the plot and script with amazing amounts of energy, unpredictability, and wit, which explains her eternal presence in all media.

Screwball comedies, however, died soon after the thirties. Move Over, Darling represents its succeeding genre: the romantic comedy. Romantic comedies rely purely on plot to keep the in-love protagonists apart until the final scenes. Because of this plot-pattern foundation, rather than the often tragically flimsy reliance on characterization and script for romantic suspense, the lead female character in a romantic comedy often emerges MUCH less sympathetic or attractive, especially to other female audience members (watch Meg Ryan in Kate & Leopold, or Sandra Bullock in The Proposal, or any other examples of the "bitchy-businesswoman rom-coms" sub-genre).

The result of this re-distribution of emphasis from character to plot is a deeper, more human but sometimes less light-hearted story, unless you enjoy watching angry women. I don't think I do, but I still recommend this one.


Another odd moment that seemed to stick in my brain occurred during the courtroom scene. In My Favorite Wife the judge asks the bride if the marriage to be anulled was "kissless" - a clear and probably legal euphemism for "not consumated," and Bianca answers, and the conversation continues. In Move Over, Darling, though, the same question is asked, but with different words. "Without kisses?" the judge asks. "Without anything!" she replies, deeply distressed. The audience (including me, eighty years later) clearly understands what "kissless" means. I feel two questions about this. Why is it so important to the audience that the characters make it clear they didn't have sex? And why change the wording to something which both emphasizes sex, and cracks what seems to be an unfunny joke?

The first question is more complex than it seems. In MO,D, the script and scenes demonstrate exhaustively that Nick Arden couldn't possibly have slept with Bianca, despite her psychologically emphatic enticements (seeming to indicate, on a sidenote, that psychology makes you sex-hungry while five years on an island with tarzan just makes you a little sentimental). So why would they need to set up the little courtroom drama? Why do they need to establish her LEGAL virginity?

MFW poses a different question altogether. The audience doesn't actually know if the marriage is kissless until Bianca states so for the court. In the final scenes, the first wife is curled up in her twin bed with a suggestive expression while HIS twin bed remains empty (she's banished him to the attic). I mean. . . what? It's as if they mean to write "sex" between the lines, but yet make it entirely unlikely. Do they mean to suggest  they'll share her twin bed, or are we to imagine that twin beds are a myth of thirties film (perpetuated for another few decades)? Or that despite Dunne's kittenish longing, all she really wants for her own personal satisfaction is to know that her husband is in the same room? (Oh dear)

Well, I just have questions. Let me know if you figure anything out.