SJP Gets a ‘Divorce’
Photo: Craig Blankenhorn/HBO
BY LORRAINE DUFFY MERKL
“How do you go from eight years of a happy marriage to wanting to blow someone’s head off?” asks Sarah Jessica Parker’s character “Frances” in the premiere episode of the HBO series Divorce. I was reminded immediately of the retort by the late actress, Jessica Tandy, after being questioned about her 52-year marriage to Hume Cronyn: “Divorce? Never! Murder, frequently.”
Yes, sometimes you don’t like the person you love. Sometimes that person does things to inconvenience, annoy or hurt you. That’s when you’re supposed to be able to talk about it, so whatever it is stops. If you’re Frances, though, you blow your life up.
SJP’s new alter-ego, a successful headhunter and married mother of two teens, blindsides her husband Robert (Thomas Haden Church) with a request for a divorce, after watching married friends have a knock-down-drag-out—with a gun, no less. At first blush, we get the impression that this 50ish woman is glum because she wed a doofus. As we get to know her though, it’s clear that Frances has curated her own world of unhappiness.
Albeit a high-powered business woman, (we know this by the way she reprimands whomever answered the phone at her company for not picking up the call in a timely manner), Frances is not working her dream job, which would be to own an art gallery. First off, this does not seem like an impossible goal to attain; it’s not as though she longs to be a ballerina. Also, her profession is to get people jobs. Why not recruit herself into a position in the art world, make connections and take steps to make her fantasy career come true? Sorry, but this reeks of when people say they want something, and would gladly take it if it were handed to them, but work/sacrifice for it? Nah, they’d rather complain and place blame about what might have been.
She also surrounds herself with misery-loves-company girlfriends, who are clearly only happy when they put their heads together and make nasty remarks about their spouses. When Frances tries to actually speak from the heart about her marriage to them, she gets either blown off or is given some snarky rejoinder. With friends like these…
And then there’s her lover. Indeed, Frances is having an affair. Whenever you have someone or something waiting in the wings, it’s easy to feel brazen, almost disdainful of what you’ve got. Her side guy is so much better than her husband in every way, she tells her “friends.” Of course he is. She doesn’t live with him; he makes no requests of her like, “Can you check the alarm? It’s making that chirping sound?” as Robert does. Her lover also doesn’t forget to pick up the dry cleaning or a container of milk. From afar, anyone can seem light, breezy, and a thinker of big thoughts.
When her paramour does not embrace the news that Frances is ready to cut and run from Robert, suddenly her marriage starts looking good again. Too late. Robert, discovering he has been cuckolded, now gives his wife what she wished for with a flourish: “You’re Jesse James and I’m Sandra Bullock.” Changed locks, marriage counseling, lawyers – oh my.
The scene brought me back to one that played out between Rob Lowe and Calista Flockhart on Brothers and Sisters. She wanted a separation, he didn’t. But when he realized he was fighting a losing battle, he put his emotions away and read her the terms, as in you get the kids these days, I see them the rest of the time; you get the house, I get the car; you get, I get, etc. I remember the look of shock on her face, to which he said: “You wanted to be separated? This is what separated looks like.”
I can’t say I enjoyed Divorce, or can imagine anything in future scripts will make me feel for Frances. On the Bravo series, Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce, Lisa Edelstein’s “Abby” was the wronged party, so it was easy to cheer her on: “You got a young boyfriend. You got your sexy back. You’re learning to stand on your own again. You go girl.” I guess I’m curious though as to how Frances will get her new life going and if she’ll actually ever experience the happiness that eluded her in the old one. I think though that for anyone who has been so unkind to herself for so long, finding her smile again will be a long time coming.