Tag Archives: romantic movies

The Perfect Date

Like 90% of teen movies, the general conceit is that the protagonist is reflecting upon his short life via the old college application essay.

Brooks Rattigan (the dreamy Noah Centineo) hopes to be Harvard bound, but his guidance counselor counsels him that he’s really quite bland and uninteresting, so he’s got to “find himself” in order to inject zing and zeal into his application.

A chance opportunity to be paid to escort the lovely if anti-social Celia (Laura Marano) to her high school formal births two very important plot points: Brooks falls for the MV5BZTJkZDZjYTMtNTNiYy00MGFlLWIzZmUtZjEzM2ZlMDY4NTI1XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjg2NjQwMDQ@._V1_SY1000_SX1500_AL_terminally popular and super-rich Shelby (Camila Mendes), and he gets an idea for a business opportunity. He’s going to need a lot of money to pay for Harvard (and to woo Celia), so why not rent himself as a date for hire? It worked well enough the first time, with Shelby, so why not with other girls? He recruits best friend Murph (Odiseas Georgiadis) to set up a dating app, one where girls can choose what date he’ll take them on, what outfit he’ll wear, what topics he’ll discuss, even what personality he’ll embody.

Nothing could go wrong, right?

Every single thing that happens is boldly predictable and unimaginative. But you didn’t come innovative story-telling or artistic film making. You came to lose yourself in the deep chocolate pools of Noah Centineo’s soulful eyes. Which is a good thing because Noah Centineo has not one but two eyes, and the movie has otherwize a grand total of 0 reasons to watch. The characters are extremely rough drafts of real people and they have no motivation, no arc, nothing.

You know those cardboard cutouts of movie stars that used to dot your local Blockbuster? Well you could use those life-sized cardboard cutouts to reenact this movie and it would be fairly indistinguishable. I don’t think the quality would suffer at all. But then you’d miss out on Noah Centineo’s wavy hair, and the crinkles around his eyes when he smiles. Of course, if you are not a 12 year old girl, you may find yourself impervious to his Millennial charms, and therefore you should stay the heck away from this movie because it just isn’t any good.

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Isn’t It Romantic

Natalie (Rebel Wilson) is no fan of the rom-com. She thinks romantic movies are not for her – perhaps love itself is not for her. She feels invisible most of the time. She’s timid at work. She doesn’t think that anything magical will ever touch her life.

And when she gets mugged on the way home from work one evening, it seems like an affirmation of all of the above – except when she wakes up, the bump on her head has her living in an alternate universe that resembles very closely the rom-coms that she so spurns. The rules and the irony are simple: she’s got to make someone fall in love with her to escape this fate, and suddenly the hunky billionaire who  never noticed her before is all over her.

The movie rolls its eyes at all the usual romance cliches, but then indulges in them in a riot of colour and open-armed enthusiasm, as if mocking the tropes gives permission to MV5BMjI4Mjg3OTk0Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTM3MzEzNzM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1485,1000_AL_be unabashedly embrace them. But whatever, it’s fun, or fun enough. Rebel Wilson makes it work just by virtue of her own irrepressible personality. Larger than life, she somehow sells both sides of Natalie’s persona, the wallflower and the cheeky peony she becomes. Reteamed with Adam Devine, her cocky love interest from Pitch Perfect, the two have an easy chemistry that’s fun to sing along with – and believe me, this movie has more sing-along opportunities than most. You’ve really got to be on board with the vibrant cheese in order to enjoy this movie. It pretends to be cynical but it’s really not. If your sense of Valentine’s is at all gothic or ironic, move on. Love is in the air, in a pretty conventional way. Isn’t It Romantic is a piece of fluff that will soon be forgotten in the rom-com canon, but it’s light and airy and a fairly entertaining 90 minutes. More or less.

Forever My Girl

It’s the best day ever: not many people can say their wedding day coincides with their first hit single hitting the radio, but Liam is just that lucky, and Josie is his beautiful bride. Almost the whole of their small Louisiana town has shown up to see these pretty young things get married – all but one very important person: the groom. Josie is left at the altar because Liam’s star is shooting upward, and I guess marrying your high school sweetheart just doesn’t jibe with his country heartthrob image.

MV5BNTY1N2I5MjEtZDNkZS00OTgxLWFhM2MtNTM0NGY0MzBmNjRhXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDg2MjUxNjM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1497,1000_AL_Cut to: 10 years later, a mutual friend dies, and Liam, a mega star, leaves his world tour to go back to that small town, which he’s never really escaped. And wouldn’t you know it – Josie is the first person he runs into. Well, Josie and her kid.

Like all country music, lots of the sound track is incredibly on the nose. But there’s lots of it, so if obvious country music is your jam (and let’s be honest – is there any other kind?), then you might be in hog heaven. Or at least in pig purgatory.

Alex Roe is definitely a guy who can play a country singer – you know, a multi-millionaire who still wears a beat up ball cap and a pair of work boots even though the feet inside them are manicured, to manipulate you into thinking he’s a working guy with a broken heart, just like you, when really his stubble is carefully curated by half a dozen stylists and his heart doesn’t even get involved between the groupies and the blow. But his lyrics are all about pick up trucks and the love of his country. He strictly drives Mercedes of course,  and his flags are just accessories he trots out for music videos.

But Liam? Oh, Liam’s good people. I mean, yes, he abandoned the love of his life on their wedding day and then didn’t return her call for eight years, but he was young! And he wrote songs about it! Jessica Rothe plays the jilted girlfriend, and she’s as wallflowery as the character. The kid, however, is a bright spot. Precocious children usually drive me bananas, but Abby Ryder Fortson pulled it off. Too bad the grown-ups weren’t half as charming.

The Holiday Calendar

In the month leading up Christmas, Abby dons an elf suit to take pictures of kids sitting on Santa’s lap. It’s not exactly the kind of photography work she’d imagined for herself, but every time her parents ask if she’s ready to come work for the family law firm, she defers. Besides the humiliating elf costume, 3 key things happen to Abby just as the holiday season kicks off:

  1. Her best friend Josh returns from his globe-trotting adventures.
  2. Her grandfather gives her an antique advent calendar, an inheritance from her recently deceased grandmother.
  3. She meets Ty, a cute new guy and potential love interest.

To be honest, Abby (Kat Graham) and Josh (Quincy Brown) are adorable together and have great chemistry, so you almost root for them to hook up, though the writers have MV5BZTE0MzQ4MmEtMjJiYi00YmE3LWIyMjEtMTg5YThkYWY0ZDg3XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyOTA5NzQ0MDQ@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,937_AL_other ideas. Let’s respect their friendship! Plus, the antique advent calendar from Gramps (Ron Cephas Jones, the dead dad from This Is Us – no, not that one, the other one!) may or may not be predicting the future with the little trinkets it presents to her each day. They’re adding up to a romance with Ty (Ethan Peck), the handsome single dad doctor who plans great dates and works with the homeless. That plus the magic of the holiday season makes for a pretty compelling case.

If you’re surprised at the lack of sarcasm in my tone, well, so am I. I’ve never met a Netflix or Hallmark holiday movie I didn’t hate on sight, so I wasn’t prepared to find this one kind of charming. Graham is a glowing, sweet as pie reason for this – she and Brown lead a surprisingly solid cast. They elevate the material beyond the normal Christmas cheese. And I liked that the romance didn’t start improbably from a negative place – finally a boyfriend who isn’t a jerk! Which is fortunate because we get to know Abby enough to know she has a good head on her shoulders and a lot of support from family friends – not the kind of woman silly enough to confuse condescension for caring.

Abby’s family and friends are exactly the kind of people you won’t mind sharing part of your holiday season with. Glass of wine and cozy socks optional but recommended.

Nappily Ever After

Violet sets her alarm extra early so she can sneak out of bed, fix her hair, and sneak back into bed so her boyfriend thinks she wakes up like this. She does not. An exacting mother made sure that Violent has spent her whole life hiding her true hair. But even with all the tools and chemicals and salon appointments in the world, Violet is still Cinderella waiting for the clock to strike midnight. When it rains, or is even humid, the magic disappears and her hair reverts back to its natural state. So her life revolves around monitoring the weather and keeping her boyfriend’s hands away from her head.

On her birthday, Violet’s hair is perfect (though not without some drama). She is MV5BOTNhMWM0ZDUtZDI0Ny00OTVjLTgzMDctZTk4NWQwZmM3YmFiXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyODQzNTE3ODc@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1500,1000_AL_expecting a ring from her boyfriend of 2 years and instead gets a puppy. Boyfriend accuses her of being “too perfect” so a breakup tailspin ensues, including stops at ‘fuck you hair’ and ‘drunkenly buzzing it all off.’ But can Violet change her attitude and values to reflect her newly bald head?

So, okay. I’m white. Violet is black. I am not the best person to review this film. I mean, on some level, many if not most women will relate. So much of our identity is tied up in our hair. But it’s different for Violet, for women of colour. Black hair, for some unknowable reason, has been viewed as…inferior? Is that the right word? Even very young girls may feel that their hair is somehow ‘wrong.’ A black woman who wears her hair naturally may be viewed as unprofessional at work, unkempt at school, perhaps even viewed as her making a political statement to the world. Culturally, hair may serve as a bonding tool, a thing that unites black people (even black men – there’s a whole franchise of Barbershop movies) but it can be misunderstood outside the culture. Black women make up 70% of the hair care market, but the marketing always features white women with long, straight, glossy locks. As do TV shows and movies and magazine covers. So to attain white standards of beauty, black women blow through time, money, and PAIN to achieve the kind of hair that grows naturally out of white heads but not their own. They’ve felt the need to suppress the natural texture of their hair not just to look attractive but to be accepted at work and in the world. But it takes a toll. Viola Davis said in an interview recently how nice it was to wear her hair naturally in Widows (which had a black director, Steve McQueen). She’s used to wigs, weaves, and chemical relaxers just to present ‘the right kind of black’ to Hollywood and audiences. As you know, there’s still a huge gulf to be overcome in terms of media representing people of colour, but even when a film does hire a black actress, she will often arrive on set to find that the hair and makeup team have not thought through her particular needs. They may be unequipped, in terms of tools and experience, to deal with her hair. It is rare to see a black woman on screen rocking her own natural hair. And that’s okay if it’s a real choice. I don’t wear my hair natural either. But for me it’s a matter of style and personal preference. For a woman of colour it may not feel like any choice at all.

So yeah, Nappily Ever After is a romance, but it’s one tied into culture and identity and hair and femininity and acceptance. Sanaa Lathan is really terrific in it, and relatable too. Even though the script itself is very much about the black woman experience, there are universal themes of authenticity that anyone can appreciate. There’s something very powerful about having the courage to be yourself – but I think there’s something even more powerful about living in a world where that wouldn’t be discouraged in the first place, even if that doesn’t exist yet.

 

 

[Women of colour, feel free to correct me or to add to the conversation. And to anyone interested in the topic, Chris Rock (yes, THAT Chris Rock) has a cool documentary about it called Good Hair.]

 

 

TIFF18: Gloria Bell

Why is Julianne Moore even still making movies? I can think of few American actors with less to prove than Moore, fewer still who have turned in as many brave and egoless performances as she has over the last three decades.

Chilean director Sebastián Lelio (A Fantastic Woman) admires her too. In fact, he says that he chose to remake his 2013 film Gloria as his English-language debut specifically because he was such a big Julianne Moore fan that he wanted to see what she would do with the role. To anyone like me who has not seen the original, it would feel like the part of Gloria was written for her. Gloria is a 50-something divorced mother of two adult children (Michael Cera and Caren Pistorious). She has a full-time job and her kids do spend some time with her but it’s not enough to keep her from getting lonely.

Luckily, Gloria loves disco and loves to dance and she never cuts loose quite like she does when she’s alone on the dance floor on Singles Night. That’s where she meets the charmingly awkward Arnold (John Turtorro). The two quickly strike up a relationship even if Arnold’s co-dependent relationship with his ex-wife and adult daughters seem to hold him back from completely commiting to Gloria.

Thinking back, there is something very sad about Gloria Bell. But that’s only in retrospect. Lelio, like Gloria, chooses not to dwell on the sadness. Instead, his film spends so much time being laugh out loud funny that and is just optimistic enough that you can almost mistake it for a mindless crowd pleaser. It’s only three or four movies later when I realized that this was the one that I was still thinking about that I realized what a fully realized character they’ve created (or recreated) together. It doesn’t hurt that those in her life, the supporting cast, all seem to have real lives of their own when they’re not onscreen and could easily have starred in films of their own. I for one would have loved to know a lot more about Arnold. But really this is Gloria’s story and Lelio and Moore do her proud in a really impressive and effective film.

 

Set It Up

Two harried, 20-something assistants work for different demanding bosses in the same Manhattan building. Harper (Zoey Deutch) admires her boss, Kirsten (Lucy Liu), who is a sports reporter. Harper wants to be a writer too but so far she spends her days fetching lunch and racking up steps on Kirsten’s fitbit. Charlie (Glen Powell) is eagerly awaiting his promotion but is still just Rick’s (Taye Diggs) overworked assistant. When Harper and Charlie meet in the lobby of their building, they determine that the only way to free themselves from the shackles of serfdom is to set up their bosses romantically. And it works!

The catch is – and you won’t believe this – Harper and Charlie fall in love themselves while orchestrating this love match between their bosses. Who would have thought (other than every single one of you, plus your grandmas, plus the ghosts of your grandmas’ mid-century pet parakeets).

Set It Up is the original Netflix film billed as the rom-com to save all rom-coms. Were rom-coms an endangered species? The good ones seem all but extinct. And I’m not sure this one changed my mind about that. But it’s not terrible. It’s not as cornball cheesy as these things tend to be. The stars are charming and dripping with chemistry. But itMV5BYmQyM2Q0NzgtZTAxNi00OTk3LTg4NjItM2E2YmE5MGM5YWI2XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTc5OTMwOTQ@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1499,1000_AL_ (1) doesn’t have a unique voice or anything that super sets it apart. It’s comfort food:  the kind of mac and cheese you might bring to a potluck. Not gourmet. Not lobster mac. Not truffle mac. It probably doesn’t even have gouda. But it’s warm and creamy and just gooey enough to convince you you want it. Rom-coms are predicable almost by definition. We know they’re going to get together; the “fun” is in how they get together.

Zoey Deutch is cute and glowing and perky and seemingly born to be the quirky, sweet romantic lead (her mother is Lea Thompson). Glen Powell, who previously played and has the smug, handsome face of an astronaut, is a good match for her, although he’s the matte paint to her gloss. Tituss Burgess, in little more than a cameo, is high-impact nonetheless, and makes an excellent case for giving him a starring role, stat.  But I didn’t get a Tituss Burgess movie, I got two white actors with blindingly white smiles in roles I’ve seen dozens of times before, sometimes done better, and sometimes worse. That’s not a ringing endorsement of a movie, but ringing would be a bit over-the-top for a movie you see coming from 95 miles away. This is a tepid endorsement in 12 point, Times New Roman, which is what it deserves and all I can give.