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Just Married

Director: Shawn Levy
Cast: Brittany Murphy, Ashton Kutcher, Christian Kane, David Mooscow, Monet Mazur, David Rashe

(20th Century Fox; US theatrical: 10 Jan 2003; 2003)

Not Knowing

Some movies don’t need to be made. Other movies really don’t need to be made. Just Married fits this second category. Apparently, the most significant effect of it is that Ashton Kutcher and Brittany Murphy have fallen happily and earnestly in love. But they could have done that working on a better movie.


The film begins with the end of a honeymoon. Tom (Kutcher) and Sarah (Murphy) deplane at LAX, from Venice, Italy, and, as the slow motion cinematography suggests, they are emerging from a seemingly endless flight. Once the camera syncs into real-time speed, they spend the next few minutes messing with each other—she throws gum in his hair on the escalator, he wheels a luggage cart into her path so she falls on her face, and other hilarious pranks. But they aren’t making fun. They’re really mad.


Apparently, the newlyweds have endured - barely - the worst honeymoon ever. And don’t you know that the rest of the film will flash back to their travails in order to explain every little turn in the road of their romance. Many of these events are borrowed from other movies (a crucial one involves a little dog leaping out a window, but unlike in Something About Mary, he doesn’t come back in a cast for more abuse; this slobbery little bulldog ends up in an early grave: such merriment!). And most of the others are basic—very basic—body-related gags: farts, pratfalls, a mother named “Pussy.”


The rest of the movie serves as set-up for the jokes. The primary ground is class difference, that eternally handy storehouse of romantic comedy jokes. In a word, she’s rich and he’s not. In fact, she’s very rich, living blissfully jobless and rent-free in the family mansion, surrounded by blond siblings (several brothers with names like Dickie and Willie and an annoyingly perfect sister named Lauren [Monet Mazur]), her parents, Mr. McNerney (David Rashe) and the aforementioned Pussy (Veronica Cartwright), and a manservant (Toshi Toda). These stereotypes stand in for characterization for Sarah, whom her father ominously teases, “You little rebel!” when she shows up with the obviously working class Tom (in fact, he’s a late night traffic reporter for a local radio station).


She and Tom meet excessively cute on a beach. He tosses a football that bonks her on the head and she falls down. As he leans over her, their well-matched huge eyes lock, they smile, and next thing you know, they’re in a bar, slurping beers and playing pool. This is their courting stage. Next thing you know, they’re having sex while her dog—the one who flies out the window later—barks all night. And next thing after that, they’re moved in together, reportedly for nine months, which suggests they know a little about one another, though they later both say they don’t know each other at all.


This question of who knows what or when is strangely thematized in the film, though to no clear end. For many observers, Sarah’s parents included, their built-in lack of knowledge is premised on their youth. When they announce their plans to marry, Pussy warns Sarah, “You need to be old enough to know who you are.” What mom doesn’t get is that this is precisely what moves Sarah, the not knowing, the not being old enough. Minutes later Sarah’s telling Tom that if she wanted to know her future exactly, she’d marry the stuffy, self-loving rich kid, Peter Prentis (Christian Kane, Lindsey on Angel), whom her dad prefers. But, she gushes, “I love not knowing. I love our messy loft. I love your beater car.” She is a little rebel, isn’t she?


Before the marriage (a humungo church affair, with hundreds of guests who must all be guests of the bride’s family, as Tom appears to have one friend and a dad [Raymond J. Barry], period), they agree never to lie to one another, even as each is hiding a certain crucial truth from the other. Their omissions come back to haunt them, and they will eventually share guilty confessions that lead to mutual outrage and the ostensible splitsville pictured at film’s beginning. But before that, the film drags you through a series of variously obnoxious stunts—electric shock when Tom forces a U.S. plug into a European outlet, his foot stuck in the airplane’s toilet and flushed blue when they try to have sex in the bathroom, and a run of bloody noses and smashed heads.


Unsurprisingly, the central issue during the honeymoon and is sex, mainly, not having it. With everything going so wrong, due to Tom’s inability to behave like a grown-up: he acts out when he can’t watch baseball, calls hotel clerks names, chases Peter Prentis with a fire poker (this last is prompted when PP drops by the honeymoon hotel in Venice to sabotage the marriage). And when he brings a girl (played by the singer Valeria) home from the Caffe America, he’s horrified when she throws him down and straddles him in bed. Just what Sarah sees in this guy remains a mystery.


But she sees something, as she must adhere to formula. Sam Harper’s script and Shawn Levy’s direction are nothing if not predictable. Which is strange, given its lip service to the joy of not knowing, its supposed delight in youthful ignorance, daring, and risk-taking.


Then again, it’s not strange at all. Just Married is a smug and sloppy romantic comedy, which means that the no-count son-in-law will, at last, admit his own error and drive his Dodge into Sarah’s indestructible front gate in an effort to get her attention. When she doesn’t come out, he speaks directly into the Front Gate’s Camera 1, all tears and sweetness: “There’s a million things I don’t know,” he snuffles as little rebel wifey watches from inside her well-appointed bedroom. You can guess the one thing he does know, and that makes Sarah come outside after all. Clinch. Fade out. Finally.

Cynthia Fuchs is director of Film & Media Studies and Associate Professor of English, Film & Video Studies, African and African American Studies, Sport & American Culture, and Women and Gender Studies at George Mason University.


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