Tag Archives: romantic movies

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.

To All The Boys: P.S. I Still Love You

Lara Jean and Peter are officially girlfriend and boyfriend.

You may recall in the first film, Lara Jean’s little sister sent out a bunch of love letters that she’d been writing to her crushes to release some of your tortured young passion. The love letters were personal and confessional and never meant to be read by anyone, but most of all not by the people to whom they were addressed. And yet they were.

Which brought Lara Jean (Lana Condor) and Peter (Noah Centineo) together, superficially at first. They pretended to date because they each had certain needs their high school hearts could justify but you might guess that they eventually found themselves falling in love. Cue the sequel!

Everything is right with the world, except for the fact that Lara Jean can’t quite forget Peter’s ex and jealousy doesn’t exactly become her. But there are worse things to come. One of the other love letter recipients finally resurfaces: John Ambrose (Jordan Fisher) and man is he cute. In fact, he and Lara Jean end up volunteering together and circumstances are perfect for dying embers to reignite.

There’s a sweet innocence to these movies that holds some sort of universal appeal – perhaps because we’ve all had a first love and not only can we relate, but it’s sort of fun to revisit. But we also get wrapped up in Lara Jean and Peter’s romance because it’s a lived fairy tale. How does Peter have money to take dates to 5-star restaurants and why does Lara Jean have a series of cocktail dresses? They’re babies. They should be going on awkward group dates to the movies, getting dropped off by whomever’s mom had the biggest mini van, or hanging out in each other’s living rooms with their siblings not only watching but actively trying to humiliate.

Anyway, I’m finding it impossible not to be charmed by this franchise. The leads are exceedingly likable and the whole thing goes down as easily as a box of chocolates on Valentine’s day, so why resist? To All The Boys is one indulgence I’m not going to feel guilty about.

 

 

Top 5 Netflix movies to watch on Valentine’s Day.

15 quirky romance movies that don’t suck.

Valentine’s movies for single people.

 

Hampstead

Emily (Diane Keaton) is a widow living a life she cannot afford. She’s angry with her dead husband, as after he died she discovered he had been cheating in her. She’s alone in an apartment she’s going to have to give up, having regular meetings/lunch dates with an accountant who’s helping sort out her tax problems. Then, one day while hiding from her problems in her apartment building’s attic, she lays eyes on Donald (Brendan Gleeson), the hermit of her dreams who lives just acrMV5BMjdmM2RjMjItZGZmZC00YTAxLTg3MmItMjdlOGVkZWY0MWFmXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyOTc5MDI5NjE@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_oss the way on the grounds of a derilict hospital. Before you can say “squatter’s rights”, Emily and Donald are spending romantic nights together in the attic, but what will happen when the accountant and Emily’s neighbours find out?

Part romantic comedy, part self-discovery tale, and part real-life legal drama, Hampstead is kind of a mess. It claims to be based on the real life of Harry Hallowes, who became a landowner because of an arcane legal concept called adverse possession, but clearly many liberties have been taken with Hallowes’ story in this retelling. In fact, one might ask why this claims to be based on his life at all, other than as a cheap way to cash in on the press his lawsuit attracted.  For his part, Hallowes made clear that he wanted nothing to do with the film, so it seems unlikely there is any truth to this romantic tale other than what was publicly reported about his case (with no mention whatsoever in the papers of Hallowes striking up a romantic relationship with a neighbouring widow who happened to be leading on her sleazy accountant, and you know the British tabloids would have been ALL OVER those sordid details if even rumoured).

Incidentally, I knew none of this “real-life” stuff until after having watched the film, and I still didn’t care for the movie. I found it tedious, chichéd, and nonsensical, and now I have even less goodwill toward it.

Falling Inn Love

Netflix sees a swarm of streaming around Christmastime of those sappy, romantic holiday movies. It’s not a Netflix phenomenon by any means – those movies are all imported from poor-quality television channels that have low budgets and even lower standards. Generally, it shows, and generally, it doesn’t matter. But people are starting to wonder why the bump in ratings has to wait for Christmas. The Hallmark Channel recently hosted a Christmas in July. Netflix, on the other hand, is turning out non-Christmas movies that follow the same basic principle.

They’re cheesy as hell, but if you’re choosing to watch, you know what you’re getting, and you must like it. This particular one, though I have not yet forgiven it for the terrible pun in the title, is about a hard-working city-slicker named Gabriela (Christina Milian) who is going through a turbulent time of transition; in just a few days she loses her job and her boyfriend. But her luck’s not all bad: a “win an inn” contest she entered has borne fruit! So this San Franciscan packs her bags and heads to New Zealand to claim her praise.

The catch? The inn, though pristine in press photos, is derelict. The movie might have turned into a money pit situation were it not for a hot young widower carpenter, Jake (Adam Demos), who likes helping out beautiful Americans almost as much as he likes whipping off his shirt with little to no provocation.

Demos is actually Australian, not a New Zealander, but surprisingly, much of the other cast is in fact Kiwi, and the production seems to have actually filmed there.

Of course, the couple in question MUST start off on the wrong foot. Gabriela intends only to fix and flip the inn, and she’s obsessed with making everything eco-friendly, putting her at odds with Jake, who feels a special attachment to each and every one of the inn’s original fixtures, even the rotted, crumbly ones. But she keeps endearing herself to the locals and he, the handyman-cum-firefighter-cum-beekeeper remains tantalizingly unavailable, what with the tragic dead wife and all.

And then there’s the fun stuff, like the inn being haunted by a goat, and a rival innkeeper getting her knickers in a jealous twist, and controlling ex-boyfriends showing up unannounced. It’s not just renovation porn, but it is that too.

So if you like your romance uncomplicated, Netflix has your back.

Must Love Dogs

Sarah (Diane Lane) comes from a big family, and they’ve all gathered in her kitchen to humiliate her. And by humiliate her, I mean that they’re throwing an intervention. That makes it sound like a party, I suppose, and it is most decidedly not. Nor is it quite as serious as it sounds. They’re not trying to send her to rehab. They’re trying to relaunch her back into the dating world after a devastating divorce. It doesn’t work – at least, not until she accidentally answers her own father’s personal ad. That’s a new low, as you can imagine. So maybe now she’s open to it. Ish. Her sister makes her a dating profile with quasi-consent (a good time to remind you that this movie was released in 2005).

Meanwhile, across town, a boat builder named Jake (John Cusack) is also newly on the market with a bruised heart that’s still trickling blood. He’s also got a friend/divorce attorney pushing him into the internet dating thing, and that’s how they wind up meeting – at a dog park, each with a borrowed canine friend. The date is shaky; Jake is so nervous he can’t stop insulting Sarah. Their next date has crazy beautiful moments of connection and chemistry, and then terrible lows that radiate awkwardness. So there’s wiggle room for a guy like Bobby (Dermot Mulroney) to enter the picture and sweep Sarah off her feet with his smooth technique. Dramaaaaa!

Anyway, it’s nice to see a rom-com for the middle aged. For the sad-sacks post divorce. For the cynics and the chronically depressed. And yet it still manages to charm. Of course, you might hope for a little more from two grown-ups who have loved and lost. You’d hope they’d have grown, that they’d have some insights. That they’d be better at this. And they’re really not.

Must Love Dogs should have Loved Rewrites. There’s nothing in here that you haven’t seen before. It’s not just that you see things coming from miles away – it’s that they’ve literally just traced a rom-com road map and hit up each and every landmark and rest stop along the way. And yet Lane and Cusack are just so good together. Never underestimate the likability of your leads.

I never got to write myself a dating profile, but even if I had, it probably wouldn’t have occurred to me to write Must Love Dogs, even though that’s obviously true. And thank goodness I wasn’t able to cock-block myself, because Sean never would have answered such an ad. He grew up with cats. But my little puppy Herbie won him over. No surprise there: Herbie is a stud, he wins over everyone he meets. Sean is a harder sell, and yet he was surprisingly able to win over Herbie, which was the more important part of the equation. I’d only had Herbie about 4 months when I met Sean, but Herbie had already been subjected to quite a few gentlemen callers and let me tell you – he wasn’t impressed. He’d scowl and growl and generally do his best to look ornery and intimidating (he was a four pound fluff ball but in his mind he was a full-fledged hell hound). He kept his eye on Sean for a bit, but he made it clear they were friends. That said, Herbie will never let Sean forget that it’s me and Herbie who are the original members of this household, and Sean’s just lucky we let him in the club. Now we have 3 more dogs because we can’t get enough. And this movie definitely put me in the mood for more. I mean, a gentle wind can put me in the mood for more. I Do Love Dogs! But I live in a city where the bylaws actually state that acquiring a fifth animal would force me to declare myself a farm. And as much as I Super Duper Love Dogs, it seems like a lot of hassle. Or…is it maybe a little bit of hassle and an excellent tax write off? Or a medium amount of hassle and a whole lot more love in my life? Or quite a bit of hassle but a good excuse to buy cute cowboy boots? Or a heck of a lot of hassle that I can offload on Sean, and simply reap the rewards of puppy love while outsourcing the work?

Did I just talk myself into puppy #5?