Sandra Bullock-Jesse James question: Do Oscars cause divorces?
No disrespect to our former colleague Nicole LaPorte, typically a sharp thinker and strong writer, but her story in The Daily Beast this week suggesting a causal relationship between winning an Oscar and marriages falling apart seemed like a textbook case of false deductions and selective reasoning.
It's not just her, of course. The idea of an Oscar curse has been making its way around Hollywood, with a certain veneer of credibility, over the last few days.With allegations percolating that Jesse James carried on a nearly year-long affair while wife Sandra Bullock was away shooting "The Blind Side," it's fashionable to ask if Oscar attention can cause the marriage blues. The hypothesis: the Oscars, like some kind of entertainment-world Sports Illustrated cover, come with a jinx. Once you win a statuette, the odds of your marriage failing increase significantly.
As Laporte writes: "It's not a total shocker that just days after Sandra Bullock won her first Academy Award, and professed to Barbara Walters how much she loved her husband, biker bad boy Jesse James, reports surfaced that James has, rather, been going behind Bullock's back with a tattoo model."
She continues: "James wouldn't be the first plus one to act up when the limelight shines a little too brightly on his spouse — particularly when that success involves a little golden man." She cites several former couples, and Oscar winners, as evidence, including Reese Witherspoon and Ryan Phillippe, and Hilary Swank and Chad Lowe.
According to the time-line laid out in In Touch, which broke the story, James' affair began when Bullock was away — not campaigning, but shooting a movie (and a movie that wasn't even deemed an Oscar film, just one more shoot in a marriage and career filled with them).
Those who make the argument paint a reductive picture in which men simply can't handle their wives' success — even if it's the very success they've enjoyed themselves. "The latest Oscar curse casualties, it was announced this week, are Kate Winslet and director Sam Mendes, who have separated a year after she received her first Academy Award for The Reader, and he went home empty-handed for Revolutionary Road," says the Daily Beast item.
That's true. But what it doesn't say is that Mendes actually had already won an Oscar (for "American Beauty" in 2000), two years after Winslet herself left empty-handed after being nominated for "Titantic. So we're to assume that, even though he already had an Oscar on the mantle, Mendes was so jealous that his wife had won one too he spent the last year throwing his marriage on the skids? Instead of, say, assuming that their marriage was plagued by one of the thousands of problems that can tear a relationship apart?
Disproportionate success can put a strain on a relationship (or at least expose fault lines that were already there). But it's hardly specific to the Oscars, or to women; men's burgeoning Hollywood careers have thrown a marriage or two into disarray themselves. The most you can probably say is that the award circuit may be correlated to the discovery of infidelity, since outlets have newfound incentive to dig up dirt.Break-ups are common in Hollywood, just as they're common everywhere else. In the same awards-season period last year, celebrity women such as Rihanna, Hayden Panettiere, Emma Watson and, er, Jesse McCartney all split up with their significant others. None of these people were withing smelling distance of an Oscar. Yet their relationships fell apart just the same.
We've obviously never won an Academy Award, so we have no idea what kind of power it has. Maybe it's a relationship aphrodisiac. Maybe it's relationship ammunition. But the idea that the prize can become a wedge in a marriage — and that it's especially divisive if a woman wins one — seems to simultaneously understate the complexities of marriage and overstate the effects of the Oscar.
Photo: Sandra Bullock and Jesse James at the Oscars. Credit: Mark J. Terrill/AP