Tag Archives: romantic movies

The Broken Hearts Gallery

Lucy (Geraldine Viswanathan) moved to NYC to own a gallery. Has it worked out that way? Not so much. On the same night that she realizes her colleague/boyfriend Max (Utkarsh Ambudkar) is leaving her for an ex, she makes a drunken fool of herself at a work event and gets fired from her dream job working as an assistant to famed curator Eva (Bernadette Peters). Cue: black mascara tears and her best friends/room mates Amanda (Molly Gordon) and Nadine (Phillipa Soo) coming to the rescue, as best friends always do. Oh, and another entry into Lucy’s mausoleum of broken romances. She’s a memento keeper, you know, those little proofs of the love you once had, a love letter, a movie stub, a dried flower. Except Lucy is a memento hoarder. Her room is 90% shrine to love that didn’t last, and the piles are so high she’s lucky they don’t topple over and crush her. While her peers may be out documenting each day on the gram, she’s too busy memorializing the past to live in the now. Yeah, this is a pattern that’s repeated itself a few times.

Combining her breakup with her unemployment, she’s inspired to open a museum of heart break. After all, she’s hardly the only one who’s had her heart broken. Everyone’s got a story, and everyone’s got some little piece of evidence. Right? I, myself, am a bit of an emotional hoarder. I have every single letter anyone has ever sent me except from exes because this cold bitch leaves that shit fully behind.

Of course Lucy gets a little help and of course it’s from a cute boy, Nick (Dacre Montgomery), who is working on his own dream, turning an old YMCA into a boutique hotel, though at this point it’s still 96% disgusting old gym. And it smells like one too.

I have been looking forward to this movie for quite some time and I’m so, so grateful that it didn’t disappoint. Writer-director Natalie Krinsky knows what she has to deliver in terms of a rom-com that wary 2020 audiences won’t hate, but the main weapon in her arsenal is definitely Geraldine Viswanathan, who steals every scene she’s in and lights up every screen she graces. There’s an old fashioned charm to this film, and a very watchable ensemble cast. The movie’s roots may be in broken hearts but its emphasis is on healing them. This is easy, hopeful fare that goes down easy, like comfort food that’s good for you too. I wouldn’t mind a second helping.

Love, Guaranteed

In need of a good old fashioned romantic comedy?

Like the vast majority of human beings this century, Nick joins a dating site after a failed relationship, looking for love. And looking and looking and looking. Since the site literally guarantees love, the next place he eventually looks is the fine print: guaranteed, it reads, as long as you’ve gone on 1000 dates. So he does.

Does that seem like a lot? Yes it does. How does he do it? Breakfast, lunch, and dinner dates. But no one ever works out. There’s the one who brings her parents, the one who’s allergic to everything, the one who jumps the gun…no one is quite right. So while he’s a perfect gentleman on the dates, Nick (Damon Wayans Jr.) keeps a file on each and every one of them because he’s building a case. When he’s got date #986 in the bank, he looks up lawyer Susan Whitaker (Rachel Leigh Cook), a hard working litigator with a reputation for crusading for just causes. She’s not overly keen on this case but she is rather keen on keeping the lights on in her fledgling little office, so she takes it, and the rest is history.

You know the kind of movie this is and so you know the path is must take to get to where it’s obviously going. It is not a long and winding road; it’s pretty darn straight forward. There are, however, some nice ornamental benches along the way, a few surprisingly tasteful streetlamps, and even some lovely flower beds lining the path.

I’m usually the last person to say this about a traditional rom-com, but it didn’t suck. Late 90s it-girl Cook pops up from out of nowhere and has some pretty believable chemistry with Wayans. Heather Graham plays a Gwyneth Paltrow type with a Goop-like empire. Even Susan’s ugly little car, haunted by the ghost of Tiffany, is so ugly it’s cute. Plus, the script by  Elizabeth Hackett and Hilary Galanoy is just a little smarter than the usual Hallmark-y stuff we’re stuck with lately (thanks to a chasm left by Nora Ephron in the genre). The two leads have cute, sparky banter, the supporting roles have identifiable personality traits, and there are fun little side-bars lampooning namaste bullshit and the fad diet trend of intermittent fasting. What’s not to love?

Wait: did I just say love? Love is a many-splendored thing but let me be clear that this review is NOT guaranteeing that you will love this movie. Only that should you tolerate rom-coms fairly well, this one is a nice addition to the lineup, and is now available to stream on Netflix.

Jumbo

I’ve been trying all day to figure out how to break this to you, and I’m no further ahead now that I was this morning, and you’ll see from the time stamp that it very very late in the evening now. Assuming I get something put on the page and hit publish tonight, which is assuming a lot since I still have bupkis. Well, that’s an exaggeration. Not the bupkis, the bupkis is spot-on. It’s just that by “all day” what I really mean is “intermittently, for the past 13 hours, for a total of probably not more than 90 minutes.” Which is still quite a lot as I can usually bang these out with great efficacy.

But this is what you get when you attend the Fantasia Film Festival, a festival dedicated to the weirdest and most wonderful corners of the wide world of cinema. It’s not for blockbusters, and not generally for Oscar bait, although it has hosted its share of contenders, including South Korea’s A Taxi Driver, Japan’s The Great Passage, and our own Tom of Finland. It’s been visited by the finest film nerds, including Ben & Josh Safdie, Guillermo del Toro, Mark Hamill, John Carptenter, James Gunn, Nicolas Winding Refn, Eli Roth, Takashi Miike, Ben Wheatley, and me. It’s funny because it’s true.

I have seen lots of strange stuff at this festival: people pooping out their living, breathing, emotional baggage; humanoid cockroaches; sex cam horror; an impregnated bathtub; a frog-man serial killer; a hunt for bigfoot; cannibal grandparents… and I could go on but won’t, for both our sakes.

But Jumbo…is in a category all its own. It’s about a woman, Jeanne, bit of a weird duck that one. Still lives with her mother. Kind of a loner. Works at an amusement park. Falls in love with a carnival ride. Typical French woman, eh?

So yeah. She calls him Jumbo because his real name (slave name?) is vulgar (and let’s face it, it’s more of a descriptor than a name). It’s one of those tilty-whirly rides that make kids squeal and/or turn green. And it’s dead sexy. Well to Jeanne (Noémie Merlant) he is. He’s very attractive, smart, funny…well, okay, it’s hard to see what exactly she sees in him, other than he’s just about the only one who hasn’t called her a weirdo. At least not to her face. And he does seem responsive: he flashes his lights, he takes her for a spin, he blows smoke and leaks oil…oil that is sometimes good and sometimes bad. It’s a bodily fluid I suppose, which at times makes Jeanne orgasmic and elsewise makes her anxious.

You know who else is anxious? Everyone who knows about Jeanne’s little crush. Suddenly being “a little odd” is seeming a bit more pathological. Her mother (Emmanuelle Bercot) is not exactly lucky in love herself, yet she still feels empowered to criticize Jeanne’s choice of beau. And the human male coworker (Bastien Bouillon) who up until quite recently had a crush on our Jeanne feels a little stupid for coming in second to a garish attraction that plays 80s songs while stirring up puke.

Writer-director Zoé Wittock deserves an award for the pure audacity to take such a story to the screen, to present it to an audience and say “Yes, I made this. On purpose.” But we can’t help who we love. Unless it’s an inanimate object, in which case we should really, really try. I can’t help but admire a movie that subverts even the modern romance, I can’t help but love Jeanne for her genuineness, her sincerity, but I can’t quite get on board with Jumbo. It’s an experiment, a bold one, yet still reminds me of things I’ve seen before (Under The Skin!). Jumbo and I are not a perfect match, which is find and dandy with us both – after all, Jumbo’s already got a girl, and despite what I felt was a marked lack of chemistry, they seem to be quite serious about each other. Quite.

The Lost Husband

If you were hoping for a mystery based on the title, allow me to deflate your expectations: the husband is not lost. In fact, he’s the most definitively located husband you can get, ie, buried 6 feet under. His widow, Libby (Leslie Bibb), is the one who is lost. And their home too, lost to the bank thanks to him leaving them destitute. So Libby’s been rootless ever since, and has just bopped from her mother’s house to her estranged aunt’s, with her two kids in tow.

But aunt Jean (Nora Dunn!) isn’t so much welcoming house guests as exploiting free labour for her little farm. Farmhand James (Josh Duhamel) sure could use the help since he does sing to each goat individually. But don’t thinking he looks like a rugged, gruff romantic interest for our newly single Libby. He’s got his own wife to contend with, only she doesn’t have the decency to die. Oooh, yeah, okay, I heard that. It sounds a little crass. But she had a stroke and is either comatose or incapacitated, in any case hospitalized for life, and he’s her devoted caretaker even though we’ve already been given moral permission to hate and dismiss her.

This is a romantic movie with a subtle western flavour. It’s got B-list stars, a Hallmark script, and a truly Texan pace (picture a bow-legged cowboy sauntering unhurriedly in the heat, with a piece of straw hanging from his mouth, a squint in his eye, his thumb hooked behind that oversized belt buckle). Sean calls it slow and boring. A more generous soul might call it unrushed and indulgently lengthy. No matter how you separate the wheat from the chaff, writer-director Vicky Wight delivers an old-fashioned romance, the kind with little heat, chemistry, or passion, but plenty of milk glass, burlap chivalry, and rustic charm.

Nothing in this movie is going to wow you, nothing elevates the material or pushes the genre forward. It’s a very standard, safe entry into the romance genre and should please people already predisposed and win over absolutely no one.

[Confidential to Popular fans: keep your eyes peeled for a Carly Pope cameo.]

Almost Love

IMDB describes this film as ‘An ensemble comedy about romance in the smartphone era’ which, if you read my review of Jexi, you’ll know made me want to find the nearest toilet and throw my phone right in, but since that thing knows my contacts AND my passwords, I just punched myself in the face instead. But I still watched the movie, through two swollen black eyes.

And I’m glad I did. Had you not read this description, you never would have paid much attention to the phones. They are, as in most people’s experience, simply an accessory to our daily lives. This is how we live now; they are as omnipresent as Ubers and pumpkin spice lattes and Donald Trump’s nonsensical tweets.

A group of grown-up friends in NYC is figuring shit out in life and love. It’s like Friends, if Rachel fell in love with a minor, Monica fucked a homeless dude, and Chandler made counterfeit paintings. Roughly speaking.

Haley (Zoe Chao) is trying to disentangle herself from a dependency situation of her own making; Cammy (Michelle Buteau) is realizing that the dating pool is so dire her deal breakers are surprisingly few; Marklin (Augustus Prew) is too busy carefully curating his Instagram posts to notice his actual life is a whole lot messier; Adam (Scott Evans) has so much suppressed rage it’s manifesting in physical blows; and Elizabeth (Kate Walsh) has for so long been the mascot for love in her circle of friends she’s having a hard time telling them she’s getting a divorce. When life isn’t perfect, do you lower your standards? Your expectations?

Mike Doyle writes and directs this low-key comedy, which works about as often as it doesn’t. Well, “doesn’t” is unfair. It’s more like: moments of thoughtful introspection, moments of surprisingly zany comedy, and moments that are achingly predictable. All elevated by a talented cast, the stand-out being Buteau, who I’ve seen stealing scenes in several Netflix movies now, and was glad to finally hold on to for more than just a few minutes at a time.

This movie kind of snuck up on me. I was enjoying it in a modest sort of way but then the end was somehow more than the sum of its parts. Love is hard. Life is hard. Everyone just wants to be seen, and when a film can reflect back your neuroses, your insecurities, your pettiest resentments without making you feel small or unfit, when it knows that finding true love, be they friends or be they lovers, means finding someone who sees the good and the bad and loves the whole package, then I think that movie has done its job.

MILF

Three middle-aged best friends are on vacation, more or less. They have left behind children, lovers, and burdens to spend some quality time together, although they may not all agree to which degree they are technically vacationing. Elise’s (Axelle Laffont) daughter is spending time with her father, Sonia (Marie-Josée Croze) is planning to meet her married lover in Spain, and Cécile (Virginie Ledoyen) is hosting them at her former family home. She hasn’t been there in 3 years but finally intends to clean it up and put it up for sale. She has mourned her husband and will now mourn the house. Elise and Sonia, however, are a little more open to fun.

In between packing and dusting, Elise and Sonia lure Cécile to the beach where they catch the eyes of some handsome young men who are leading a junior sailing expedition. Desperate to be noticed, Paul (Waël Sersoub) deliberately capsizes a child in his care so he can showily strip off his shirt and engage in some heroics. Most seasoned ladies would be wary if not downright insulted by such an obvious pick-up scenario, but Elise and Sonia are at least down for some harmless flirting. When they are spotted by the same guys at a club later that night, it seems like the vacation god Tequila is determined to make a match. Elise pairs off with Paul, while Sonia, still waiting to hear from her married boyfriend, spends time with shy and sensitive Julien (Matthias Dandois), who is easily smitten. The next day the boys bring a third friend for the ladies’ third friend, though Cécile, who is already scandalized by the age difference, is horrified to recognize Markus (Victor Meutelet) as her children’s not-so-long-ago babysitter.

The world has long since come to expect May-December romances and is usually fairly tolerant of them, so long as the December is male. In this case, the ladies are the more mature (and for their sake I feel compelled to point out that the boys are April-ish at best, and the ladies are perhaps late August to mid September). Is such an age difference the end of the world? Surely not. Has it the makings for an exciting summer fling? God yes: boys in their 20s are in their sexual prime – athletic, energetic, full of lust and dripping with stamina. Nearly a perfect match for a woman in her mid to late 40s who is just now hitting her own sexual peak; unburdened by the fertility aspect, she’s learned what she wants and how to get it. There may be fireworks in bed, but considering how women already mature faster than men, can this dynamic really work outside of the bedroom? MILF doesn’t really have an answer. It lacks purpose, and frankly, even passion. When Stella got her groove back, both Angela Bassett and Taye Diggs brought the heat. Their Jamaican romance may be partially responsible for global warming. MILF doesn’t come close, except as a cautionary tale for young men to get the fuck off of YouPorn before it ruins you for good.

The movie thinks MILF is a compliment (as opposed to cougar, which suggests that the older woman is purposely hunting), but for most of us, it leaves a bad taste in the mouth, and even isn’t accurate since one of the women isn’t even a mother.

Axelle Laffont’s direction isn’t particularly inspired, a fine pairing for a decidedly lacklustre script, though it must be said that she’s certainly not afraid to objectify her own body through a camera lens. There was no need to convince us: these 3 ladies are hot and could believably land any man they wanted. What of it? Well, no one’s really thought much beyond the sex, and if nothing else, these experienced ladies should have known better.

The Wedding Year

Mara (Sarah Hyland) and Jake (Tyler Jesse Williams) are not normally the commitment types, but ever since they met they are astounding friends and relatives with their continued, healthy relationship. That’s not like them! Except together, maybe it is. Everything’s going smoothly until the wedding invitations start arriving…and don’t stop! Everyone’s had a year like this, the year when all your friends seemed to get married at once. When every other weekend was earmarked for a bridal shower or a stag and doe or a bachelor party or a say yes to the dress excursion or a wedding favour boot camp, or the weddings themselves of course, which may also include welcome cocktails, rehearsal dinners, and morning-after brunches. Weddings can suck up your time almost as quickly as your money once you factor in travel, time off, outfits, hair, shoes, hotel, plus shower and wedding gifts, and that’s if you’re NOT in the wedding party, which may require you to shell out for tux rentals, professional makeup application, even out of town trips for lavish bachelorettes. It’s a lot. Ad then there’s the toll it will take on your own relationship.

If you’ve ever gone to a wedding with a new partner as your +1, you know it’s a gamble. It means introducing them to your family – your whole family – before you may be ready. And it’s a lot of pressure to put on a new boyfriend or girlfriend, meeting everyone like that, sitting with them, trying to remember names, fielding questions about marriage and kids that are totally inappropriate, dealing with drunk uncles while trying to remain polite, navigating family photos when you’re not really part of the family. Total nightmare. But it can be equally hard, and perhaps worse, when you’ve been in a relationship for a while, have perhaps attended more than a few of these family events together. Now the pressure is on to declare when it will be “your turn.” Relatives of all kinds will think it’s their right to ask you deeply personal questions. Ever felt pinned to the spot by the question “When are you going to propose?” Instant anxiety, and of course your partner is looking on, with hungry eyes, or disinterested ones, and either way it’s uncomfortable. Or perhaps you’ve gotten “Isn’t your clock ticking?” because of course your womb is aunt Susan’s business and of course you should be made to declare your thoughts on fertility and family planning in public.

These are the kinds of things Mara and Jake will encounter during their Wedding Year. Brothers, sisters, cousins, friends. It’s a lot of forced joy and a big shiny spotlight on the state of your relationship. So even though they go into wedding season strong, all the love that’s in the air is going to feel sweltering, even suffocating by the end. Can their relationship possibly withstand the pressure?

This movie is not a great movie. It’s as bland as the food they normally serve at these banquet functions – inoffensive and totally forgettable. It’s a perfectly acceptable way to pass some time – just be careful who you watch it with 😉

The Handmaiden

During the 1930s Japanese occupation of Korea, Lady Hideko (Min-hee Kim) lives on a large countryside estate with her abusive uncle. A new handmaid, Sook-Hee (Tae-ri Kim) arrives in the house to assist her, only the two bond in unexpected ways.

But what Hideko doesn’t know is that Sook-Hee was raised in a den of thieves – and pickpockets, forgers, human traffickers, and so on. A fellow criminal, playing the long con and posing as Japanese gentleman Count Fujiwara (Jung-woo Ha), came to her with a proposal. Lady Hideko stands to inherit a vast fortune. If Sook-Hee agrees to help Hideko fall in love with him, they’ll rob her of her money and have her locked up in a madhouse. Sook-Hee accepts. But as she encourages Hideko’s seduction, she herself is falling for the lady, but her poverty and pride won’t let feelings get in the way of fortune.

The Handmaiden is an exceedingly beautifully-shot film with a score that sounds an awful lot like Downton Abbey. It’s loosely based on Sarah Waters’ crime novel, Fingersmith, but director Chan-wook Park (yes, the very same who gave us Oldboy) has his fingerprints all over this adaptation. His interpretation is visually luscious, of course, and the story more complex than it seems. This one too cleverly hints at the various power dynamics at play – between sexes, classes, and even colonized and colonizer.

While the erotic scenes are somewhat familiar and cliched, one bathtub scene involving a thimble will go down in the history books as a delightfully powerful lesbian maneuver. The Handmaiden is lush and decadent and often disturbing.

Straight Up

Netflix just dropped a bizarre comedy this weekend starring Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams. Netflix will green-light just about everything, which was music to Ferrell’s ears – literally. Finally, his semi-chub for Eurovision would pay off! If it’s not already the #1 viewed film on the streaming platform, I’m sure it will be soon. And it does have its funny moments, even I can admit that.

But Straight Up is also a new release on Netflix, and this one’s a movie you actually should see.

Todd (James Sweeney) is a confused young man. He’s neurotic, he’s OCD, he’s phobic, he’s addicted to therapy, which tends to stir up more questions than answers. One recent question is: am I actually gay?

Sexuality may be quite obvious to most, but Todd is wondering if maybe he just internalized the label from having been bullied as a child. He hasn’t really had any relationships, nor has he had sex thanks to an aversion to bodily fluids. He tests out this new theory on two long-time (/only) friends, who are less than enthusiastic for this line of thinking. Of course he’s gay, they assure him. Of course. But Todd is petrified of dying alone, and since adding females to the mix more than doubles the dating pool, the math is on his side. More or less. It may be a tad difficult to attract women with his distinct “I’m gay” vibe.

But not, it turns out, impossible. He meets Rory (Katie Findlay) and they immediately bond of Gilmore Girls, which is apt because they too are hyper-verbal. The dialogue zings between them rapid-fire and yet feels natural. Sweeney and Findlay have an incredible chemistry that belies an instant connection and intimacy. They are intellectual soulmates. But can they sustain a romance?

This film is all kinds of incredible. First, we get to explore a young and fluid concept of sexual identity. These kids are not afraid to redefine society’s so-called institutions to suit their own needs. They don’t ask whether they can be romantic partners but not sexual ones – they just get to it. Nothing’s off the table and everything can be negotiated.

It’s still pride month, and you may have noticed that among all of the letters of the rainbow (LGBTQia2+), the Q stands for both queer, and for questioning, which doesn’t necessarily mean that someone’s sexuality is in limbo. It can simply be an admission that sexuality is a spectrum, and one’s place on it may be in flux (a sort of agnosticism for sexual orientation, if you will). Generation Z much more readily embraces these gradations. And I don’t mean that it’s easy or it’s perfect, just that our understanding continues to expand, and there’s a lot more nuance than just the binary female/male, hetero/homosexual.

Five years ago, James Sweeney was a lowly assistant to Duke Johnson, who himself is not a household name, but he was co-director on that wonderful stop-motion animated film by Charlie Kaufman, Anomalisa. Flash forward only a few years, and he’s already writing and directing his own films, and even more incredibly, they’re actually first rate. He’s not just putting sexuality on trial, he’s questioning our basic definition of romantic love. As he should. The truth is, no relationship strictly conforms to a dictionary’s ideal. Maybe love can only be defined by the people who are feeling it. And maybe we should just chuck out these meaningless labels anyway.

I feel energized by these challenges to the status quo, but most of all I was just falling a little in love with Rory and Todd myself. Their wit and effervescence perfectly captures that consuming and in fact addicting aspect of new love. Recognition of this higher connection is intoxicating and exhilarating and you just want more, more, more. While I would categorize Sean as “distressingly straight” and myself as “pansexual,” still we recognize a bit of ourselves in this young couple, because those first heady days of romance are unmistakable. Sweeney and Findlay give generous performances and make easy work of what I can only imagine was a pretty hefty script. And an impressive one at that.

Look for Straight Up on Netflix.

Crazy Stupid Love

Poor Cal. He thinks he’s moments away from a creme brulee when his wife Emily hits him with a wallop: she wants a divorce. And that’s not all. On the tense car ride home, Emily (Julianne Moore) confesses that she slept with someone. Cal (Steve Carell) pulls a LadyBird out the car but it’s not going to save his marriage.

At a local bar, a very despondent Cal is attracting the wrong kind of attention. Crying in public will tend to do that. Resident lady’s man Jacob (Ryan Gosling) takes pity on him, and takes him under his wing to dress him up and teach him how to flirt. Best wing man ever? Suddenly Cal, who’s only ever been with his wife, is putting serious notches into his new, single guy Ikea bedpost. Which doesn’t sit well with Emily, but who is she to complain. Right?

Meanwhile, Jacob’s love life is going in the opposite direction. He’s met a woman he actually wants to not just sleep with, but wake up with. Hannah (Emma Stone) is the right mix of neurotic-quirky-cute and for the first time, Jacob’s falling in love.

Sure it’s a little too sweet sometimes, but Crazy Stupid Love is a legitimately funny rom-com with effervescent dialogue delivered by an A-list cast. Carell is likable as ever, making a convincing transformation both inside and out. For his part, Gosling is game for poking a little fun at his own image, punctuating some of the absurd if not ever quite crazy idiosyncrasies of dating, whether it’s the first or second time around. There’s a maturity (perhaps a pre-Tinder maturity) to it that gives it universal appeal.