Art & Design
Posted by G. Raymond Leavold
14. Feb, 2011
In the past I’ve tried really hard to be at least a touch subversive with my film lists, but I’ve found it’s hard to subvert romanticism. So—with the exception of the first entry on this list—I’ve decided that the subverting factor in these romantic films is simply truth. Whether it’s a cinematic truth or a deeper, inherent truth about love and relationships through comedy or basic human emotion.
Some of these films do not pull any punches for the sake of their sentimental viewers, and others are just better than your run-of-the-mill sop-fest. Though mostly comprised of romantic comedies, rest assured, there isn’t a Katherine Heigl film in sight… wait… dammit. There is, but trust me on this one. And no, it’s not My Father, The Hero, which I would have included if this was for ‘Almost Incest Day’, in which I’d recommend watching Enter the Void and listening to duets by Serge and Charlotte Gainsbourg. But, I digress: mwah!
My Bloody Valentine
The black sheep of this list, the only reason it has been included should be apparent from both its title and from previous lists I’ve created – I just couldn’t help myself in wearing my love of retro horror on my sleeve.
On Valentine’s Day 20 years ago, a group of coal miners were killed due to the negligence of the foreman, who shot off to attend the annual Valentine’s Day dance. The only survivor, Harry Warden, was institutionalised, broke out and killed the foreman, vowing to exact the same brutal revenge on the town if it ever held a Valentine’s Day Dance again. 20 years on, the town decides to hold a Valentine’s Day party. Guess what happens next?
Corpses start turning up. But could it be crazy old Harry Warden making good on his promise? Whoever it is, he’s wearing an incredibly intimidating miner’s suit and sporting a bloody pick-axe. It’s worth noting that the film contains adult characters as opposed to the regular stock of high-schoolers and teenagers that are often used in slasher films of this era. The victims are working class and a lot more relatable than in other horror of this sort. Incredibly violent and disturbing at times, My Bloody Valentine tries to be a bit more psychological than your average slasher film, treading similar ground to Halloween, and does a good and entertaining job of it.
A romantic comedy about life not going exactly according to plan. When slacker Ben (Seth Rogen) and driven career woman Alison (Katherine Heigl) have a one night stand, she falls pregnant and decides to keep the kid. Ben, trying to finally grow up and be responsible for his actions, supports her decision, and rest of the film is essentially the lead up to the actual birth, in which tensions arise and Ben finds it difficult to change his childish ways. Despite how slow and predictable it sounds, the film maintains both narrative interest and pace, especially considering its longer than usual running time for films of this sort.
I think that what also makes Knocked Up great is the reliability of its characters. Seth Rogen’s slacker man-child and Heigl’s strong but a little too serious female trying to succeed in the business world are both overused archetypes but work well to achieve the film’s goals and are both empathetic. There is also a tenderness in it that does not spread towards disingenuousness. Not exactly heartwarming, this film simply has heart.
Woody Allen’s masterpiece of ever-watchability, Annie Hall is about the doomed relationship between the—as always—neurotic Allen and the equally strange but alluring title-character, played by Diane Keaton. The film tracks their relationship over several years, and maintains a non-linear timeline, featuring surreal and very funny trips into the past of each of the main characters to show how they came to be the way that they are.
At some point, nearly every romantic comedy must bow down and acknowledge Annie Hall’s influence. Remember that scene from Groundhog Day where Bill Murray tries to recreate that magic moment after the snowball fight with Andie MacDowell? Ever thought that was kind of similar to that scene where Allen tries to recreate the moment he has with Keaton and the lobster with another girl? Annie Hall’s influence upon the genre knows no bounds. Featuring a great cast, including awesome cameos from Paul Simon, Jeff Goldblum and Christopher Walken as Annie’s crazy brother, Annie Hall is one of the greats of both Allen’s career and comedy film.
Harold and Maude
Hal Ashby’s sweet and surreal film about a young man (Bud Cort) obsessed with death, a majestically strange old woman and the relationship that blossoms when the two intersect is a beautiful, tragic and uplifting story about two people from vastly different backgrounds (not to mention a chasm of an age gap) that share a real connection as kindred spirits, and that life is assuredly worth living if only to experience these brief moments of connection with another person whilst listening to the dulcet tones of Cat Stevens. For another magical yet sobering look at life and love, see Lost in Translation.
The Shawshank Redemption has often been called ‘a chaste love story between two men’. I think the same can be said about Toy Story, though in a more comedic sense. Woody and Buzz’s relationship starts in a very similar way to how many romantic comedy pairings begin: they are at odds, but realise they are better together than apart and when they team up, great things happen. Rather than the great things being sexual bliss and utter emotional fulfilment, they are escaping the clutches of asshole Sid and getting the hell back to their owner, Andy. And can you honestly choose which of the two is worth more? Truly, Toy Story is bromance at its best.
The Sure Thing
One of the great romantic comedies to come out of the 1980s (and not only because it doesn’t show its age as much as others of a similar time do) and directed by the romantic comedy genre’s own stalwart Rob Reiner, The Sure Thing stars a young John Cusack as a slacker on semester break desperately trying to get across the country to California for a piece of his dream girl—and Harry Hamlin and Michael Bolton’s ex-squeeze—Nicolette Sheridan. But on the way, whilst traveling with the prissy but cute Daphne Zuniga, who is on her way to California to visit her dull boyfriend, sparks fly between the pair who begin to realise that deep down they should be with each other.
Kind of sappy at the end, The Sure Thing has enough of a unique vibe to make it work, and Cusack is in his element as a superficial asshole but deep-down nice guy. For more of Cusack’s Golden Era, and a lot more skiing and a bit of claymation, also check out Better Off Dead.
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