I’m a little unsure what the point of Heather Havrilesky’s piece in the New York Times lamenting “happy divorce” narratives really is. She argues that there’s some fascistic requirement to present divorce as fun and uplifting in Hollywood, but then admits immediately that two of the best shows on television, “Louie” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” have main characters whose lives are falling apart in the wake of a divorce. It’s not that there’s not a spate of divorce-as-liberation narratives, but those are proliferating because they’re counterintuitive (which gives them a hook) and because divorce is working as the catalyst for a narrative and isn’t the point of the story. A TV show that has a person starting a quest for a new life in the wake of losing their job isn’t suggesting that getting fired is a basket of roses.
If she’s asking where the “Kramer vs. Kramer” of our generation is, well, she answered her own question. The main difference between “Louie” and “Kramer vs. Kramer” is that “Louie” isn’t soaked in misogyny. On the contrary, “Louie” is a far more measured and nuanced view of what divorce is and what it means. Louis C.K.’s character may be a miserable sack who isn’t handling post-divorce life well, but that he is such a miserable guy is the implied reason for why the divorce was inevitable and his wife had every right to leave him. Additionally, Louie’s ability to take proper care of his children is a nice antidote to the “Oh no, how do you feed a child?!” dilemma of single fatherhood that’s traditionally been presented. Louie takes care of his kids, does a decent job at it, and doesn’t expect a cookie, because taking care of your kids is what you’re supposed to do. The show’s take on divorce is about right to me: It’s sad that it has to happen, but let’s not pretend that it didn’t have to happen under the circumstances.
If there has been a shift in our cultural narratives around divorce, it’s probably that they’ve evolved to meet an audience that is well-acquainted with the topic. Watching a weep fest about the tragedy of divorce sounds boring nowadays. I don’t like watching movies that are about how it’s sad if your dog dies or tragic when people are thwarted from being their true selves. If I’m going to spend time considering the obvious, I’ll go stare in a mirror and marvel at the nose on my face. It’s far more interesting to consider what goes on after the divorce is truly final and people are starting to move on, which is where obvious stops being a factor and character differences begin to emerge.