Monday, June 29, 2009

Will we ever like public couples?

When it comes to the seesaw of public opinion, the past few weeks have given us the extreme highs and lows of relationships and politics.

Most recently, we watched in awe -- and, many of us, in disgust -- as S.C. governor Mark Sanford confessed to an extramarital affair and his wife, Jenny, explained that she kicked him out to maintain her dignity. We derided the governor, praised his wife, and pitied their family for having to deal with all of it.

A few weeks before that, we saw President Obama take his wife, Michelle, on a romantic date -- dinner in New York City and a Broadway show. We complained. We asked: Were the Obamas setting an unrealistic example for romance? We sniffed: Nice that he can take his wife to NYC for a date, unlike the rest of us.

So we don't like philanderers. And we don't like romantics. Huh?

Seems like, when it comes to couples in the public eye, all we do is complain.

We've criticized how Elizabeth Edwards has handled her husband's infidelity. We've watched with glee for any sign of strife between Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. We slammed Lisa Marie Presley for marrying Michael Jackson -- and questioned her need to declare her love upon his death.

So, who do we love? Is there a high-profile relationship in which we wouldn't find fault? And, if the answer is no, what does that say about us?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Way to go, Jenny Sanford!

I want to buy Jenny Sanford a drink. Girlfriend could probably use one about now.

People are slamming on her, saying she's a controlling harpy. So cold, so bossy, so tough. No wonder her man ran into the arms of another woman, they say. If she'd been concentrating on what was going on at home, instead of what was going on at the office, she might not be in this mess.

What a crock.

I think Jenny Sanford is awesome. We've seen a parade of political wives who've stood by their men as they denied or apologized for their sexual indiscretions. Every time there's a chorus of, "why is she putting up with this? How can she stand to be humiliated in such a way? What a fool!" and so on. Then the Sanford crap hits the fan and Miss Jenny is so not like those other wives. She's probably like, "you know what? I've been dealing with this hot mess for five months while this joker tries to figure out what he wants to do. I've already kicked his butt out. The kids will need therapy. And he left Father's Day weekend? No way I'm going down like this!"

So what does she do? When Mark Sanford went missing, she didn't cover for him. She admitted she had no idea where he was, knowing what message that would send. When he held his mea culpa news conference, she and her four boys were nowhere in sight. When reporters asked about her husband's political career, her response was, "his career is not a concern of mine. He'll have to worry about that. I'm going to worry about my family and the character of my children."

Love her.

Jenny Sanford is going through a defining moment in her life, and she has chosen to put herself and her kids first -- not her husband's career. I admire that. She's handling this situation on her terms, which has got to be hard, considering the intense pressure she's under. If she takes her husband back, it won't be for appearance's sake, it'll be because she wants to give their marriage another chance.

Where others see a harpy I see a strong, smart woman who's being straight-up with everyone, especially her husband. Why criticize her for standing up for herself? At least she'll be able to hold her head high after this ... which is more than we can say for Mark Sanford and his Argentinian mistress.

Update: Jenny Sanford offers details about how she found out about the affair here. Man, did her husband dig himself a deep hole!

Can infidelity plus love equal pity?

Mark Sanford's e-mails to his Argentinian mistress drip with emotion, with detail, with passion.

They read like they were written by a man who longs to express his feelings in poetry. They read like they were written by a man in love.

It's surprising: I've heard pity for South Carolina's governor from an array of avid followers of the story -- from married to single, man and woman.

How tragic, those followers say, to be 49, a public figure, and so obviously in love.

How horrifying, they say, to have such private thoughts and feelings trotted out for public display.

How stupid, they conclude, for Sanford to have made such a classic misstep by a man in a position of power.

No one can win in such a situation -- not Sanford, not his mistress, and, most importantly, not his wife and kids. (We'll have to see how the residents of South Carolina fare.)

It's not that finding love excuses infidelity. Before entering into a relationship with Maria Belen Chapur, perhaps Sanford should have settled things with his wife. He should have repaired a marriage that wasn't quite right in his heart. And if he felt he couldn't honor that union -- obviously, he didn't -- he should have tried to be as honorable as he could in the situation and ended the marriage.

But he did neither of those things, and now his tragedy -- and the tragedy of his family -- is a drama for the nation.

And his love, most certainly, is lost.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Movies to break up to

A friend sent me this list of 20 Essential Break Up movies, as chosen and described by eHarmony. I'm amused that a dating site would do such a thing (to help people recover quickly and move on to their next eHarmony-provided relationship?), but I like that the list is a mix of old and new, U.S. and foreign flicks.

1. "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind": This offbeat romantic comedy stars Jim Carrey as Joel, who opts for a procedure in which memories of his girlfriend, Clementine (Kate Winslet), are erased after he learns she's already had the surgery done. But as his doctor begins to wipe out traces of Clementine, Joel decides he doesn't want to lose what's left of their relationship, so he squirrels away the memories somewhere else in his brain.

2. "Kramer vs. Kramer": Ted (Dustin Hoffman) is a career-driven yuppie -- until he finds out his wife (Meryl Streep) is leaving him and their 6-year-old son. Ted soon finds that he loves being a full-time parent, but then his wife reappears to reclaim the boy. Poignant and beautifully acted.

3. "Annie Hall": Listen closely and you can actually hear the stress hormones pumping through the bodies of the characters in Annie Hall. Woody Allen's real, funny ode to love among twitchy city dwellers includes cameos from not-yet-stars Jeff Goldblum, Shelley Duvall and Sigourney Weaver.

4. "Chungking Express": Hong Kong director Kar Wai Wong established a unique style with this cerebral film that tells two somewhat similar but unrelated stories about loneliness and disconnection in the big city. In the first story, a policeman pines after his former girlfriend and gives himself 30 days to find another woman; in the second story, another policeman catches the eye of an attractive waitress, who's intent on completely rearranging his life.

5. High Fidelity: Vintage record store owner Rob Gordon (John Cusack) has been dumped by his girlfriend, Laura (Iben Hjejle), because he hasn't changed since they met. In an attempt to figure out where things went wrong, Rob revisits his top five breakups of all time. As he seeks out his former lovers to find out why they dumped him, he continues his efforts to win Laura back. Based on the Nick Hornby novel, the film is a clever, funny tribute to the music scene.

6. "The War of the Roses": This battle of the married sexes played out under director Danny DeVito's jaundiced eye is what The Washington Post termed, "A yuppie Armageddon, an explosion of empty values and curdled peevishness." Oliver Rose (Michael Douglas) is losing control over his wife, Barbara (Kathleen Turner), after 17 years of marriage. The irreconcilable difference is their house. Neither wants to move out, so that means all-out war!

7. "White": Julie Delpy stars in Krzysztof Kieslowski's dark comedy (the middle segment in his "three colors" trilogy) about the price of passion. Polish immigrant Karol Karol (Zbigniew Zamachowski) is humiliated in a public courtroom by his wife (Delpy) during their divorce proceedings. Shamed and brokenhearted, he finds an ally in a fellow countryman. The two concoct a way back to post-Communist Poland, where Karol sets about rebuilding his life.

8. "Broken Flowers": After being dumped by yet another girlfriend (Julie Delpy), Don Johnston (Bill Murray) vows he'll be alone forever. But when a mysterious unsigned letter arrives in the mail, he's surprised to learn he has a 19-year-old son. With no idea who the mother could be, Don sets out on a cross-country journey to confront his past, surprising a series of old flames (Frances Conroy, Jessica Lange, Sharon Stone and Tilda Swinton) along the way.

9. "Swingers": In director Doug Liman's career-making look at twentysomething guys, struggling comedian Mike (Jon Favreau) despairs over his love life, so his four pals, fellow Hollywood hopefuls, pump up his nightlife. Buddy (Vince Vaughn), offering dubious lessons on "babes," even whisks Mike to Vegas. Although their attempts at living la vida loca seldom work out as fantasized, Mike meets one woman (Heather Graham) who might finally break his funk.

10. "The Squid and the Whale": Jeff Daniels makes for a haunting Brooklyn professor who's well past his prime, and Laura Linney is his writer wife on the brink of stardom in Noah Baumbach's honest look at the disintegration of a marriage. With their lives headed for distinctly opposite directions, the two can't help but be acrimonious about their impending separation. Unfortunately, their two children are stuck in the middle of the emotional warfare.

11. Forgetting Sarah Marshall: A hilarious comedy produced by Judd Apatow ("Knocked Up," "Superbad"). After his TV star girlfriend, Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell), breaks his heart, Peter (Jason Segel) wants nothing more than to enjoy his vacation in Hawaii. One problem: Sarah's vacationing at the same resort he is, and even worse, she's bringing her new beau.

12. Better Off Dead:
After his girlfriend (Amanda Wyss) ditches him for a boorish ski jock, Lane (John Cusack) decides that suicide is the only answer. However, his increasingly inept attempts only bring him more agony and embarrassment. Filled with the wildest teen nightmares, a family you can't help but identify with and a host of wonderful comic characters.

13. "An Unmarried Woman": Director Paul Mazursky's poignant portrayal of a woman dealing with the dissolution of her marriage was a groundbreaking film at the time of its release. When her seemingly perfect husband (Michael Murphy) leaves her for another woman, devastated wife Erica (Jill Clayburgh) must find untapped strength within herself to build a new life.

14. Dodsworth: To escape an empty nest, an automobile tycoon (Walter Huston) and his fortysomething wife (Ruth Chatterton) plan a luxurious vacation in Europe. But as Mrs. Dodsworth embarks on a series of indiscretions -- including a romance with a gigolo -- it becomes apparent that the couple's plans for their golden years don't mesh. From director William Wyler, the film is based on the best-selling novel by Sinclair Lewis and an acclaimed stage play.

15. "Diary of a Mad Black Woman": Helen McCarter (Kimberly Elise) is happy and completely satisfied with her life: She has a doting husband, Charles (Steve Harris), an impressive home in their native Atlanta complete with a swimming pool and tennis courts, and anything else money can buy. But the night before her 18th anniversary, Charles kicks her out of their home and replaces her with his mistress, calling into question what Helen had long considered a solid marriage.

16. "Breaking Up": Based on a two-person play by Michael Christofer (who also wrote the screenplay), Breaking Up is a series of charming vignettes that reveals the on-again, off-again relationship between modern lovers Steve (Russell Crowe) and Monica (Salma Hayek). Their emotional bond is so intense that it borders on the manic-depressive, and they constantly fluctuate between romantic euphoria and ennui … like many of the rest of us!

17. "Divorce American Style":
Television sitcom director Norman Lear helms this dark comedy about the paralyzing process of divorce. Ex-couple Dick Van Dyke and Debbie Reynolds come to realize that after the trials and tribulations of dating, debilitating alimony payouts and commiserations with fellow divorcees, married life wasn't so bad after all.

18. My Super Ex-Girlfriend:
It's a bird! It's a plane! It's a bitter superwoman scorned! In this slapstick comedy from Ivan Reitman, New Yorker Matt Saunders (Luke Wilson) is fed up with his manipulative girlfriend, Jenny Johnson (Uma Thurman), and gives her the heave-ho. He moves on with his life, leaving the heartbroken Jenny -- aka G-girl -- to do everything within her superpowers to humiliate Matt.

19. "The Belly of an Architect": Jealousy rears its ugly head in this searing drama about a workaholic architect, Stourley Kracklite (Brian Dennehy), who's traveling to Rome for a job. On this trip, however, he's brought his wife (Chloe Webb), who's grown distant and whom he begins to suspect is in love with another man. But that's not all: Kracklite also thinks his wife is plotting to kill him so she can live happily ever after, but he won't let her get away with it.

20. "The Break-Up" (pictured above): Once blissfully in love, Gary (Vince Vaughn) and Brooke (Jennifer Aniston) find themselves up in arms over custody of their upscale Chicago condo when petty spats about lemons and dirty dishes end their romance. An escalating battle of the exes ensues as Gary and Brooke continue to live under the same roof … while cooking up schemes to drive each other off the premises.

My list would have to include "Closer" (Julia Roberts, Jude Law, Clive Owen and Natalie Portman in a twisted mess of deceit, infidelity and egocentricity) and "Waiting to Exhale" (the healing power of friendship as four black women -- Angela Basset, Whitney Houston, Loretta Devine and Lela Rochon -- deal with romantic quandries). What about yours?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Don't let Calvin Klein get to you

The clever ad guys at designer Calvin Klein are at it again, stirring the blood of America with a controversial new campaign. Near nudity isn't enough. Implied sweaty sex isn't enough. Implied sweaty gay sex isn't enough. Now we've moved into implied sweaty group bisexual sex.

Maybe this wouldn't be so conversation-inspiring if the ad was buried in the latest issue of Cosmo or Vanity Fair. But CK has taken over the side of a building in New York City with a 50-foot billboard of the steamy foursome. (What? You don't think the hottie on the floor is gonna be left out of the action, do you?)

"It's soft pornography is what it is," Laurie Baranowski, a tourist in New York, told "I don't think that just because you put Calvin Klein's name on it makes it acceptable. It's a beautiful picture, but I don't think that that's the place for it."

Aaand ... I agree with her. Not about the "soft pornography" part, but the "I don't think that's the place for it" part. But am I disgusted and morally outraged? Nah. This is what the company does -- they're provocateurs.

I took a quick trip down CK ad lane, and the images were borderline NSFW. Lots of pics like this one: genetically blessed, touchy-feely young models, barely clad in snug denim and spritzed with something to make them look sticky and sweaty and sexy as all get-out. The only thing different about this campaign is the number of writhing bodies. (This billboard pic is actually part of a series. Think this is freaky? There's an image with five people breathing heavy.)

I think what really gets to people is what the image implies. The three guys and one chick look like they're all about to get it on. As in, there aren't enough women to go around, and that's not a problem. Put that on a billboard and not only may some parents have to explain the birds and the bees, but why some boy bees might like other boy bees instead of the queen.

But here's the thing. We all know that Calvin Klein is doing this to get publicity, to get people talking. The reality is, while it's a beautiful and erotic photo, everyone in it, and the photographer who took it, were paid to create a fantasy. The only power it has is what we give it. If you don't freak out, your kids won't freak out. As for such an image contributing to the oversexing of our culture, one could argue that a 50-foot billboard of topless, entwined pretty people could actually desensitize passers-by to the beauty and sensuality of the human form. Not me, mind you -- I would smile every time I passed it, and I don't even wear Calvin Klein jeans.

What do you think? Are you offended by the new campaign?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Can you find love without looking?

As my friend and I once were lamenting the lack of a love life, my friend told me that, although she truly desired a serious relationship, she did not wish to seek. She wanted to be found.

It's not that my friend never got offers. She received invites for dates regularly.

She just never accepted them, finding reasons to turn down one guy because of one fault, and the next guy for a completely different fault. The criticisms generally were superficial because she never gave the guys a chance. (In the interest of full disclosure, I will confess that I once seriously considered dumping a guy because he held his fork in a really annoying way.)

But as for the not seeking, but being found: I didn't understand it then, and I don't understand it now. If you want something in your life -- from the trivial to the intrinsic -- don't you have to seek it at some level? Don't you have to do some research, some self-examination -- or, at the very least, some thinking?

If you want it, don't you have to work for it?

Your search might not take you down the intended path. When I met my husband, I was actually scamming for his friend. I soon found out the friend was a donkey. And my husband wasn't. Most days.

That discovery required a search.

Being found sounds magical. It seems effortless. But, in the end, I wonder if sticking with that plan would prove more effort than it's worth.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Trouble in a red dress

Flipping through the channels on a recent sleepless night, I stumbled across a particularly interesting episode of "Whose Wedding Is It Anyway?"

A young couple from Pennsylvania was planning their marriage, but family problems got in the way.

Groom and brother/best man couldn't get along. The groom was devastated when it came down to this: His brother wouldn't stand for him on his wedding day. He was moved to sobbing; I felt for him.

Then, the groom's mother wouldn't cooperate with the bride's wishes in terms of attire.

Huh? I thought, this bride needs to get over it. Dresses aren't important enough to get upset about.

Then I saw the dress -- red and vampy. And heard the mother-in-law say she was so happy about her son getting married, she wanted to pretend it was her day -- and that she was the bride.

Granted, that dress looked spectacular. And the mother-in-law was a bubbly hoot, it seemed. (At least the editing made it look so.) But there's being happy for your child's good fortune, and there's taking the spotlight when you really shouldn't.

The bride decided to let it ride. And, come wedding day, everyone was happy. Groom and brother made up; the guests smiled graciously as mother-in-law made the rounds; bride was beautiful.

But I hope that red dress wasn't a harbinger of serious family relationships issues to come. I wouldn't place any bets on it.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Can Mom be a Babe?

When your son asks if he can call you "Babe" -- as in, "Hey, babe," -- several lines of thought race through your mind.

You can plead to yourself: Please, please, please, I don't want to raise a Shia LaBeouf, who last month made waves by saying: “If I could meet my mother and marry her, I would. I would be with my mother now, if she weren’t my mother, as sick as that sounds." (Shia, you can call your mother beautiful without EVER going that far. It is sick.)

You can realize he hears his dad calling you babe and be happy with the fact that he recognizes terms of endearment (and genuine affection) in his parents' relationship.

Or you can giggle and ask (because your son is an innocent four years old), "I prefer Mommy, but why do you want to call me babe?"

"Because I love you," he says.

OK, I tell him. That seems like a good reason.

Monday, June 01, 2009

What's in a kiss? A lot

This incident may go down as one of the best or one of the worst decisions of Halle Berry's career.

If you missed it, all you have to do is Google to find photo evidence galore: The actress briefly made out with actor Jamie Foxx when he gave her the Decade of Hottness award at Spike TV's 2009 "Guys Choice Awards" over the weekend. Actually, "made out" might be too tame a term. Her hand went for his crotch while he grabbed her butt like he planned to take a hunk of it home with him (he also looked like he wanted to cry and/or thank Jesus, which was pretty funny). Depending on how you feel about Halle, Jamie or very public scope-and-gropes, the scene was disgusting, degrading, or hot as hell.

What I find fascinating is how people have responded. Message boards are overflowing with people weighing in. There's the "what was she thinking, she's a mother and an Oscar winner" camp. There's the "ain't she got a man at home and won't he be packing his bags when he sees this" camp. There's the "once you go black, you always come back" camp. (Halle's S.O. is model Gabriel Aubry, who is crazygorgeous ... and white.) There's the "Jamie Foxx is the luckiest man alive and I really hate him" camp. The "they totally had sex in a dressing room after" and "somebody got laid when they got home" camps. And so on. A few seconds of screen time have sparked hours of conversations about race, sexual boundaries, relationship boundaries and modern-day feminism.

For my part, I thought it was bad idea. Don't get me wrong -- I think she should be able to do whatever she wants to do. But no matter if it was Jamie or any other man (or woman), I thought her actions were disrespectful to her partner. It's one thing if you're an actor and you slobber on somebody because it's in the script. But all she had to do was show up and accept an award, not offer up soft-core porn for YouTube posterity. Also, it seemed a little desperate to me. Halle doesn't have go for the gusto with Jamie Foxx to prove that, at age 42, she deserves a hotness award; she does it by simply breathing.

Maybe it was a publicity stunt. Maybe she's always had a jones for Jamie and seized (no pun intended) the opportunity. Maybe her man made her mad before she left the house, and she decided to get back at him in a very public way. We'll never know.

Just as we can have many reactions to what she did, we can think of just as many explanations for her actions. One thing's for sure: if Halle Berry wanted to be in the spotlight, she got her wish.