Playing the circle game

A celebration of marital commitment

Published: Apr 30 2019, 01:01:am

Sunday, March 28, 1993.

MARRIED TO IT. Written by Janet Kovacik. Music by Henry Mancini. Directed by Arthur Hiller. Running time: 112 minutes. Rated Mature with the B.C. Classifier’s warning "some very coarse language, occasional suggestive scenes."
    Any comedy about contemporary relationships that ends with a bunch of school kids performing a "Rainbow Pageant" celebrating the peace-love-innocence of the flower power generation is just asking for it. We're talking sappy, gag-me-with-a-spoon 1960's sentimentality.
    Arthur (Love Story) Hiller's shameless Married to It goes for the big tear-jerking finale. Seeing his kids sweetly singing Joni Mitchell's The Circle Game gets to John Morden (Beau Bridges), a middle-class New Yorker with memories of Woodstock, protest marches and country rock.
    Hiller's camera catches Morden brushing away a tear, and I know that this is just a clever filmmaker's ploy to induce a bit of blubbering in the audience. In all fairness, though, I also recall the complex emotions involved in my own three encounters with the archetypal artifact of the 1960s, Hair.
    John Lennon was publicly campaigning against America's Vietnam War in 1969, the year that I reviewed the first Canadian production of that angry, outrageous stage musical on these very pages [of The Province newspaper].
    Britain's Margaret Thatcher and Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini both came to power in 1979, the year that I reviewed Milos Forman's energetic, nostalgia-soaked film version.

    Three years ago, I was just another dad in the audience. Already a period piece, Hair was the 1990 offering of Lord Byng High School's superb theatre company.
    So, good morning starshine, and give Hiller his due. A past master of sticky sentimentality, he is also adept at finding the hard edges.
    Clever and quite openly manipulative, his Married to It introduces three couples, links them in an unlikely friendship and sees each of them through a connubial crisis.
    Sixties survivors John and Iris Morden (Stockard Channing) have two sons and a comfortable if stale marriage. Earth Mom Iris is president of the parents' committee at their kids' school, and a rock of strength in everybody else's troubled lives.
    Divorced toy manufacturer Leo Rothenberg (Ron Silver) is now married to a "shiksa goddess," independently wealthy investment banker Claire Laurent (Cybill Shepherd). Unfortunately, his daughter Lucy (Donna Vivino) has problems with her wicked, accomplished stepmom.
    Newlyweds Charles (Robert Sean Leonard) and Nina (Mary Stuart Masterson) are a pair of Iowans born in 1966. Nina works at the school where the three wives meet.
    In the manner of film comedies, there is considerable contrivance in the events that bring the characters together. I'm willing to forgive Hiller some phoniness for the movie's many moments of unexpected reality.
    Outstanding in a generally solid cast is the always interesting Channing. Here, she's wonderful in a role that ultimately gives voice to years of middle class discontent.
    "I just want to have a good life and not be consumed with anger and jealousy and rage," her Iris says in a moment of unguarded honesty.
    Honest, too, is Dad's tear at the school concert. Sappy, perhaps inevitable, but it's true to Hiller's upbeat package of marital commitment and individual hope.

The above is a restored version of a Province review by Michael Walsh originally published in 1993. For additional information on this archived material, please visit my FAQ.

Afterword: A supporting player, Paul Gross was one of two Albertans on the set when Edmonton-born director Arthur Hiller called “action” during the filming of Married to It. Shot in Toronto in 1990 for release in 1991, the picture was shelved when Los Angles-based Orion Pictures went into bankruptcy. During the three years that it sat in the can, Gross had starring roles in two features: director Paul Donovan’s 1993 political comedy Buried on Sunday (released in Vancouver two weeks before Married to It), and a 1993 Disney feature called Aspen Extreme, a sports comedy with some scenes shot in B.C. In the summer of 1993, he was in Toronto filming a TV series pilot for what would became his signature role: Constable Benton Fraser, the picture-perfect Canadian hero of Due South.
    As it turns out, it wasn’t his first time in a Mounted Police uniform. Ten years earlier, Gross co-starred in a National Arts Centre production of Sharon Pollack’s historical drama Walsh (a Canadian play I really love, and not just because of the name). During its 24-performance run, he shared the stage with actress Martha Burns. They married in 1988. The couple celebrates Paul Gross’s 60th birthday today (April 30).