“The Trouble with Happiness”: Thank God He Met Lizzie (1997)

thank-god-he-met-lizzie

Nostalgia’s a funny thing. You find yourself dreaming of a past (and your heart will be beating fast) that was hardly perfect, but is nevertheless a dreamy diversion from the more complex, complicated present.

Nostalgia is the key emotion fuelling Video Shop Daze. Nostalgia is also at the heart of Thank God He Met Lizzie, the directorial debut for Cherie Nowlan, and an early entry in the careers of Cate Blanchett and Frances O’Connor (both of whom would go on to do Big Things in Hollywood shortly thereafter).

Okay, I admit it — I didn’t watch this film on VHS. I caught Thank God He Met Lizzie at the Carlton Moviehouse, during that venue’s dying days (hello gentrification!). Nevertheless, this fondly (dare I say, nostalgically?) remembered pic hails from the era of ‘Be Kind, Rewind’, so it seemed worth revisiting here.

Guy (Richard Roxburgh) is a thirtysomething businessman who seems perpetually unlucky in love. That is, until he meets Lizzie (Blanchett), an attractive thirtysomething doctor, and … thank God they met!

Or maybe not.

On the night of their wedding, Guy is overcome by flashbacks to his long-term relationship with Jenny (O’Connor). Whereas Lizzie is blonde and Grace Kelly-cool, Jenny was brunette and fiery. Whereas Lizzie comes from an image-conscious society family, Jenny hailed from eccentric, working-class stock. Life for Lizzie is predictable, perhaps too much so, but there was never a predictable moment with Jenny (sex in a shopping centre, anyone?).

Soon, Guy is wondering whether he made the right decision to tie the knot with someone he barely knows—and someone he perhaps doesn’t want to know.

The plot sounds like Rom Com 101. The mise-en-scene recalls TV Week circa 1997. But there be darkness bubbling below the film’s slick, safe, surfaces.

The most remarkable aspect of Thank God He Met Lizzie is its critique of the romantic love myth. The marriage that serves as the movie’s key focus is what film scholar Mark Nicholls calls “a department store gift registry list of abominations.”

Special mention goes out here to the performances of Jane Turner (the awkward celebrant) and Jonathan Biggins (the pompous wedding MC). Biggins’ rendition of ‘We’ve Only Just Begun’ must be heard to be believed. I couldn’t find a video of this number, so here’s the original.

White lace and promises, people, white lace and promises.

And then there’s Guy. Our hapless hero is one of a long cinematic line of melancholic men that stretches back to Orson Welles in The Lady Shanghai (1947)—actually, hell, this line stretches back further. The audience feels Guy’s heartache as he reflects on a relationship that self-imploded years ago, but which seems to have been more exciting than his superficial current day.

It’s a testament to the talent of the three leads (Roxburgh, O’Connor and Blanchett) that their characters are so believable. It’s a credit to the scriptwriters and director, too, that the film doesn’t veer into the realm of melodrama.

(I mean, it’s not that I don’t like melodrama, but there’s a time and a place …)

In the fading moments, Guy reflects: “The trouble with happiness is that you don’t know when you have it. You remember it.” But, of course, the pleasure of nostalgia is that you do know when you have it—because you are remembering it. Whether that involves remembering loves from days past; or remembering watching those loves play out on the screens of moviehouses that are now memories themselves.

White lace and promises, people, white lace and promises. 

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