What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
This movie is not on my list of essential films.
This movie might as well be titled “Be Careful What You Wish For Because You Just Might Get It.” It might also be a “deep cut” for even the most esoteric Netflix queue, and a movie about a divorcing couple and their sojourn back into the dating world might seem about as far away from a movie with a hidden sports analogy as one could possibly get.
I’ve always been an Alan Alda fan, even if he has a crushing case of “male guilt” and feels a need to make male characters in films he directs self-centered dickweeds. A New Life’s Steve Giardino is no exception. The film opens with Giardino arguing with his wife Jackie (Ann-Margret) over the state of their marriage; the scene ends with her saying she wants a divorce. But what sets this movie apart is it takes us one step further.
The standard formula for the “starting over” movie goes something like “couple goes their separate ways, time passes, wound heals, the adjustment to single life becomes the discovery of new relationships, personal growth happens, and they all live happily ever after. ” I remember seeing this movie in the theaters in my 20s when I shared exactly zero life experiences with any of the characters, but this movie still made sense to me because it calls “bullshit” on that standard formula.
It does this in three ways.
First, it uses stiff, out-of-date characters and juxtaposes them against “modern” times. While you never get to see her run-up to wanting a new life, it’s pretty easy to see Jackie Giardino as a “June Cleaver” type whose kids are grown and their departure into adulthood has left her with no means for personal fulfillment. Steve Giardino and his best friend Mel Arons (Hal Linden) would today be described as having “toxic masculinity;” they are self-absorbed hyper-competitive Wall Street traders who smoke, drink, and gamble compulsively. Mel Arons has the best lines in the movie because he is at the same time undeniably sexist and and brutally honest when he offers pearls like this:
“Why are you so hung up on being happy? Look at me; I trade all day against guys who would cut my heart out. I eat rich food. I drink too much. I make love to women half my age. Do you think I’m happy? (smiles and nods his head) It’s the advantage of being shallow!”
Watching characters from the “Mad Men” 1960’s thrown into the dating world of the “Cosby Show” 1980’s offers some serious comedic relief salted with just enough despair to keep it real. Bonus: keep your eyes peeled for the Asian transvestite. This character is only on screen for about five minutes, but there are so many metaphoric possibilities in play you can essentially make anything you want out of that character.
Secondly, this movie takes you past the usual “roses and violins” stage of new relationships all the way to how those start showing the same strains that destroyed the first ones. Jackie Giardino wants a man who will pay attention to her and she gets more than she bargained for; an obsessive, compulsive control freak who smothering clinginess proves fatal to the relationship. On the other hand, Steve Giardino wants to find another woman he can love, but he also gets in over his head. He ends up with a doctor who is significantly younger than him, and she doesn’t want to simply love and be loved, she wants a baby. All sorts of strife arises from the fact that he really doesn’t want to become a father again in his 50s.
But most importantly, “A New Life” shows us an entire cast of new lives. As I’ve said, this kind of movie usually follows only one of the partners after the split-up. But by following both Steve and Jackie, it on more than one occasion brings us back to the essential question: Why did they split up in the first place?
All throughout their head-long rush into their adventures as newly single people, and all through the developing of new relationships, it seems the divorce may have been a mistake. On at least three occasions, we see they are clearly better-suited to each other than the new partners they embrace in a way which suggests they are hoping for more than they know is really there.
The Hidden Sports Analogy:
If only Billy Martin and George Steinbrenner had seen this movie.
The sports world is full of relationships which are just like marriages in the sense that they have consequences which live past the actual break-up. The beauty of “A New Life” is that it shows us fairly typical people going through fairly typical post-marriage issues. Seen through that lens, it becomes clear we as fans have a similar level of innocent voyeurism when it comes to sports.
While retaining the comfort of personal detachment, every one of us fans have at least one sports marriage with which we aren’t happy. We all have a coach which drives us crazy, or a quarterback who “sucks,” and so on… That’s truly the cautionary tale in “A New Life;” if you going to “divorce” that coach, quarterback, or what have you, it might not be a bad idea to have a “Plan B” in mind. In other words, before you get re-married, you might want to make sure you know why the first marriage failed. Otherwise, you could just be making the same mistakes over and over again. That’s a theme very prevalent on our recent list of the worst college basketball coaches in recent memory.
The Moral of the Story:
Like I said, be careful what you wish for because you just might get it.