Simon Pearce (Richard Benjamin) is convinced that nothing lasts forever. So he decides to leave his wife of 65 years and make himself available once again at the age of just 80. The spring chicken is convinced that he’s still a catch, and that it’s just a question of time before women flock towards him. He believes that he may have another 30 years to enjoy his life, only for his son Peter (Griffin Dune) to do the tragic mathematics: “that would make you 110”.
Peter does the very best to talk his father out of the unexpected idea, determined that both of his parents should be buried together. He believes that the bond of matrimony is sacred, and that a man and a woman should spend the rest of their lives (and eternity) together. To his despair, his wife of 35 years years Maria decides to file a divorce, leaving the poor man scrambling for a purpose for his own existence. The couple have two young and good-looking sons. Nick (James Norton) is engaged to Thea, while Mickey (Miles Heizer) is a single gay man with no intention of tying the knot any time soon (same-sex marriage is a topic never addressed, leaving viewers to guess whether homosexuals would make good “ex-husbands”). Nick holds his stag do (or “bachelor party”, in the local vernacular”) in the Mexican town of Tulum, a place dotted with late-night bars, strip joints and beaches covered with sargassum. Presumably a low-cost holiday destination for young Americans seeking cheap thrills, apparently some sort of Latin American Benidorm. He’s joined by a motley crew of male friends, his brother Mickey, and… tah dah… his loving (and somewhat nosey) father!
A very unexpected revelation is made at the resort, throwing what was intended to be a Dionysian celebration into disarray, and seriously compromising the emotional stability of the three men. In their own different ways, they attempt to savage their dignity and their ability to love. The three heterosexual men (including grandpa Simon, who did not join them the other two generations on their trip) have their masculinity entirely defined by marriage. Any movement outside the old-fashioned institution is deemed a failure. Even Mickey sees a great opportunity at (homosexual) love ruined by (heterosexual) matrimony. Instead of feeling liberated, all four men end up oppressed and restrained by the bourgeois establishment. Such a conservative and reductionist conclusion.
Ex-Husbands has some lighthearted moments of comical relief, like any conventional romcom. This includes Peter intruding into the graphic details of his gay son’s sex life, Maria’s vaguely snide comments about divorce, and – perhaps most crucially – the fate of grandpa’s wedding ring. The jokes are fairly subtle though. This is not the laugh-out-loud, dirty type of comedy. This is a squeaky clean affair, lacking flair and vigour.
Noah Pritzker’s sophomore feature is not a nod to John Cassavetes’s Husbands (1970). The American indie classic is a very personal, mostly improvised film about mere mourning and grief, which uses married life as a mere background to the complex emotional developments. Ex-Husbands is a highly formulaic movie that puts marriage at centre stage, and promotes the idea that it’s the only institution capable of legitimising and immortalising love.
Ex-Husbands just premiered in the Main Competition of the 71st San Sebastian International Film Festival, when this piece was originally written. Also showing at the 41st Turin Film Festival.