The Business of Marriage

Lorraine Bracco in Custody of the Heart (2000)

Claire Raphael (Lorraine Bracco) is a successful business woman, mother and wife who seemingly can do everything whilst her husband Dennis (Martin Donovan) stays at home as a house husband. But Dennis has had enough as despite having tried therapy, which Claire never had time for, Claire will not change and continues to do things her way with out consulting with him and constantly bossing him around like a member of staff. It is not just at home as Claire's sister has looked after their elderly mum and when she asks Claire to help out she hasn't got the time to do it. When Claire once again makes a decision without consulting him and belittles him in the process Dennis has enough and decides to start divorce proceedings and go for custody of their children. The question is will Claire see what has gone wrong and fight for her marriage and her children or not?

It is interesting when you look for information on "Custody of the Heart" as being a TV movie it doesn't have many reviews and many of the reviews suggest that Dennis' decision to go for divorce is an attempt to reclaim his manhood having been robbed off it by the bread winning Claire. I think I may have read somewhere that Dennis' act was out of jealousy over his more successful wife. Now I won't disagree because there is undeniably a suggestion of jealousy going on but there is the deeper context of the traditional role reversal with Claire doing things her way and no longer treating Dennis as her husband and equal but someone who does things for her. It means that when it seems like Dennis suddenly snaps and acts out of anger it is not only a massive shock to Claire but also those who have not seen how blinkered Claire is to her own behaviour.

Martin Donovan in Custody of the Heart (2000)

Now as to the rest of "Custody of the Heart", well it all depends on how you have reacted to the first part of the movie and whether you can see that Dennis actions were partly the reactions of a man tired of no longer being a husband and equal in the marriage. What we get after the bombshell of Dennis filing for a divorce and also custody of the children is a focus on how Claire deals with what is happening, how it makes her feel and what options are available especially in the changing world. There is a slant to the movie which suggests Dennis going for custody and maintenance and so on is the actions of a bitter man, representing all men by getting even for ever time a woman has taken a husband to the cleaners. Unfortunately by being less than subtle in trying to establish this it lets the movie down because it makes it seem like an angry movie with a point to prove rather than a balanced argument to present.

The one thing "Custody of the Heart" has going for it is three strong performances starting with Lorraine Bracco showing once again a talent for playing powerful women but also getting across the aspect of not seeing the full picture when it comes to how her character has behaved. Martin Donovan is just as good as Dennis, the husband tired of being ignored when it comes to his marriage, bringing various aspects to the role so there is jealousy and bitterness but also the tiredness of a man fed up of the way he is being treated and ignored. Plus there is Dennis Boutsikaris who brings out the subtle depth in his character as Claire's business partner and close friend.

What this all boils down to is that "Custody of the Heart" is an interesting movie dealing with a 21st century situation involving the changing domestic set up. Unfortunately whilst it has depth it also at times fails to deliver the balance that the storyline needs and lets slip to show what at times feels like an angry hidden agenda. On a little side note that is a young Michael Cera as one of the children.

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