Please put the camera away, darling...

When couples collaborate on screen the results are usually disastrous, says Ben Walsh. So why do they keep on doing it?

Monday 07 March 2011 01:00

Aaron gave me his wild, free spirit and the collaboration was pure magic," the artist Sam Taylor-Wood gushes about her young fiancé and father of her child, Aaron Johnson, on their latest project together – a video for R.E.M.'s new single, "Uberlin", shot on London's hip Brick Lane.

In her short film, Johnson, in trackie bottoms and a yellow T-shirt, throws some kung-fu kicks, attempts some pirouettes, prances, punches the air, chicken walks, tries out some bunny impressions, and, at one point, fondles his bottom. The actor's very nimble, but it's far from an edifying spectacle, and it's no Christopher Walken-like turn on Fatboy Slim's "Weapon of Choice". It also feels like an indulgently absurd move from the 20-year-old after his impressive turns as John Lennon in Taylor-Wood's directorial debut, Nowhere Boy (the film the pair met on), and as a caped crusader in Matthew Vaughn's splendid Kick-Ass.

It's possibly a tad presumptuous, but it looks perfectly likely that Taylor-Wood and Johnson's working relationship may go the way of so many lovers' collaborations in film. Never mind children and animals, it's the other half, it appears, that you should avoid working with at all costs. Of course, there have been successful pairings – most notably Woody Allen's with his previous partners Diane Keaton (Annie Hall, Manhattan) and Mia Farrow (Broadway Danny Rose, The Purple Rose of Cairo) and Ben Stiller and Christine Taylor's droll chemistry in the likes of Zoolander and Dodgeball. But there have been a sizeable amount of stinkers, too. It often occurs once the couple have had a sniff of success working together – it goes swiftly to their heads, it seems. Peter Bogdanovich and Cybill Shepherd are a prime example. A 31-year-old Bogdanovich wowed audiences in 1971 with The Last Picture Show, his beautifully shot coming-of-age tale set in small-town Texas. Shepherd is luminous in it as the lusty teen Duane Jackson. The pair soon became an item and the creative rot set in quickly, with two howlingly bad movies. First came the ill-fated 1974 comedy of manners Daisy Miller; it was followed by the cast-iron stinker At Long Last Love, a homage to the musical comedy of the 1930s.

The once loved-up Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith would also have been well advised to steer clear. Their two collaborations, the dire romcom Born Yesterday and the wretched drama Paradise, proved calamitous, but not as bad (what possibly could be?) as Madonna's dunderheaded pairings. First, the Material Girl paired up with husband number one, Sean Penn, on Jim Goddard's execrable Shanghai Surprise, where Madonna (preposterously) plays a 1930s missionary; then teamed up with husband number two, the director Guy Ritchie, on the unforgivable Swept Away.

Marrieds Geena Davis and Renny Harlin also fell foul. First the Finnish director cast his wife in the turkey Cutthroat Island (1995), before directing the silly macho flick The Long Kiss Goodnight. They divorced in 1998. On 1968's Barbarella, director Roger Vadim seemed to get a perverse pleasure in humiliating his then wife, Jane Fonda, in a series of ludicrous scenarios. Their marriage duly perished.

And then, of course, there's former "golden couple" Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. Has any husband and wife ever looked so uncomfortable together on screen? First came the daft Days of Thunder, followed by the woeful romance Far and Away (1992) and topped off by Stanley Kubrick's perverse Eyes Wide Shut (1999), a film that only works when the couple are not sharing a scene. They separated two years later. Kim Basinger and Alec Baldwin provided us with the unnecessary remake of The Getaway and The Marrying Man – a "comedy of staggering ineptitude", said Variety.

Aaron Johnson is talented enough to survive this R.E.M. folly – but it might be time for him to forge his own acting path, away from the attentions of his partner. Or maybe it's society's (or my) problem, and loving couples should keep on collaborating. It worked for (eek) Wings...

R.E.M.'s single "Uberlin" is released today

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