For Better or Worse: Directors Working With Spouses

This past weekend saw the cinematic glory of Resident Evil: Afterlife pushing past security to get into your local theater even though it was moving slower than an instant replay in a curling match. The absolute atrocity of this film raises a lot of questions, but one of the first and foremost is whether or not directors should work with their spouses in a leading role.

Paul W.S. Anderson, who thinks Milla Jovovich is as big an action star as Sigourney Weaver, is also married to Milla Jovovich, and while we can’t prove causation for the low marks in her performance here – we can certainly point to correlation.

We can also point to 9 more husband and wife teams in order to find out if working with your legally bound significant other is really such a great idea.

For Better

Joel Coen/Frances McDormand

Coen and McDormand met on the set of Blood Simple. which started the quality film ball rolling for both in a lot of ways. Maybe it was finding chemistry on a first project that allowed them continued success in the others, but Coen has directed McDormand in small roles to starring ones in Raising Arizona, Miller’s Crossing, Barton Fink, and Burn After Reading. These films all range in quality, but it’s Fargo that’s unmistakable as a massive hit for the pair.

McDormand earned an Oscar for her role, and Joel earned a Best Writing Oscar for co-writing the script.

Jean-Luc Godard/Anna Karina

It’s obvious that Karina was more than a wife to Godard. She was a muse. They first met when he wanted to cast her in Breathless and she refused because it involved a nude scene. She then acted in The Little Soldier for him, and the pair were married in the same year that A Woman is a Woman was released. From there, the love affair and the fantastic films continued with Vivre sa Vie, Bande a Part, Alphaville, Pierrot le fou, Made in USA, and Godard’s contribution to The Oldest Profession.

Their divorce was also the end of their partnership. Their careers continued, but she ceased to be his muse when she ceased to be his wife.

Sam Mendes/Kate Winslet

Each is an Academy favorite and incredibly talented in their own right, but the couple worked together for the first time on Revolutionary Road which earned them even more acclaim. Strangely enough, it might be the only time they work together (or at least as husband and wife) because after making a beautiful film about a marriage falling apart – they separated.

Tim Burton/Helena Bonham Carter

Although not legally married, they are domestic partners and have children together. That’s good enough for jazz, this list, and common law. The pair have been together since 2001 when they met on the set of Planet of the Apes – meaning Burton had to fall for her as a simian. She would be a bit of a muse as well, appearing in all of his released films after that point, including standouts Big Fish and Corpse Bride.

Woody Allen/Mia Farrow

This pair was never married either, but they (pretty famously) adopted children together and spent many years together. Then he married one of her children, so that’s another strong relationship connection, right? Technically, he’s also directed his wife Soon-Yi, but she was 15 at the time.

Back to Farrow, Allen has pointed to her as one of his muses (in a growing theme of this list). He also claims this about Diane Keaton, but she and he had ended their romance by the time they started working professionally so often with each other. Farrow starred in some of Allen’s best films including The Purple Rose of Cairo, Alice and Hannah and Her Sisters. She also appears in his slightly better than average films Broadway Danny Rose and Radio Days.

And now for some strong evidence against husbands and wives working together:


For Worse

Guy Ritchie/Madonna

There’s just no accounting for taste. Guy Ritchie has a signature style – fast cuts, complex gangster stories, ensembles hunting down an object of importance. He has a style. Except for one movie. The ill-advised Swept Away which looks like a complete exercise in appeasing a famous wife who had seen a fairly promising film career cool even after the critical acclaim of Evita. This abominable film might be a case of a husband not knowing how to get a good performance from his wife or it might be so riddled with story problems from the beginning that it was doomed out of the gate. Either way, it’s unclear whether either were fighting over its royalties in the divorce.

Len Wiseman/Kate Beckinsale

Wiseman and Beckinsale met on the set of Underworld which is fascinating because the chemistry seems to work there. It’s not a great film, but it’s fun in its own way and Beckinsale is convincing as a skintight jumpsuit-wearing monster. Then, they got married. Then, they made Underworld: Evolution. There is absolutely no explanation for this film except that it fits into the cliche of an empty sequel delivering diminished returns from the first. The pair haven’t truly worked together since (other than a quick voice over she did for the third Underworld film). Apparently, for some reason, they were unable to write in a part for a gorgeous British vampire into Live Free or Die Hard.

Bart Freundlich/Julianne Moore

This may be the example with the most talent disparity on the entire list. Moore is well-respected and has won the respect of audiences and critics alongside her many award nominations. Bart Freundlich, who has been with Moore since 1996 and married to her since 2003, is the kind of name that makes you wonder if you’re being prank called. It turns out that he’s a director, and his greatest hits include The Myth of Fingerprints, World Traveler, and Trust the Man which all feature his wife and all feature a shocking lack of quality.

Kevin Smith/Jennifer Schwalbach

This may be a bit unfair because Schwalbach isn’t an actress, but that’s sort of the point. Despite being fun films, and at the risk of being called out by Smith on Twitter, his inclusion of his wife in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is about the clearest case of nepotism this side of the political arena. She looks completely out of place next to Shannon Elizabeth, Ali Larter, and Eliza Dushku as a fellow diamond thief, and it brings down that entire part of the story. Somehow that didn’t stop him from giving her a bigger role as Dante’s fianceé in Clerks II.

Tim Burton/Helena Bonham Carter

If we’re going to cheat, we might as well cheat twice. They’re not technically married, and they’ve technically been on the list already, but hear us out. The pair have been together since 2001 when they met on the set of Planet of the Apes – meaning Burton had to fall for her as a simian. She would be a bit of a muse as well, appearing in all of his released films after that point, including the eyebrow-raisingly un-good Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Sweeney Todd, Alice in Wonderland, and the aforementioned Planet of the Apes.

What other evidence can you present?

Editor’s Note: This list was written by Cole Abaius and compiled lovingly by Kevin Carr, Jack Giroux, Landon Palmer, and Cole.

The FSR Staff is an author similar to Hydra. Its articles have many authors. It has many heads. Please don't cut off any of its heads, we're trying to work here.

Read More from FSR Staff
Get Film School Rejects in your email. All the cool kids are doing it:
Previous Article
Next Article
Reject Nation
Leave a comment
Comment Policy: No hate speech allowed. If you must argue, please debate intelligently. Comments containing selected keywords or outbound links will be put into moderation to help prevent spam. Film School Rejects reserves the right to delete comments and ban anyone who doesn't follow the rules. We also reserve the right to modify any curse words in your comments and make you look like an idiot. Thank You!