Sleeping with the Enemy is a Romantic Comedy
He hates these (haphazardly arranged) cans!
At this point, I’m accustomed to finding rom-coms in places where rom-coms aren’t expected. Kind of like how you can look at a cloud and see a heart or a dinosaur, I can look at a 90s domestic abuse thriller and find the heartwarming small town romance hidden inside.
But let’s back up. The movie we’re talking about today, Sleeping with the Enemy, is absolutely not really a romantic comedy. It features too much assault and faked death and violence. But also…it features a falling in love montage? So maybe it is a rom-com.
SWTE came out in 1991, but it wasn’t on my radar until sometime in college when my friend Lauren told me about it. The detail that haunted me was that Julia Roberts escaped from her abusive husband, but then realized he’d found her when her hand towels were meticulously arranged and all the cans in the pantry were face out, just the way he liked them. Face out cans! Not exactly the stuff of terror, but in context, it’s a little bit terrifying.
I basically just thought about that can scene for, like, ten years before finally deciding to give SWTE a watch and boy, oh boy, am I ever glad I did. It’s part of a little genre I like to call Scary Movies for People Who Don’t Like Scary Movies. I realize this might actually just be a thriller, but I did find it genuinely scary! Maybe it’s because the subject matter (abusive husbands) is more of a real threat than the monsters and witches in so many horror films (no offense to any monsters or witches who may be reading this…I totally believe in you and don’t want to make you mad). There are abusive men everywhere, and they are hiding undercover just like Martin Burney (yes, Martin Burney is the name of the abusive husband…A+ name choice). Every time I’ve learned that a man I knew IRL was abusive, I’ve been surprised. Never have I thought, “Oh, that makes sense, he was openly terrible.” Usually I’ve thought something along the lines of “But he was so friendly/charming/funny/helpful!” Bad men: they are all around us, and that’s truly terrifying in a way that ghosts never will be (confidential to any ghosts: I’m kidding, you’re scary).
So let’s get to the plot. Julia Roberts has a picture perfect life with her husband who, again, is named Martin Burney. They live in an angular modern white house on the beach, she wears fancy dresses to parties, and her hair is straight. But, as we quickly find out, things aren’t so perfect. Martin is physically abusive and controlling. He looks like he’s either a dentist or related to Father John Misty and, unfortunately, both looks are working for me. :(
Martin is also very into the music of Berlioz, so allow me a moment to talk about my Berlioz knowledge. A few years ago, I started feeling bad that I didn’t know much about classical music. After all, I played the flute for ten years when I was a kid…shouldn’t I have retained a little bit of information about music? To be fair, half of each year was spent in marching band where we played, like, Queen songs, and then part of concert band was spent playing the soundtracks of Harry Potter/Lord of the Rings/Jurassic Park. But still. It seemed like I should have some sort of leftover classical music knowledge, so I started listening to our local Columbus station, Classical 101, every day. And one of the things I learned from one of their DJs was that the composer Berlioz once planned to murder his former fiancé and her new partner (he changed his mind, to his credit). The fact that Berlioz is part of Martin’s sex playlist? That’s called foreshadowing! That’s called me educating myself so that I can appreciate 90s thrillers! That’s called a major red flag, Julia Roberts! If your man has Berlioz on his sex playlist, you simply must throw the whole man away/carefully fake your death and escape to a small town.
Luckily, that’s exactly what Julia Roberts does. Martin plans to take her out on a boat during a storm even though she can’t swim. But what Martin doesn’t know is that Julia Roberts has been taking secret swimming lessons, and during the storm she flings herself off the boat and clings to a buoy until she can swim to safety, grab a bag she packed in their closet, and get the hell out of Dodge/their angular modern beach home. Oh, and also she tosses her ring into the toilet but doesn’t flush it.
Obviously this has to happen so that Martin can later find said ring (I guess he has many other presumably modern toilets in that large beach home and doesn’t need to use that one right away), but still. If you’re plotting to run away from your husband, you’ve gotta make sure the toilet flushes and/or dispose of your ring elsewhere! This is just a tip for you to remember if you’re ever planning such an elaborate escape.
Anyway, she makes it to a small town and that’s where the romantic comedy begins. It might just be easier for me to list the reasons why Sleeping with the Enemy is a rom-com, so here goes:
-Julia Roberts has the cutest house. We’re talking a Hallmark movie, Stars Hollow, “Nancy Meyers when she’s writing about someone she thinks is poor” house. Look at it!
-Julia Roberts starts wearing her hair curly when she’s in the small town. A classic rom-com lead transformation! No longer can Julia and her hair be contained by Martin! Now they are both free!
-An adorable meet cute. Julia befriends her neighbor, Ben, when he catches her stealing fruit from his trees. He doesn’t care that she’s stealing from him because she’s Julia Roberts.
-Ben is a drama teacher (great rom-com hero job) and he has voluminous hair. Obviously he immediately falls in love with Julia and they do classic rom-com things like attending a parade and having a montage (a montage!) to Brown Eyed Girl and dancing to Runaround Sue (the music in this film…not subtle).
-They attend a fair together. Small town quaintness at its finest! Do some small tweaks to the plot and Julia could absolutely be a Hallmark lead with a vaguely haunted past who has to learn to love again against the backdrop of patriotic parades.
Alas, it’s not to be. While I may believe deep in my heart that his movie is part rom-com, ultimately Martin tracks her down and guess what? He’s not happy. When he finally finds her, he brings his own boombox to play his Berlioz jam and, as promised, straightens all the cans in her pantry. And you know what? I screamed at the straightened can reveal. It really was terrifying.
Clearly this newsletter is a spoiler zone (I’m sorry, but I can’t refrain from spoiling movies from thirty years ago and I hope you can respect this), but I won’t spoil what happens after that. But it’s dramatic and exciting and terrifying!
Sleeping the the Enemy has a 20% on Rotten Tomatoes, because we’re not living in a just world. I don’t know what people want out of a film. Haphazard cans? Less Berlioz? Maybe people just have bad taste.
This week’s newsletter is shorter than usual because today my glamorous stay at home mom lifestyle was a little bit busy (not to brag, but I did have to clean up a lot of dog poop). Also I’m taking next week off, so I’ll see you in December! No homework this week because of the holiday, but I do hope you’ll take some time to watch Sleeping with the Enemy with your family (I mean, maybe don’t) and/or listen to Berlioz as you’re roasting your turkey. Perhaps it will add an air of danger to meal prep! Happy Thanksgiving!