One of the best things to do is get together with your girlfriend or boyfriend and watch a movie. DVDs are just so commonplace and as you know you can get those pirate copies even while movies are in cinemas. I personally prefer watching them at the cinema the first time around. As Valentine’s Day is approaching I recommend some of my favourite romantic movies from the last two years…
With generous amounts of good luck and good timing, 50 First Dates set an all-time box-office record for the opening weekend of a romantic comedy; whether it deserved such a bonanza is another issue altogether. It’s a sweet-natured vehicle for sweet-natured stars Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore, and their track record with The Wedding Singer no doubt factors in its lowbrow appeal. But while the well-matched lovebirds wrestle with a gimmicky plot (she has no short-term memory, so he has to treat every encounter as their first), director Peter Segal (who directed Sandler in Anger Management) ignores the intriguing potential of their predicament (think Memento meets Groundhog Day) and peppers the proceedings with the kind of juvenile humor that Sandler fans have come to expect. The movie sneaks in a few heartfelt moments amidst its inviting Hawaiian locations, and that trained walrus is charmingly impressive, but you can’t quite shake the feeling that too many good opportunities were squandered in favor of easy laughs. Like Barrymore’s character, you might find yourself forgetting this movie shortly after you’ve seen it.
2. The Notebook (2004)
When you consider that old-fashioned tearjerkers are an endangered species in Hollywood, a movie like The Notebook can be embraced without apology. Yes, it’s syrupy sweet and clogged with clichés, and one can only marvel at the irony of Nick Cassavetes directing a weeper that his late father John–whose own films were devoid of saccharine sentiment–would have sneered at. Still, this touchingly impassioned and great-looking adaptation of the popular Nicholas Sparks novel has much to recommend, including appealing young costars (Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams) and appealing old costars (James Garner and Gena Rowlands, the director’s mother) playing the same loving couple in (respectively) early 1940s and present-day North Carolina. He was poor, she was rich, and you can guess the rest; decades later, he’s unabashedly devoted, and she’s drifting into the memory-loss of senile dementia. How their love endured is the story preserved in the titular notebook that he reads to her in their twilight years. The movie’s open to ridicule, but as a delicate tearjerker it works just fine. Message in a Bottle and A Walk to Remember were also based on Sparks novels, suggesting a triple-feature that hopeless romantics will cherish.
The exotic sounds, vibrant colors, and ecstatic dancing of Bollywood collide with the cunning storytelling of Jane Austen in Bride & Prejudice (from the writer/director of previous East/West hybrid Bend It Like Beckham). When smart, outspoken Lalita Bakshi (Indian beauty Aishwarya Rai) meets Will Darcy (Martin Henderson, The Ring), she finds this American businessman arrogant and conceited–but because his best friend is falling in love with her sister, Lalita agrees to travel around India with Darcy. On the trip, a childhood friend of Darcy’s named Johnny (Daniel Gillies, Spider-Man 2) both tickles Lalita’s fancy and confirms her worst suspicions about Darcy. But as events unfold, Lalita wonders if she hasn’t misjudged Darcy–and Johnny. Austen fans will be find much to criticize; Bride & Prejudice transplants the basic plot of Pride & Prejudice to modern India, but not much of Austen’s sly wit or her insights about character and society have survived the translation. Henderson, though handsome, lacks the intimidating charisma of previous Mr. Darcys (including Laurence Olivier and Colin Firth). Thank goodness for the delightful Rai, here making her first all-English-language movie. She commands the screen like a true star (unsurprisingly, she’s hugely popular in India, and previously starred in a more homegrown Austen adaptation: I Have Found It, based on Sense & Sensibility). For Western audiences unfamiliar with the freewheeling exuberance of Indian movies–wild musical numbers can break out at almost any moment–Bride & Prejudice offers an engaging taste of this fantastic cinematic style.
Anyone familiar with writer/director James L. Brooks (As Good As It Gets) knows the man has a real feel for interesting women and a disarming way with a one-liner. The main women in Spanglish are Deborah Clasky (Téa Leoni), a moneyed SoCal mom, and non-English speaking Flor Moreno (Paz Vega), the beautiful Latina whom Deborah hires as a housekeeper. The one-liners, some of them amusing, are everywhere. Brooks provides an intriguing set-up for the two women to butt heads–Deborah’s pudgy daughter Bernice (Sarah Steele) needs the affection at which Flor excels, while Flor’s clever, bi-lingual daughter Cristina (Shelbie Bruce) is enamored of the financial advantages Deborah can provide–then proceeds to make Deborah so hatefully ignorant you can’t imagine why her neuroses are the main thrust of the film. And Deborah’s celebrated chef husband John (Adam Sandler, way over his head) is such a perfect parent he doesn’t seem human–what happened to the Brooks who had Terms of Endearment mom Debra Winger turn to her scowling little boy and grunt “Don’t make me hit you in the street”? Cloris Leachman has a nifty supporting role as Deborah’s boozy, ex-jazz singer mother, but it’s only one offbeat chord in an earnest film that hits all the wrong notes.
Something got lost in translation from 1996’s critically acclaimed Japanese comedy, but the American remake of Shall We Dance? is not without charms of its own. In being transplanted from Tokyo to Chicago, the original version’s subtle humor is shaken out of its cultural context, but this is an otherwise faithful adaptation in which a weary lawyer (Richard Gere) battles his mid-life crisis with ballroom dancing lessons, while his wife (Susan Sarandon) hires a private detective to see if he’s cheating. Those expecting a Jennifer Lopez showcase will be disappointed; her role as the melancholy dance instructor keeps the beautifully lovelorn J-Lo on the sidelines, while a cast of standard-issue supporting characters (especially Stanley Tucci’s clandestine faux-Latin dance lover) provide a generous dose of Hollywood-ized comic relief. All of this gives Shall We Dance? a polished sheen of mainstream entertainment that many viewers—and especially ballroom dancers–will find delightfully irresistible.
Will Smith’s easygoing charm makes Hitch the kind of pleasant, uplifting romantic comedy that you could recommend to almost anyone–especially if there’s romance in the air. As suave Manhattan dating consultant Alex “Hitch” Hitchens, Smith plays up the smoother, sophisticated side of his established screen persona as he mentors a pudgy accountant (Kevin James) on the lessons of love. The joke, of course, is that Hitch’s own love life is a mess, and as he coaches James toward romance with a rich, powerful, and seemingly inaccessible beauty named Allegra (Amber Valetta), he’s trying too hard to impress a savvy gossip columnist (Eva Mendes) with whom he’s fallen in love. Through mistaken identities and mismatched couples, director Andy Tennant brings the same light touch that made Drew Barrymore’s Ever After so effortlessly engaging. As romantic comedies go, Hitch doesn’t offer any big surprises, but as a date movie it gets the job done with amiable ease and style.
7. 40 Year Old Virgin (2005)
Cult comic actor Steve Carell–long adored for his supporting work on The Daily Show and in movies like Bruce Almighty and Anchorman–leaps into leading man status with The 40 Year-Old Virgin. There’s no point describing the plot; it’s about how a 40 year-old virgin named Andy (Carell) finally finds true love and gets laid. Along the way, there are very funny scenes involving being coached by his friends, speed dating, being propositioned by his female manager, and getting his chest waxed. Carell finds both humor and humanity in Andy, and the supporting cast includes some standout comic work from Paul Rudd (Clueless, The Shape of Things) and Jane Lynch (Best in Show, A Mighty Wind), as well as an unusually straight performance from Catherine Keener (Lovely & Amazing, Being John Malkovich). And yet… something about the movie misses the mark. It skirts around the topic of male sexual anxiety, mining it for easy jokes, but never really digs into anything that would make the men in the audience actually squirm–and it’s a lot less funny as a result. Nonetheless, there are many great bits, and Carell deserves the chance to shine.
Although it’s not as bold as Oscar darling Chicago, The Phantom of the Opera continues the resuscitation of the movie musical with a faithful adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s blockbuster stage musical. Emmy Rossum glows in a breakout role as opera ingénue Christine Daae, and if phantom Gerard Butler isn’t Rossum’s match vocally, he does convey menace and sensuality in such numbers as “The Music of the Night.” The most experienced musical theater veteran in the cast, romantic lead Patrick Wilson, sings sweetly but seems wooden. The biggest name in the cast, Minnie Driver, hams it up as diva Carlotta, and she’s the only principal whose voice was dubbed (though she does sing the closing-credit number, “Learn to Be Lonely,” which is also the only new song).
Director Joel Schumacher, no stranger to visual spectacle, seems to have found a good match in Lloyd Webber’s larger-than-life vision of Gaston LeRoux’s Gothic horror-romance. His weakness is cuing too many audience-reaction shots and showing too much of the lurking Phantom, but when he calms down and lets Rossum sings “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again” alone in a silent graveyard, it’s exquisite.
The combined charisma of Diane Lane and John Cusack gives a lift to Must Love Dogs, a romantic comedy built on the comic potential of internet dating. Sarah (Lane, Under the Tuscan Sun), a preschool teacher and recent divorcee, has her entire family bugging her to get back in the dating pool. Finally her sister (dependable second banana Elizabeth Perkins, Big) puts an ad for Sarah online; a host of questionable prospects respond, but Sarah meets one guy–a boat builder named Jake (John Cusack, High Fidelity, Say Anything)–who shows promise, though he himself is recently divorced and a little tender. Unfortunately, Sarah also feels sparks with the father (Dermot Mulroney, My Best Friend’s Wedding) of one of her students, and when paths cross, trouble follows. Must Love Dogs has some amusing scenes, but the tone and quality is wildly erratic–it’s as if the movie was broken into a dozen parts and randomly assigned to different writers and directors, some of whom were making a bad sitcom, some of whom were making a good sitcom, and some of whom were making a movie that blended wry comedy with some deft psychological insight. The great cast (in addition to solid work from those mentioned above, there’s also Stockard Channing and Christopher Plummer) keep the story moving, but for every amusing moment there are two that are plastic, forced, or wince-inducing.
With Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson as a pair of brazen wedding crashers, this buddy/romantic comedy milks a few big laughs from its foolproof premise. Under the direction of David Dobkin (who previously worked with Wilson on Shanghai Knights), the movie ranges from bawdy romp to mushy romance, and that tonal identity crisis curtails the overall hilarity. But when the well-teamed costars are firing on all pistons with fast-paced dialogue and manic situations, belly laughs are delivered at a steady clip. Things get complicated when the guys infiltrate the family of the Treasury Secretary (Christopher Walken), resulting in a romantic pair-off between Vaughn and the congressman’s oversexed daughter Gloria (Isla Fisher) while Wilson sincerely woos another daughter, Claire (Rachel McAdams), who’s unhappily engaged to an Ivy League cheater (Bradley Cooper). Walken is more or less wasted in his role, but Jane Seymour and Henry Gibson make amusing appearances, and a surprise guest arrives late in the game for some over-the-top scene-stealing. It’s all a bit uneven, but McAdams (considered by some to be “the next Julia Roberts”) is a pure delight, and with enough laughs to make it easily recommended, Wedding Crashers will likely find its place on DVD shelves alongside other flawed but enjoyable R-rated comedies that embrace a naughtier, nastier brand of humor with no need for apologies.