Divorce American Style 1967
The 1960s was the decade when divorce started to become pretty common in American neighborhoods and communities- and not just in the movies. This particular film isn’t exactly what you’d call a romantic comedy. More like a realistic dark comedy. Not dark as in lots of blood or bizarre circumstances, but dark, as in this movie probably hits home for a lot of couples and families. Some of it might seen funny, though it’s really too realistic to be hysterical. Divorce American Style pits two types of families against each other- one type is sort of a satirical commentary on marriage in the late ’60s, and the other is an example of how difficult and unnecessary a breakup can be.
Richard and Barbara Harmon (Dick Van Dyke and Debbie Reynolds) are like any couple that has been married for a while. They’ve got caught in a crazy cycle of the wife not respecting her husband in the way he wants to be, and likewise the husband not loving the wife as she wishes to be. Richard has finally become a successful provider, giving his wife more than she had ever wanted, materially speaking. But Barbara just doesn’t feel as happy as she was when they were young and money was tight. Their frustrations with each other bleed into every other area of their life- and their friends certainly aren’t helping.
Richard’s friend encourages him to have an affair, and Barbara’s friend seems so excited about the prospective drama of a divorce and encourages her to talk to a divorce lawyer. Next thing Richard and Barbara know, their marriage is spinning out on control and divorce papers are in the works. But is this really what they want, or are they being strung along by others who have bought into the new cultural norm?
Divorce American Style is, to me, a dramatic comedy. There sure is lots of drama, but nothing seems to be treated very seriously. Even the kids don’t seem to think their parents breaking up is a big deal. But fortunately, Richard and Barbara seem pretty surprised by everyone’s cavalier attitudes. There’s comedic plot elements in the movie, to be sure, but divorce treated as comedy is always a thin line to skate, in my opinion. I think this movie pulls it off well, though from a relational standpoint, I wasn’t too happy with how it all ended. It would be nice to see a movie where the couple actually learns how to rectify with their differences, instead of just living with problems or ditching the whole thing. But, I do like this movie, and I think Van Dyke and Reynolds are just delightful to watch!