A pair of middle-aged couples, sincerely grasping at some Nixon era self-help hope through pop psychology and embracing a kind of forgiving openness that begins to both strain and expand their friendships, seem destined for partner swap. Is that really enough for a movie?
So we’ve got our goofy and pouting Elliot Gould, our post I Spy Robert Culp, pretty ladies Natalie Wood, and somewhat shifty and emotional Dyan Cannon all circling the ineffable and one another like the spaghetti-os around the meatballs.
The film is billed as a comedy. It’s called Light-hearted and full of love. But I found it stressful and lacking in reward. Again we’re back to our tribal conventions of why we do what we do. What is this thing called love? And why do we accept our sort of unremarkable monogamous pairing and demands of exclusivity that absolutely no one (including the preachers hammering us about it and the actors in all the rom-coms) appears to be able to actually maintain (We just don’t talk about it!). So why is it stressful? Because the film only plays at getting to the center of the coupling issue that we Western dolts have yet to satisfy, though I’m not saying anyone else has satisfied anything either, I’m just saying I grew up here and so this is what I know. A sexy cheating scandal that usually results in violence in so many of our common films/stories is treated as natural and practical in the view of the enlightened Natalie (of course this opens the route to her own affair), and so what it makes me think is – well, people need to break-up. But they are raising a child, so maybe my reaction is the tribal one that needs revising. None of this is particularly funny though, especially as their friends are nearly sick about it and end up in a raucous fight over it.
The film explores this ideal of reversing our secrets into a style of ultra-confessional. We open on a scene where Bob and Carol are going through a camp of staring into one another’s eyes and learning to really know one another (it is most uncomfortable). Part and parcel to this game is this idea of hiding nothing, and so we’re being instructed to tell all at every opportunity. Babble away every ill-thought encounter and carelessness to selfishly unburden yourself of the malfeasance while caring not a whit for your partner’s peace of mind. The one thing we do know about this sort of pop-psy therapy 50 years on is that no one is doing it. In his excellent book The Psychopath Test, Jon Ronson points out that as therapy for violent offenders it did nothing but provide more opportunities for violence.
I think a story like this is important, in fact I wrote a short piece (I also called it comedy and then stashed it away) very similar to the initial sequence based on a Lenny Bruce bit about prostitution and how women don’t understand that it’s not about love. I’d also recently read a current book called Mating In Captivity (by Ester Perel). In it a modern therapist covers some of the common therapist-thinking in trying to help maintain relationships between human beings (folks) who are more or less bound to test and often fail our expectations (because that’s what we do!). This book was so unnerving and enlightening in its obvious practicality that I don’t understand why it’s not a text for seniors in high schools all over the world. Look kids, if you’re not already there, this is what you can expect . . . romantic love will die if you don’t do something to keep it maintained, and in many circumstances it might not even be possible . . . Yikes. One of the reasonable approaches to keeping love alive was to literally stop touching each other! Also Yikes!
At one point Bob (Culp) is being raked over the coals a bit by Ted (Gould) and just says (I’ll paraphrase): Man, we’re only here for like ten seconds (he means in the world) don’t we need to grab every experience we can before we’re gone? This is perhaps the most important bit of the story. If we aren’t living our lives for some future after-death judgement and eternal religious fantasy of righteousness (and frankly, only the most tribal of folks manage to cling to this sort of story) then Bob is correct. I would have then said, so don’t get married. But is that fair? Isn’t marriage something lovely to experience as well? Isn’t the settling down into a comfortable partnership (despite its overall lack of romantic thrill) also a beautiful experience? You can tell me.
All in all a good deal for a few bucks on Prime, come for the fashions and the beauty of Natalie, leave with some cloying ideas about romantic love that never quite satisfies.