The fo­rum

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Deirdre Macken macken.deirdre@gmail.com

BY co­in­ci­dence, two movies about in­fi­delity are show­ing at the cin­ema — The In­vis­i­ble Woman and The Other Woman — and you don’t want to get them con­fused or you’ll end up see­ing lots of boobs and biki­nis when you were ex­pect­ing a bon­nets-and-bus­tles ex­pe­ri­ence.

Such a co­in­ci­dence begs a mo­ment of cul­tural ob­ser­va­tion. Here’s the gist — in­fi­delity is no longer a cause of shame and se­crecy; it’s now an ex­cuse for girly ses­sions of drink­ing cos­mopoli­tans and braid­ing each other’s hair.

In fact, if you view these movies to­gether, you might feel em­bar­rassed on be­half of Charles Dick­ens and his se­cret squeeze, Nelly Ter­nan. Their tryst was so dis­creet they not only kept it se­cret from Lon­don so­ci­ety but it re­mained hid­den from his­tory for an­other 150 years. Why, you may ask, the se­crecy?

At least that’s what Cameron Diaz might ask as she takes au­di­ences through what hap­pens when a mod­ern girl dis­cov­ers that her boyfriend is a hus­band and then gets to know the wife, the other mis­tress and … is that an­other mis­tress canoodling by the pool?

Sure, the women are miffed that they are all only shifts in the night but the real mo­men­tum comes from their friend­ship. This is a buddy movie for women, a chick-fest that gets its drama from all the silly things that girls do when they’re an­gry. Re­venge served up light.

It sort of de­stroys the drama that’s go­ing on in the cin­ema next door. In the life of Eng­land’s fa­mous writer, in­fi­delity is grave. It’s shame­ful. It would have him writ­ten out of pub­lic life if it emerged. It’s a darkly lit drama, shaded by bon­nets and ex­pressed in son­nets.

But we’ve moved on — a while ago, if the movies are any in­di­ca­tion. It was al­most 20 years ago that The First Wives Club had fun with low-life hus­bands. It also ended up a bond­ing movie for mid­dle-aged women and their re­venge tac­tics of de­stroy­ing hus­bands’ ca­reers while mak­ing segues into les­bian bars be­came an ex­am­ple for first wives all around the world.

Episodes of wronged wives dob­bing in hus­bands to tax of­fi­cials, cut­ting ex­pen­sive trousers off at the knees and turn­ing shopa­holic on joint credit cards rou­tinely turn up in movies, sit­coms and real life. It’s all part of the sep­a­ra­tion process ap­par­ently. In real life, wronged women might not end up bud­dy­ing up to mis­tresses, drink­ing cos­mos and braid­ing each other’s hair but they are throw­ing par­ties to cel­e­brate events that, in pre­vi­ous eras, would stain their rep­u­ta­tions for­ever — or a good 150 years.

The ab­sence of shame that has freed infi- delity from the Vic­to­rian era is also crop­ping up in sto­ries about di­vorce. The lat­est craze for women who find them­selves click­ing on to RSVP.com af­ter 20 years of mar­riage is the di­vorce party. Some­times called free­dom par­ties, these have as much theatre as a wed­ding but are more black hu­mour than white ic­ing.

Those who di­vorced in an era when it was whis­pered about in po­lite so­ci­ety and scorned from the pul­pit will feel re­lief that women are now tak­ing the shame from the event and find­ing some­thing to cel­e­brate. (Those who bought pre­sents for en­gage­ment par­ties, hen’s par­ties, kitchen teas, brides­maids’ high teas, preg­nancy par­ties, baby wet­tings and the plethora of other events sur­round­ing cou­plings might feel miffed at hav­ing to find yet an­other gift.)

If women are singing the cho­rus to the song, You Don’t Own Me, and celebri­ties are happy to talk about their “con­scious un­cou­pling”, then they at least have moved be­yond Ter­nan’s fate as the wind-blown fig­ure on an empty beach with a se­cret past and an un­cer­tain fu­ture.

The re­venge-is-fun genre is firmly es­tab­lished. But why is re­venge al­ways a woman’s movie? Don’t men get cheated on? Well, if you scroll through the list of in­fi­delity movies, you don’t find many buddy movies born of be­ing cuck­olded. There’s just one I can think of, The Dilemma, a Vince Vaughn film of a few years ago. You may have for­got­ten it. It didn’t do well. It wasn’t re­viewed well. In fact, not much hap­pened in the movie. It’s like they set out to make a buddy movie, then lacked com­mit­ment. Per­haps it didn’t seem so funny af­ter all.

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