Posts Tagged ‘ Romantic films ’

Thirty-Day Movie Challenge: Day Thirteen

30 Day Movie Challenge:

Day Thirteen: Favorite Chick Flick

Love, Actually (2003)
Directed by: Richard Curtis
Starring: Liam Neeson, Keira Knightley, Alan Rickman

The label chick flick has always pissed me off a little. I grant some films are specifically marketed to women, but the term in of itself still seems both one-dimensional, and kind of insulting for everyone involved. A good movie moves past those labels. A great movie doesn’t even know they exist. The same goes for bad movies. Terrible is terrible, and there isn’t a label or genre in the world that’s going to grant it immunity.

I hated that term even more when I was a kid. Chick flicks had a negative connotation with the people I hung around with, so I always felt like I was watching porn. Or just anything that people associate with phrases like “Shameful” and “Disturbing.” I would know better, or just not care, as I got older, but the negative connotation still seems to remain with most of the people I know.

That sort of makes sense. A quick glance at Wikipedia’s definition of the term also lists several examples. Some of the examples I like a great deal (Terms of Endearment, Sixteen Candles). A lot of them (Twilight, You’ve Got Mail, Pretty Woman and several others) I loathed. Most I wouldn’t watch, even if I had to choose between waking up in bed with Al Roker over ever sitting through Sex in The City, Beaches, The Princess Diaries, The Notebook amongst many, many others. I’d like to think I hated those movies (and have no interest in seeing the ones I haven’t seen) for reasons other than a label.  Some types of films are just not meant for me (but I might feel like trying them anyway). That’s fine. I still reserve the right to think the term “Chick flick” is stupid, useless and potentially insulting (since it rarely has that positive connotation) to a movie with a lot more depth and range than it’s going to get credit for.

I think the Wikipedia article is lacking, because in the end, I still really don’t know what a chick flick really is. Does it have to have certain elements to qualify? Is it limited to only one or two genres? I know women who loathe the types of movies defined by that article. What about The Expendables? That movie made some decent bank last summer, and a lot of those tickets apparently came from women. Does that mean it’s a chick flick? I know that wasn’t really the intention behind the movie, but should the term apply, since it clearly found a large fan base with women?

Some people might consider Nekromantik a chick flick (I’ve met a couple). It’s all about definitions.

What about Harold and Maude?

I have no idea how far I can stretch the term, so I wasn’t sure what to pick for day twelve. It wasn’t a huge surprise to me that Love, Actually was also referenced in that Wikipedia article. I was half-expecting it, but I didn’t know for sure.

Is Love, Actually a chick flick? I still haven’t the faintest clue (it’s possible that Wikipedia is just a filthy liar). It has the word “Love” in the title, and it’s to my understanding that women enjoy movies with the word “Love” in the title. At several points in the movie there are indeed women, so that should mean something, too. There’s also quite a bit of romance, and scenes in which people express their feelings. God knows, broads are into all that nonsense as well.

Love, Actually is, I suppose, technically a chick flick. I guess it’s good then, that it makes the cut for day twelve. I wasn’t sure how far I was going to have to stretch the concept in order to pick something. It qualifies as a chick flick, but I’ve never seen it in those terms. In the first place it’s very, very funny. Bill Nighy steals the whole thing and deserved at the very least an Oscar nomination. I’ve always liked that the first of the film’s many stories begins, with his depressing but very funny attempt at recording a holiday-themed cover of The Troggs’ “Love Is All Around.” It’s the one plot-line in Love, Actually that never directly interacts with the rest of the movie (all of the other stories are connected in some way), and it’s my favorite.

Rowan Atkinson also shows up. That might be a deal-breaker for some of you.

The rest of the movie is pretty good. The largest reason is the cast. Getting into a movie that’s largely just a mish-mash of differing love stories may or may not appeal to me. I can’t think of anything that would influence my decision more, than the prospect of seeing several people I like in one movie. Love, Actually has one of the best casts of mostly-English actors and actresses I’ve ever seen. That would at least get me to watch the movie, and it’s mostly the work of the cast that’s warranted repeat viewings. The stories aren’t terrible. Some of them work just fine, but none of them are all that remarkable. We get a miserable writer (Colin Firth) falling for his assistant (Lućia Moniz). There’s an executive (Alan Rickman, who’s just as awesome, when he’s playing a character who isn’t terribly sinister or snide) seriously considering cheating on his wife of several years (Emma Thompson, who could never wear out her welcome with me) with his young secretary (Heike Makatsch).  We also see a recently-widowed father (Liam Neeson) get over his grief by helping his stepson (Thomas Sangster) with his first crush.

The headbutt that immediately follows this scene makes it even more touching.

Those are three stories (Nighy makes four) out of the ten that fill the movie’s lengthy running-time (two hours, and sixteen minutes). Writer/director Richard Curtis does a good job telling several different love stories (not all of which are romantic) with so many characters. Without going completely off the rails and drowning the movie in a sea of too much material. That’s a rare feat in any ensemble piece. Some of the stories (Kris Marshall’s hilarious, seemingly misguided reason for wanting to move to America) are just stronger than others (Andrew Lincoln’s very, very boring crush on Keira Knightley).

As a whole though, Love, Actually succeeds by making most of the stories work, and by boasting a cast capable of making average material a better than that. Hugh Grant will never be high on my list, but it’s really hard to dislike him here. It’s one of the two movies that suggest to me Grant can actually be pretty good with the right kind of material (the other is About a Boy). Laura Linney is the only saving grace, in a weak story about an American (who works at the same company as Rickman’s and Makatsch’s characters) struggling to both care for her institutionalized brother, and find a connection to a coworker (Rodrigo Santoro). There are more solid narratives in Love, Actually than ineffective ones, but all of them are maintained and even enhanced by the on-screen talent. That isn’t always going to be enough to support a movie (especially one this long), but it does the job in this case. Only occasionally does this veer into obnoxious, smarmy territory. That is one of the constants, I’m aware of in movies that tend to be considered chick flicks. At least, it’s too obnoxious and smarmy for my tastes. It’s probably just fine here (and elsewhere) for others. Love, Actually largely avoids those moments. Maybe, that’s why I like it. I’m still not entirely convinced that stupid Wikipedia article is right about what kind of movie this is.

Thirty-Day Movie Challenge: Day Twelve

30 Day Movie Challenge:

Day Twelve: Favorite Love Story

As Good as It Gets (1997)
Directed by: James L. Brooks
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt, Greg Kinnear

No one ever believes me, but I happen to think I’m quite romantic. I think it’s likely that I just have a weird idea of the subject. That would certainly explain most of my relationships with women, the kind of women I tend to fall for and how my concepts of love and romance influence those things. It’s worth repeating, that I’m naturally cynical about a lot of things, but I always try to leave some room upstairs for what I think love is. It’s a perspective I’ve tried to understand in my own writing, in how I try to get around in the world and in the movies, books, music and more that speak to my perspective in some way.

It’s not a complicated perspective. Straightforward love stories usually don’t grab my interest. It could be that I’m difficult to please. With movies I think my favorite love stories, are the films that go about the whole love thing without being obvious. Strong performances and writing help considerably with that. It doesn’t have to be credible or even realistic. The best romantic films I’ve seen, are those that can yield a sincere reaction from me without some blatant attempt at manipulation. It’s also nice when a movie can bring up love, without smashing sentimentality over my head until one of my eyes is missing, and I have a concussion of some kind.

The best movies I’ve seen, usually wind up sending me into my own ridiculous past, while making me wish I was a little better at capturing love in my own stories. Love is not something I enjoy thinking about a lot. My favorite movies that feature it are able to change my mind if only for a little while.

People can do that, too, of course, but historically speaking I usually tend to wear out my welcome with most after a few hours or less. There’s typically not a lot of room in that space of time for things like love.

Favorite love story could probably be interpreted a number of ways. I’m choosing to go with the romantic one. Even though the movie I’m picking includes at least a couple different kinds of love.  As Good as It Gets made the cut over other titles (The Girl in the Cafe, Punch-Drunk Love to name a few) for that very reason. The movie is primarily about love, and the way it reveals its opinions about that (both in the writing and acting) has spoken nicely to my own feelings and ideas ever since I saw it by accident at some point in 1998. I think it’s an amiable, slightly pessimistic story that at no point makes me feel foolish for liking it so much. It’s simple but not simplistic.

It’s more than just really well-written dialogue, and it’s more than just a lot of great performances. I’m not sure anyone would agree with me, but this may well be my favorite Jack Nicholson performance (he won his third Oscar). The movie isn’t just some of the best work this cast has ever done (which is really the strongest driving point As Good as It Gets has—It’s character-driven in every sense of the word). As Good as It Gets is a love story that covers more than just the weird, constantly strained relationship between Melvin Udall (Nicholson) and Carol Connelly (Helen Hunt, who also won an Oscar). That’s the bulk of the movie, but James L. Brooks knows how to juggle more than one viewpoint, and more than one narrative. The script (co-written by Mark Andrus from his own story) gives Nicholson and Hunt the ability to create fully fleshed-out, believable characters in just a few early scenes. In the beginning their lives only intersect, when Nicholson shows up at the restaurant she works at, to order lavish breakfasts and abuse anyone who is forced to exist in the same universe as him. Circumstances force them to interact more often, and their relationship builds slowly, perfectly from there. It’s the main story arc, but there’s also just enough time and energy spent on developing their characters individually. They don’t simply exist within the confines of their relationship and nowhere else. They live and breathe in the scenes that reveal their personalities, outside of what they show each other and in their dealings with everyone else.

As Good as It Gets is not just their love story. The beginning, middle and end of their romance is not told in a straight line. It veers constantly into other directions and mediations on other kinds of love.  There’s also the beautifully-handled, beautifully-written friendship that grows between Melvin and Simon Bishop (Greg Kinnear), Melvin’s openly gay artist neighborhood who has recently fallen on hard times. It’s handled with sharp humor and fantastic performances from Nicholson and Kinnear. We don’t buy that Udall truly hates gays (or Jews, black people, cops, old people, children, women, bartenders or waitresses). He’s simply built up a good defense against ever having to deal with people, on any level that puts him at risk. (I can relate to wanting to do that). It’s obvious that he’s going to have to change in order to finally find chaotic happiness over lonely consistency. Falling in love helps him accomplish that, but it doesn’t end there. Melvin’s growth also comes about from reluctantly becoming a source of friendship and comfort for Simon, and from also taking care of Simon’s small, irritating (at least initially) dog. These are three different versions of love, and all of them succeed in telling the story and giving depth to their characters. This is done with Simon, and his friendships with those closest to him (Cuba Gooding Jr. in my favorite role of his and Yeardley Smith, with a small but memorable part). This is also done with Carol, and her family (Shirley Knight and Jesse James). The best stuff typically involves Melvin and everyone else.  It’s still impressive that so many different types of relationship are referenced and explored. All of them eventually bring us back to the main story between Melvin and Carol, and a conclusion that is constantly up in the air.

I think Nicholson is trying to decide if a weepy Helen Hunt turns him on or not. Probably did.

It’s the Melvin/Simon story that contains my favorite line in the movie, and the one I feel sums up the entire story. Simon tells Melvin that he loves him, to which Melvin wearily but touchingly replies “I’ll tell you, buddy, I’d be the luckiest man in the world if that did it for me.” There are a lot of great lines, but I think that one perfectly describes why this movie works so well. As Good as It Gets has a lot of sarcasm and bitterness going for it, but there are also moments of genuine warmth and affection. Brooks maintains a balance of these things. As you’ve probably figured out I’m drawn to things that are sweet, but manage to avoid making all my teeth disintegrate from the saccharine. This movie never even gets close to that. Brooks’ considerable career in TV and film is full of similar examples. I wouldn’t call As Good as It Gets realistic by any means, but its dysfunction underneath its varying stories, is closer to my own my idealized notion of love, than most stories that come to mind.

My other favorite exchange in the film?

Secretary: How do you write women so well?
Melvin: I think of a man, and I take away reason and accountability.

I don’t necessarily agree with that (Well, maybe sometimes), but it’s easily my favorite film insult of all time. It doesn’t surprise me a bit that this movie can have a vicious line like that, only to then turn on a dime, and give us a line or scene that is the polar opposite. Brooks has always been good with stories like those. Here he has a script and cast that allows him to realize this kind of story perfectly. As Good as It Gets isn’t his only triumph, but it’s nonetheless my favorite movie of his. It’s love expressed in terms I can actually understand. If I didn’t believe in that stuff I think I’d still rate this perfectly. I can watch and enjoy this even when I deeply suspect that love is a profoundly painful, annoying waste of time. It probably won’t change my mind, but that hardly matters with a movie this good. There are so many ways to enjoy As Good as It Gets. I can think of several pretty quickly.