What happened to the traditional fire and brimstone celebrity divorce?
I was somewhat bleary-eyed as I scrolled through my phone on the bus to work earlier this week, trying to coax my brain into waking up with some tidbits about the wider world. It was too early to compute housing figures and Brexit was liable to put me back to sleep, but buried among the celebrity news I found a sentence that made me sit up straight. "These are actually, in reality, small events that take place," actor Justin Theroux told The New York Times. I spluttered incredulously, rubbed my bleary peepers and re-read the piece. Had he really just referred to his divorce as a small event?
"It was kind of the most gentle separation, in that there was no animosity," Justin told the interviewer of his split with Jennifer Aniston, announced in February after seven years together. "Neither one of us is dead, neither one of us is looking to throw hatchets at each other. It's more like, it's amicable. It's boring, but, you know, we respected each other enough that it was as painless as it could be." I spluttered again. Small? Gentle? Painless? BORING? What has happened to the traditional fire and oh-so-public brimstone of the celebrity divorce?
It undoubtedly started before Gwyneth Paltrow, but let's blame her all the same. Miss perfect-at-being-imperfect ushered in a new era of sanitised celebrity splits with her "conscious uncoupling" from drippy Chris Martin in 2016. In an interview the following year, she admitted that much-mocked term she'd used to announce their break-up was "dorky" but added she "wanted to turn her divorce into a positive". And it seems - somewhat unbelievably - that she has. In an in-depth newspaper profile published earlier this summer, the reporter set a scene of saccharine harmony: Gwynnie snuggling with her new fiancé as she cooked dinner in the kitchen, while Chris helped their children to practise their musical instruments in an adjacent room. All's well that ends well for la Paltrow - even if it ends with your ex-husband dating the 28-year-old star of the Fifty Shades movies, it seems… Clearly mine was the only blood brought to the boil by all of this Brady Bunch carry on.
At some point along the way, today's celebrities appear to have consciously uncoupled from their feelings - or, at least, their negative ones. In the statement announcing Aniston and Theroux's split, they described themselves as "two best friends who have decided to part ways as a couple". Sorry, what? I'm just not willing to believe this pair can get divorced and stay BFFs after three years of marriage, when I still have simmering anger over schoolyard bust-ups a mere three decades later.
Where is the explosive passion of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton? Where is the heartbreak of Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher? Where is the bitterness of Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise? Where is the backbiting of Madonna and Guy Ritchie? Where is the drama of Paul McCartney and Heather Mills? Where is the drawn-out death-rattle of Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner? At the very least, give us the 'taking it out on the car with a golf club' of Tiger Woods and Elin Nordegren.
Call me a misanthrope, but I like my celebrity divorces liberally garnished with hot sauce - the kind that leads to lasting indigestion. Granted, there are some A-listers who genuinely do keep their private lives private, and fair play to them. But when the giddy heights of a relationship is lived very much in the public eye - and leveraged to sell everything from movies to cosmetics - then it seems only fair we are privy to all the salty details as it crumbles.
There was potential for things to go nuclear when Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie announced their divorce in September 2016. But the initial sparks of conflict - rumblings of a (denied) affair with Marion Cotillard, and a very turbulent family flight to France - were extinguished, leaving us with a damp squib custody battle that's been quietly trudging on for two years. Yawn.
Of course, now that both Brad and Jennifer are back on the market, there are the inevitable predictions they'll get back together.
I for one hope that they do find solace in each other's arms… if only because Brad and Jen's divorce 'take two' would not be a 'small event'.