Sometimes art imitating life is the catharsis and validation we need when going through something as painful as a relationship breaking up. It is a trying time, so to make things easier, here is a list of some of the best movies about divorce according to Rotten Tomatoes:
Divorce Italian Style (Divorzio All’italiana) (1962)
Tomatometer Score: Critics 100% / Audience 93%
Think your divorce is bad? Wait until you get a load of this situation. Divorce Italian Style is an Italian comedy released in 1962 about a Sicilian nobleman (in name only); in other words, he does not have the wealth that comes with nobility. He pines for a younger distant cousin, and he secretly resents his wife, who he is not attracted to and definitely does not love.
Hijinks ensue when he comes up with a plan to set his wife up to have an affair. Then he can kill her and show it occurred during the heat of passion, so he will get a light sentence according Italian laws at the time. He hires somebody to help him restore parts of his estate, which is when he tries to hatch his plan.
Of course, his plan is foiled several times. In the end, he has to do what he was hoping the mafia would do for him. Once plan is put into place, which proceeds pretty much as he suspected. Everything begins to go his way. Or does it? This film will remind you that it could always be worse.
Tomatometer Score: Critics 98% / Audience 81%
This Oscar darling took over a decade to make. Director Richard Linklater literally chronicled the same young actor from first grade through college.
The film follows little Mason as he struggles with his divorced parents (Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette), both moving on in their lives. How does the divorce affect Mason and his sister? Their parents do not always date the right people, especially his mother. But the raw realism of this glimpse into moments of a divorced family moving forward throughout a decade is what got this film so much attention, and it is definitely a cathartic experience.
Husbands and Wives (1992)
Tomatometer Score: Critics 97% / Audience 87%
Leave it to Woody Allen to make a movie about breakups and divorce that is uncomfortable to watch yet poignant. We observe two couples (Jack and Sally, and Gabe and Judy) deal with problems and breakdowns in their respective marriages.
When Jack and Sally announce their plans to separate, it puts Gabe and Judy into shock, which makes them start to involuntarily reevaluate their own marriage. Jack and Sally both move on, much to the chagrin of the other couple: as Jack and Sally continue to feel out their separation, things only get worse for Gabe and Judy. They tumultuously get jealous and wonder if the grass is greener on the other side. Then the couples’ situations switch: Jack and Sally decide to get back together and accept the imperfection of their marriage, but Gabe and Judy go through a divorce.
This movie is a realistic portrait of relationships and humanity.
Tomatometer Score: Critics 96% / Audience 78%
Wine country and divorce: the two seem to go hand-in-hand. Sideways is a look into the loneliness of divorce, including how much it can disrupt your life. Our antihero Miles (Paul Giamatti) is a divorced writer making his living as a teacher, a job he desperately wants to leave. The film revolves around a weekend trip he has planned with his best friend to Santa Ynez Valley wine country.
When Miles finds out that his ex-wife is getting remarried, he is sent into a tailspin. Meanwhile, he is roped into covering for his best friend as he has one last fling before getting married. Meanwhile, Miles connects with a woman he meets, who he awkwardly ends up sleeping with.
The film is both funny and heartbreaking, but what really hits home is how alone Miles is in everything he does throughout the film. It depicts the uncertainty of life after divorce.
Scenes from a Marriage (Scener Ur Ett Äktenskap) (1974)
Tomatometer Score: Critics 94% / Audience 95%
This classic six-episode miniseries was made by Ingmar Bergman, who has always expertly captured a feeling of isolation and claustrophobia. He continues that tradition here by depicting the fear of being alone and how it drives both marriage and divorce.
Marianne and Johan come off like a perfect couple during an interview, in which they discuss their decade-long marriage. After the interview, their life slowly starts to show that their marriage is starting to come apart at the seams.
When Johan admits to having an affair, the stage is set for divorce. However, they both try to move on as they explore whether love is real, and who they really are as individuals. Their fear of being alone leads them back to each other, where they realize how flawed they actually are.
The Squid and the Whale (2005)
Tomatometer Score: Critics Score 93% / Audience 81%
Oh, what a tangled web we weave when we are married with children. Then during divorce, it all comes crashing down, and sides are chosen. This film deserves its critical praise, as it depicts the confusing, heartbreaking effect that combative parents have on their children during a messy divorce.
As the parents continue to tear each other down in front of their children, the kids feel forced to take sides. One son takes the father’s side, and the other takes the mother’s. To make things worse, both parents have gotten into reckless relationships, which make things even more confusing for their two sons.
Through the veil of his parent’s divorce, the old son’s journey becomes a heartbreaking coming-of-age story. He witnesses the sins of his father and realizes how much he does not want to be like him. As he reconciles the love of his mother with the narcissism of his father, he is forced to make a decision, and in the end, he chooses himself.
Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
Tomatometer Score: Critics 88% / Audience 89%
If you are facing a long, drawn-out custody battle, you will identify with this film. But even if you are not, it is still a pretty damn good film about divorce and how hard it is to move on.
Ted (Dustin Hoffman) and Joanna (Meryl Streep) are married with a son, but Joanna is not happy with Ted, who is a workaholic. Nevertheless, Ted is shocked to find out that Joanna is leaving him…and their son. Ted has to learn how to be a single father and to cut back on work.
Joanna comes back over a year later and wants custody of their son. Ted has learned how to be a good father and bonded with their son in a way he never would if Joanna had not left them. However, his mistakes over the past year come back to haunt him.
What ensues is a heartbreaking tug of war that ends in a surprisingly tender way. Catharsis level: high.
Blue Valentine (2010)
Tomatometer Score: Critics 88% / Audience 77%
Sometimes when you are going through a divorce, a good cry can get a lot of the emotions out. This one just might help you do that. It is a story about a couple (Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams) who are kept together by an unplanned pregnancy. They decide to give life as a family a try, and it does not work out very well. The film shows the emotional ups and downs of the couple, as well as the heartbreaking impact it has on their child.
This film is unique in that it goes back and forth between timelines: when our couple meets and dates, and when the marriage falls apart. This storytelling device reflects the way our brains work during high-stress times. This movie gets such high scores because it feels so familiar and reminds you of your humanity.
Using whatever coping mechanisms you can to get through a process like divorce is highly recommended. Losing yourself in a good movie is one of the best ways to do that.
It is important to mentally take care of yourself, as well as physically going through a high-stress situation. If you get professional, objective help from a divorce coach, it can help you avoid mistakes that will cause even more stress, which can be a huge relief. Take some time for yourself, watch some films, and let yourself reflect before making any big decisions that could come back to haunt you.