Marriage in the movies is far from a match made in heaven. Unfortunately, romantic relationships on the big screen tend to revolve around flash-in-the-pan relationships, marital breakups or everything before “I do.” Less common are the films that unveil the willful dedication of a marriage years in, or a courtship rooted in shared virtue. But out of all the dramas and comedies about love, there are a handful that celebrate the self-sacrificial love of courtship, marriage and family life. Here’s a handful of cinematic couples that give us plenty of #relationshipgoals.
Fiddler on the Roof (1971)
Starring: Chaim Topol, Rosalind Harris, Leonard Frey, Zvee, Scooler
Directed by: Norman Jewison
Set in pre-revolutionary Imperial Russia, this Oscar-winning adaptation of the Broadway musical centers on Tevye (Chaim Topol), his wife (Rosalind Harris) and their five daughters. A poor milkman in the Jewish settlement of Anatevka, Tevya struggles to maintain his Jewish traditions in the face of modernity and his headstrong daughters who wish to marry for love, and not — as is tradition — who their parents or the matchmaker would suggest. Set on the backdrop of an impending anti-semitic Russian force, Tevye must make difficult choices between relenting on the traditions he loves, and maintaining relationships with his daughters. There are many marriages celebrated in this movie, though perhaps none quite as compelling as that of the lead Tevye and his wife, Tzeitel who embody the earth-hardened wisdom of a marriage with 25 years under its belt. “Tzeitel, do you love me?” Tevye sings in the fan favorite song, “Do you love me? “Do I what?!” Tzeitel sputters with the poverty-wearied surprise of a woman who has endless laundry to do and no capacity for romance. The two carp back and forth before the two give each other the truth that’s obvious throughout the whole film, “I suppose I do.”
Return to Me (2000)
Starring: David Duchovny, Minnie Driver, Bonnie Hunt, Jim Belushi
Directed by: Bonnie Hunt
This heartwarming romantic comedy-drama follows Chicago architect, Bob Rueland (David Duchovny) a year after his wife was killed in a car accident. Unable to kick his depression, Bob reluctantly agrees to be set up on a blind date by his friend. The date is a dud, but sparks fly between Bob and the waitress, Grace (Minnie Driver), a recovering heart transplant patient who is similarly struggling to put herself back out there. When Bob discovers Grace’s heart came from his organ-donor wife, an unusual romance blossoms between the two. While a little saccharine and a little predictable, the chemistry and warmth of Duchovny and Driver and the heavy emphasis on family make this old-fashioned love story a refreshing change from the typical sex-happy movies of today’s rom-coms.
Head Over Heels (2012)
Directed by: Tim Reckart
Before writing and directing The Star, Catholic Director, Timothy Reckart, wrote and directed this Academy-Award-nominated stop-motion short. Following an estranged married couple, Walter and Madge, that have grown apart—quite literally—after years of marriage (he lives on the floor, she lives on the ceiling) they never talk and scarcely look at each other in their separate, parallel lives. When Walter tries to rekindle their old romance, it brings their love crashing down (again, literally), and the couple who formerly disagreed about everything under the sun, including which was up and which was down, must work to put their marriage back together. A quirky and heartwarming short the whole family can enjoy that reminds couples how to keep love alive well after the wedding day.
A Quiet Place (2018)
Starring: Emily Blunt and John Krasinski
Directed by: John Krasinski
Not something Hollywood attempts very often: A post-apocalyptic tale about raising a family with life-threatening aliens stalking the countryside. The number of precautions Evelyn and Lee Abbott (Emily Blunt and John Krasinski) have to go through to raise naturally noisy kids while constantly under the specter of attack (the aliens are blind but can hear small noises from miles away) will certainly leave you with a sense of second-hand anxiety and an appreciation for the self-sacrificial love these parents show in bringing new lives into a dangerous world.
The Incredibles (2004)
Starring: Holly Hunter, Craig T. Nelson, Samuel L. Jackson
Directed by: Brad Bird
Another film that highlights the challenges of navigating marriage and raising children by placing its protagonists in the world of superheroes: Helen and Bob Parr (voiced by Holly Hunter and Craig T. Nelson) were once both famous superheroes with powers that allowed them to protect the innocent and bring the guilty to justice. Shortly after meeting and falling in love while on the job, they are battered by a barrage of lawsuits and are forced to go into hiding. Helen Parr makes the transition into marriage and motherhood with aplomb; Bob Parr, not so much. He finds himself working a dead-end insurance job where he is expected to take advantage of the innocent, not protect them, and his memories of his past exploits make the slightly less glamorous daily grind of parenthood only slightly more fulfilling. So when he gets the chance to moonlight as a superhero again, it (temporarily) gives him his mojo back, that is until he realizes the cost of putting his self-fulfillment above that of his wife and children.
Very honorable mentions:
A few films that are some of Hollywood’s best celebrations of love and marriage have been featured in previous UTG movie lists but we would be remiss if we didn’t add these inspirational couples.
The Hidden Life
Starring: August Diehl, Valerie Pachner
Directed by: Terrence Malick
Few relationships are as heroic as the marriage between Blessed Franz Jägerstätter and his wife, Franziska as the Austrian couple navigates the repercussions of Franz’s refusal to fight for the Nazi’s during World War II in this epic historical drama.
It’s a Wonderful Life
Starring: James Stewart, Donna Reed
Directed by: Frank Capra
“George Bailey, I’ll love you ‘til the day I die,” whispers a young Mary Bailey early in the film. And this promise is fiercely fulfilled through the highs of marriage where she and George speak of “lassoing the moon” for each other, and celebrate pregnancies, to the lows when they’re grappling with financial issues and suicidal thoughts.
Life is Beautiful (La vita et bella)
Starring: Roberto Benigni, Nicoletta Braschi
Directed by: Roberto Benigni
From the moment the young schoolteacher, Dora met the Jewish-Italian waiter, Guido, it was clear that he was different, that their love was something powerful and enduring. Far from their star-crossed lovers’ minds were the thoughts of what this love could possibly have to face, but its sturdy roots prove powerful in the throes of the impending WWII.