Unlikely Couples: Movie Romance as Social Criticism

Unlikely Couples: Movie Romance as Social Criticism

Unlikely Couples: Movie Romance as Social Criticism

Unlikely Couples: Movie Romance as Social Criticism


In Unlikely Couples: Transgressive Love, Social Criticism, & the Movies, Thomas E. Wartenberg directly challenges the view that narrative cinema inherently supports the dominant social interests by examining the way popular films about "unlikely couples" (a mismatched romantic union viewed as inappropriate, often due to differences in race, gender, or class) explore, expose, & often criticize societal attitudes, boundaries, & prejudices. The films under consideration: Romeo & Juliet, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, Pygmalion, It Happened One Night, Pretty Woman, White Palace, Desert Hearts, Mississippi Masala, Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, Jungle Fever, & The Crying Game, are examined both individually & as a whole to illustrate the way in which the genre either endorses or criticizes a view of its central couple.


Like many American couples, before my wife and I had our son, we would often go to a movie on a Saturday night. One particular Saturday in the winter of 1991, we found ourselves in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and after some discussion -- I had been put off by ads for White Palace (1990) that featured James Spader crushing Susan Sarandon's bosom -- I agreed to see the film anyway. Afterward, Wendy and I found ourselves disagreeing. The central bone of contention between us -- I am Jewish, she is not -- was whether the film was anti-Semitic: The ending, especially, had angered me.

As I sat down to work the following Monday morning, I could not get our disagreement out of my mind. If I had been able to express my position more clearly, I was sure I could have convinced my wife that I was right. So I sat down -- this was seven years ago -- to work out my intuitions about the film and, after many false starts and changes of mind, began to write the essay that contained the seeds of this book.

In writing about White Palace, I decided I wanted to do two things. First, could I justify devoting so much time to worrying about this film? I did not share the assumption of many who write about popular films that elaborating on their shortcomings is sufficient justification for the effort. My preoccupation with this film stemmed instead from a sense that its shortcomings detracted from its interest, that they trivialized the important perception that lay at its heart. As my reflections expanded into a book-length project, I have maintained my commitment to the idea that popular film, a mass art form, can be a locus for reflection on the sorts of issues that have traditionally been the domain of philosophy. Thus, a first aim of this study is to vindicate popular narrative film as a philosophic medium.

But the more I thought about White Palace, the more I began to see it as one of a perennial type, a genre that I came to call "the unlikely couple film." All instances of the genre, as I came to conceive it, explore the . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.