July 19, 2006

To Have and Have Not: Two Movies About Money and Marriage

This past weekend I went to the movies a few times, you know, a typical weekend. Two of the movies I saw dealt with relationships. Not the romantic kind of relationships, although there is a little bit of that as well. Marriage and money are the topics of the day. The two movies take different tracks when dealing with them, although, in the end the results are similar.

The first movie is Friends with Money. It stars Jennifer Aniston as a former teacher who has taken to working as a maid to meet ends meet. As we follow her through the movie, she scraps for each dollar she can get, as well as raiding cosmetics counters for samples. She is one member in a circle of friends, all of the rest of which are much further along the money chain.

Examined in the film is the way that money can affect your relationships with others, be they friend or spouse. The movie doesn’t completely succeed, as the characters never really seem to take off, and many of the scenes are more like skits. However, they come together to paint a portrait of a woman struggling to keep her life together as she finds her way, while he well to do friends “struggle” with having so much many, and the marital problems that crop up.

The other movie is decidedly more light hearted, but has similar themes of a married couple with some money, and a friend who has nothing. Like in Friends with Money, the person lacking money becomes a point of conflict for those with money. This one is You, Me, and Dupree.

In this one a lovable schlub, played ably by Owen Wilson, moves in with his best friend and his wife shortly after their marriage. At first, his arrival is nothing more than a slight annoyance, but the longer it goes on, it creates a rift between the young couple. Initially, Dupree, yes the Dupree of the title, is oblivious of his affect, but it later awakens him to find a focus for his life.

I enjoyed both of them to an extent, despite neither being great. The former attempts to be a character study, but never fully takes off, the latter a Hollywood comedy that never gains its focus. Despite their shortcomings, they both place a focus on dysfunctional relationships and the pitfalls of wealth.

The lynchpins of the two films are the singles without money, Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson. Without these two characters there wouldn’t be much of a reason to see the movie. Nobody wants to see well off people dealing with marital problems, it would just be so much fluff, who cares? Now, if you add in the likable people without money, you have the contrasting lifestyles with which to build some conflict.

Is money the root of all evil? Will it create rifts between friends who have and those who have not? It is a distinct possibility. Those who have not are a main point for the rest of the cast, should they be helping them? Should they let them forge their own paths?

The parallels between the two movies are tenuous at best, but they are there. The problem in drawing the two together comes in when you realize that neither film is entirely successful. The themes are there, but they are half baked.

Friends with Money fails to resolve any of the character arcs, and You, Me, and Dupree fails to decide who the story is supposed to be about. The thing they were successful at were putting a few half baked ideas about marital conflicts and the affects of money among friends where there is a disparity in who has how much and their equivalent happiness.

Well, it is time to bring this to a close. I cannot completely recommend either film, but Jennifer Aniston proves she can act, as opposed to her role in The Break-Up, where she was more of a movie star, and Owen Wilson proves that he can be likeably goofy even in a film that doesn’t stretch is potential.

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