The ‘Spiritual Guide’ character in Comedies of Remarriage (Alicia Ferrández Cros)

‘Crazy, Stupid, Love’ (2011) tells the story of a broken marriage, and the ways in which the husband (Steve Carell) tries to get his wife (Julianne Moore) back through becoming a ‘better man’, a ‘winner’; someone any women would be proud to be with. With this goal in mind, the protagonist goes through a transformation akin to the metamorphosis experienced by the heroine in Shakespeare’s novels, and to which Northrop Frye refers in ‘The Argument of Comedy’.

Stanley Cavell also tries to explain in the introduction of his book Pursuits of Happiness The Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage this transformation, as applied to the ‘Comedy of remarriage’ genre (which I believe this film to be a part of). According to Cavell, ‘[the man] must show that he is not attempting to command but that he is able to wish, and consequently to make a fool of himself’. To help Carell’s character in his journey, we find Ryan Gosling’s character as his spiritual guide, leading him first to be someone else, and later on to find himself –by way of realising that he doesn’t want to be like him at all.

It is curious to find the figure of the spiritual guide in another relatively recent film, ’17 Again’ (2009), which could also be thought of as a comedy of remarriage, since it follows the structure described by Cavell. In the film, the protagonist suffers a physical transformation (recovering his teenager physique) with the help of the magical janitor of his old high school. This surreal event misleads him, as with Carell’s character, to seek for something that, he discovers eventually, is not what he truly wants. In both films, the estranged wife is the protagonists’ ambition, their object of happiness.

I believe the incorporation of this character acting as mediator could inform the understanding we get from Cavell’s text about the comedy of remarriage genre –for example, it seems that the involvement of this character takes part of the responsibility of the husband for his acts, making him seem less guilty for his neglect and carelessness.

One comment

  1. I think this is all really interesting, and I agree completely. It would be interesting to chart how the ‘spiritual guide’ character has adapted to fit modern comedies of remarriage. For example, the Ryan Gosling character in ‘Crazy, Stupid, Love’ also serves as a fully-formed character in his own right, with his own narrative arc, while the magic janitor in ’17 Again’ seems to be just a plot-device magic janitor.

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