There is a common misconception held amongst naïve women that men hate all things romance, that chivalry is dead, and that they would never want to watch a romantic movie. That last part is especially not true, because I would gladly watch a romantic movie as long as it doesn’t suck. Contrary to popular belief there is a way to depict relationships and romance in films without being overly maudlin and disgustingly sentimental. Here are seven honest movies dealing with themes of love and relationships that are actually really enjoyable to watch.
Before Sunrise/Before Sunset – (dir. Richard Linklater 1995/2004)
This pair of films focuses on the relationship of an American guy named Jesse (played by Ethan Hawke), and a French girl named Celine (played by Julie Delpy). In Before Sunrise, Celine and Jesse meet by happenstance on a train travelling to Vienna. They bond as they make fun of a couple of Germans arguing and they strike up a conversation. Celine is traveling to Paris, but Jesse is getting off in Vienna where he is catching a plane back to America. Jesse goes out on a limb and asks Celine to get off the train with him and they spend the rest of the night walking around the gorgeous city of Vienna together, talking and getting to know one another. Before Sunset finds the couple meeting up once again in Paris nine years later, neither able to forget the night they spent together years before.
What makes these films work is the believability and likeability of the characters Celine and Jesse. For all intents and purposes these are two relatively normal people, smart and attractive without being geniuses or supermodels. They’re just two people in their early twenties with faults and foibles who are able to make a connection over the course of a single night. There’s nothing exceptional about these people, but you totally buy them falling in love with each other, and it doesn’t feel forced or like make believe.
Pull Quote: “Sometimes I dream about being a good father and a good husband. And sometimes it feels really close. But then other times it seems silly like it would ruin my whole life. And it’s not just a fear of commitment or that I’m incapable of caring or loving because… I can. It’s just that, if I’m totally honest with myself I think I’d rather die knowing that I was really good at something. That I had excelled in some way than that I’d just been in a nice, caring relationship.” – Jessie
Mr. Jealousy – (dir. Noah Baumbach 1997)
Mr. Jealousy stars Eric Stoltz as Lester, a very intelligent, charming guy who has a lot of jealousy issues and insecurities. He meets Ramona, played by Annabella Scirorra, who has plenty of issues of her own. Upon discovering that Ramona’s ex-boyfriend is well-respected author Dashiell Frank (Chris Eigeman), Lester happens upon his group therapy session and signs up so that he can he can force Dashiell into disclosing about his time with Ramona. It gets complicated, to humorous results.
Before Baumbach teamed up with Wes Anderson, who produced his comeback film The Squid and the Whale, and with whom he co-wrote The Life Aquatic and The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Baumbach helmed a pair of films that have disappeared from public consciousness. Mr. Jealousy is the second of those films, and while it isn’t as great his debut Kicking and Screaming, it is a very interesting film. Both of the lovers are incredibly flawed and both make mistakes that end up damaging their relationship, so there is not one person totally at fault. It’s also very, very funny and has plenty of references to the French New Wave. This is not a dour film by any means and would make a great double feature with any of Baumbach or Wes Anderson’s films.
Pull Quote: “Lester gritted his teeth. Ramona had a life before him.” – Narrator
(500) Days of Summer – (dir. Marc Webb 2009)
The Summer in the title refers to Zoey Deschanel’s character, not the season, and the 500 days is the span of time in which Joseph Gordon Levitt’s character Tom spends with her. Tom is a romantic young boy who instantly falls in love with Summer, even though it’s against his better judgment. It’s against his better judgment because she tells him right off the bat that she’s not looking for something serious. The film is non-linear and jumps around in time throughout their relationship, relating the fun, loving moments and the sad, depressing ones.
In many ways (500) Days of Summer feels like a traditional romantic comedy, except that it’s starring a male in the female role. Guys get the shit end too sometimes, and (500) Days of Summer chronicles what it’s like to be hopelessly in love with a girl, much to one’s detriment.
Pull Quote: “Just because she likes the same bizzaro crap you do doesn’t mean she’s your soul mate.” -Tom’s 12 year-old sister
The Princess Bride – (dir. Rob Reiner 1987)
The Princess Bride is a story within a story. When little Fred Savage is sick, his grandfather Peter Falk comes over to read him a story about farm boy Westley (Carey Elwes) and his true love Buttercup (Robin Wright). Westley sails off to earn his fortune and gets captured by pirates and Buttercup is engaged to the evil Prince Humperdink (Chris Sarandon) in his stead. Wesley eventually returns to rescue Buttercup from Humperdink’s evil plans and proves his love in the process. There’s also Andre The Giant as the loveable brute Fezzik and Mandy Patinkin as the swashbuckling Inigo Montoya.
Swashbuckling is actually the perfect word for this movie. All at once a fairy tale romance and a swaggering adventure, The Princess Bride has no qualms about being syrupy and poking fun at it while acknowledging the truth in it. It also has great sword fights, incredibly quotable dialogue and Andre The Giant being funny as shit.
Pull Quote: “As you wish.” – Westley
Closer – (dir. Mike Nichols 2007)
Closer explores the intertwining relationships of four people including Clive Owen, Jude Law, Julia Roberts and Natalie Portman. Jude Law writes obituaries for the newspaper in London when he meets Natalie Portman on the street when a car hits her. He takes her to the hospital and they strike up a relationship. Jude Law later writes a book about his experience meeting her and has his book jacket picture taken by Julia Roberts with whom he tries to strike up an affair. Jude Law later tricks Clive Owen into thinking that he’s a woman on an Internet chat room and describes himself as Julia Roberts, inadvertently hooking the two of them up. Things get mixed up and nobody really knows anybody, and Clive Owen’s a fucking cave man.
While Jim is afraid to watch this again, in fear that it might suck now, I can put those fears to rest to say that Closer is pretty great. Closer depicts an intricate web of emotional dysfunction that’s all in the name of love. There is plenty of infidelity and lying and emotional abuse that occurs. It addresses issues of need and intimacy and all four actors give some of their best performances. Clive Owen kicks ass and Natalie Portman has a few scenes as a stripper.
Pull Quote: “Because I’m a fucking caveman!” – Larry (Clive Owen)
Barcelona – (dir. Whit Stillman 1994)
Ted (Taylor Nichols) is living abroad in Barcelona, Spain, working for some kind of Yuppie accountant firm. He’s lonely due to the language/culture barrier and to make things worse, his highly opinionated, naval officer cousin Fred (Chris Eigeman) has come to stay with him while he waits for a fleet to arrive in Spain. Ted and Fred get involved with some Spanish girls, and Ted has to deal with his brash cousin, and his Spanish girl’s lover who is trying to strong-arm his way back into her life.
Whit Stillman’s films have the same type of wry, dry humor as Noah Baumbach’s and early Wes Anderson’s films do, and Barcelona is no exception. The real highlight of this film is Chris Eigeman’s performance as Frank, as he is always incredibly blunt and loud about his opinions which sharply contrasts to Ted, who is incredibly timid and nerdy.
Pull Quote: “You see, that’s one of the great things about getting involved with someone from another country. You can’t take it personally. What’s really terrific is that when we act in ways which might objectively seem asshole-ish or, or, incredibly annoying, they don’t get upset at all. They don’t take it personally. They just assume it’s some national characteristic.” – Ted
Casablanca – (dir. Michael Curtiz 1942)
Do I really need to explain the plot to Casblanca? Have you really not seen it? Get out of here.
I already discussed Casablanca a bit in my post about Older Actors Who Knew What It Meant To Be a Man, but it case you haven’t seen it Casablanca takes place during World War II. Refugees from Europe fleeing from the Nazi all get dumped into the city of Casablanca in Morocco. You need special permission to charter a plane to get out of the city and in the meantime most people hang out at Rick’s nightclub, which is owned and operated by Rick (Humphrey Bogart). Rick used to be an idealistic man, but a bad experience with a woman in Paris has soured him on life. Out of nowhere the woman, Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) wanders into his gin joint, with her husband Viktor Lazlo, (Paul Heinreid) an anti-Nazi Resistance leader, recently escaped from a concentration camp. Her arrival opens up old wounds for Rick.
What makes things really interesting about the love triangle in Casablanca is that for all intents and purposes, Viktor Lazlo is a great guy. He’s a leader of men fighting a noble cause against the Nazi’s. It’s easy to see why Ilsa is in love with him, and you never hate him. More than anything this is a movie about Rick getting closure, coming to understand how to put what’s best for Ilsa before his own desires, and remembering how to be a man and not a parasite.
Pull Quote: “We’ll always have Paris.” – Rick