Celeb unions: Much more fun than the movies

Here's a news flash: Another celebrity love match for the ages has gone south. This time it's Billy Bob Thornton and Angelina Jolie.

Last time, the pair going splitsville was gonzo comedian Tom Green and actress Drew Barrymore– who spent a good chunk of 2001 denying they actually were married. Then they announced that they are filing for divorce after five– count 'em– long months of matrimonial bliss.

"I love Tom very much. He has always been a great friend and that won't change," says Drew, who once starred in a film called, of all things, Irreconcilable Differences, the official reason for the divorce.

"Drew is a wonderful woman; I love her very much," says Tom, for once guilty of understatement. As his fiance, after all, Barrymore appeared on Green's controversial "Cancer Special" on MTV, in which he documented the removal of his tumorous testicle. "Wonderful" doesn't begin to describe a gal who would sit through that.

But the magic ended around that brief moment that Vanilla Sky– the action thriller starring the twice-married and twice-divorced Tom Cruise and the current love of his life, Penelope Cruz– topped the nation's box office. And even as 68-year-old screen vixen Joan Collins announces plans to stroll down the aisle for only the fifth time, this time with a 36-year-old theater manager. "They are both very happy and are very in love with each other," says a Collins' spokeswoman.

Of course they are.

On the level of pure entertainment, celebrity marriages, marriage-like couplings, and declarations of lifetime love are akin to the movies themselves. Indeed, the marriages– and the inevitable divorces– are frequently easier to watch than the films made by the same actors.

And yet who can deny that there is something deeply dissatisfying about such spectacles? The reason: It's simply too great a suspension of disbelief to ask the audience to take such unions seriously. When we sit in a movie theater and the lights go down, we're willing to believe just about anything. We can almost believe, for instance, that Tom Cruise is a race-car driver, or an Irish immigrant, or a even a doctor– roles he played in Days of Thunder, Far and Away, and Eyes Wide Shut, three dud movies that also starred ex-wife Nicole Kidman.

But despite the occasional long-lasting celebrity relationship, the simple fact is that Dennis Hopper's eight-day marriage to Michelle Phillips in 1970 remains the Hollywood standard. Does anyone really doubt the clock is ticking on such latter-day Abelards and Heloises as Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, Madonna and Guy Ritchie, Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt?

During their lives, movie stars enjoy fame, money, and adulation beyond any reckoning. They are famously indulged in their every whim. But when they ask for credibility in their love lives, they ask for too much.

If that harsh reality is too tough for them to take, they can always console themselves with this: True love is certainly just around the corner. Again.

Nick Gillespie is editor-in-chief of Reason magazine, where a version of this essay first appeared.