For those who make the move from urban to suburban, the excuses to trek back to New York become fewer as time goes on: You replace your OB/GYN on 81st and Columbus with one in your new Zip Code and shop online instead of spending an afternoon boutique hopping; those friends you had to see for biweekly happy hour become less of a lifeline.
There’s one enticement that withstands a long-haul life in the burbs and seems to grow more intense as time passes: the need for a libido-quenching, doldrums-busting, life-affirming affair.
Sure, the Don Drapers of the world have been keeping a second apartment in midtown since the invention of the secretary, but the best films are about the suburban housewife who boards a train from Pleasantville to Grand Central hoping to reclaim her sexual liberation and encounter a sense of self that has been eroded by the Groundhog Day of pleasant bourgeois living — a trope seen in movies like Desperately Seeking Susan but perfected in Unfaithful, Adrian Lyne’s 2002 erotic thriller. Diane Lane stars as a mostly satisfied (until she realizes she’s not) wife and mother. She heads into the city to pick up supplies for her son’s birthday party, gets caught in one of those New York wind tunnels during a symbolic storm, falls, and is rescued by a book-loving Frenchman, Olivier Martinez at his floppy-haired finest. The simple chance encounter ignites an affair so hot it threatens to burn down her marriage.
She gets on the train again and again for sex, for intrigue, for luxurious afternoon movies that end in hot screwing in a bathroom. Sure, Westchester has Targets with parking lots, but it does not have sex so good it scrambles the brain, causes you to burn the chicken you’re serving your husband for dinner, and makes you feel alive for the first time in 40 years, apparently.
Although he’s the master of the erotic thriller, Lyne’s ending is surprisingly conservative and punishing. The sexy young lothario winds up with his head smashed in. Lane’s character doubles down on her boring, cashmere-sweater-wearing husband (Richard Gere). It would be a cautionary tale if we didn’t know the truth: You can only bear those cocktail parties with the PTA set when you know sex, danger, desire, and a totally different version of yourself are just a train ride away. And the 2:14 from Grand Central will probably get you home in time to make the carpool line.
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