I don’t like melodramas. Too dramatic, not enough humor. I can appreciate their purpose as a piece of art and as a study of human interaction. However, they use the same driving force of every other film as the center of their conflict, human stupidity, but do it without even an attempt at a joke. Who wants to watch something that serious?
In a film whose only conflict is man vs man, rather than man vs environment, almost every conflict is going to occur in some way from a lack of communication between two people or groups. Let’s just look at all the ways these characters fail to communicate with one another.
First off, Cary makes the mistake of telling absolutely no one in her life about Ron until they’re already engaged to be married. She doesn’t tell her children that she’s dating a man several years her junior until the night of that marriage announcement, and almost immediately expects them to accept their relationship for true love and look to Ron as a possible fixture in their lives. Now, I don’t believe that anyone should dictate who Cary should be allowed to date, or judge her or her partner by their age. But had she clearly communicated this relationship only a bit earlier in the film to her children, they may have had more time to grow accustomed to him, and their actions wouldn’t have been nearly as rebellious.
Then we can consider the argument between Cary and Ron. Cary has lived her entire life according to one set of ideals, and stands in conflict between love and her social obligations. Ron lives separate to those ideals, having found the life of societies and country clubs not fitting for him. When these two sets of ideals come in conflict with each other, rather than working to compromise and finding a solution that will allow both to live comfortably, Ron places an ultimatum on the table and expects and immediate answer. A little more communication, and they might have had a happy ending right there.
Finally, consider the lack of communication when Cary is shopping for a Christmas tree. She sees him with a female friend and jumps straight to the conclusion that he has begun dating her. She runs away, not saying a word, relying on her own assumptions rather than a confirmation of reality.
So, is this film a tragedy? No, because it appears to end happily. Lessons are learned, but never at the hand of true loss. Had Ron died in that fall, and Cary was forced to truly examine herself and what led to his death, it would be a tragedy. But the lessons here are softened by the knowledge that all ends happily and that even when someone massively screws up a relationship through a lack of communication, they can still end up together. Would the story of Oedipus have the same impact of falling for one’s own hubris if Oedipus grew his eyes back at the end and was allowed back into his kingdom after only a short exile? It is this permanent and lasting lessons that turn his story into a tragedy to learn from, rather than a drama to watch.