Tag Archives: romantic movies

Sylvie’s Love

Picture it: 1950s Harlem. A young man is walking by a record store. Through the window he spots a beautiful young woman behind the cash register, visibly enjoying an episode of I Love Lucy. Something urges him inside – he grabs the Help Wanted sign out of the window just to have something to say. The young woman, Sylvie (Tessa Thompson), attempts a quick dismissal, but her father (Lance Reddick) stops the young man, and engages him on the spot. I’m not sure Robert (Nnamdi Asomugha) meant to find employment on this day, but it’s a great excuse to see Sylvie again, so he’s not about to turn it down.

SYLVIEÕS LOVE

In fact, Robert is a jazz musician, he plays the sax, and he’s very impressed by Sylvie’s deep love and knowledge of music. They spend a lot of time together in the record store, exchanging stories, and barbs, and heated looks. You might even say they were falling in love, except for one little hiccup: Sylvie was engaged to be married. Her fiancé Lacy is away for the summer, but they’ve been very much betrothed ever since her mother caught them making out. This little speedbump keeps the flames on low for a little while, but they’re young, they’re attractive, they actually like each other – soon those flames ignite because passion cannot be denied. But then summer’s over and Robert’s jazz quartet is taking him away, to Paris. He invites his love Sylvie of course, but at the last moment she demurs, she stays and he leaves. Sylvie is pregnant of course, but Robert must never know; she believes in his talent and won’t get in the way of his dreams. They part.

Five years later, Sylvie is married to fiancé Lacy (Alano Miller), who married her knowing she was pregnant with another man’s child. He provides for Sylvie and Michelle but it’s instantly clear that theirs is no love match, and we can’t help but compare it unfavourably to that of Sylvie and Robert, and suspect that she must as well. Like any good love story, Sylvie and Robert’s isn’t over yet. They will cross paths again, and try again. Great romances aren’t about the destination, they’re about the journey. It’s the story that matters, the obstacles overcome, destiny pulling them together.

Writer-director Eugene Ashe gives us a lush period romance with Black leads, which the genre has heretofore tended to ignore. But he also grants us a full picture of Sylvie’s life, which doesn’t just revolve around this one crush, but is populated with family, ambition, dreams, and obligation. Because she’s an actual person, her love story isn’t straight-forward. Real life seeps in, threatens to wipe the shine off new love. The triumph is in honouring love despite its challenges. It’s in making the compromises and acknowledging one’s surroundings and still pursuing the heart’s desire. Sylvie’s Love is one for the ages.

Love Sarah

Sarah and her best friend Isabella (Shelley Conn) were on the verge of opening up their very own bakery, a long time shared aspiration, when Sarah died tragically, leaving behind unfulfilled dreams and a lease that Isabella was now responsible for alone, despite having lost her baker, an essential element in most bakeries, you’ll find.

Sarah’s aimless daughter Clarissa (Shannon Tarbet) and her estranged mother Mimi (Celia Imrie) decide to join her in Sarah’s stead. And Sarah’s ex, Matthew (Rupert Penry-Jones), shows up too, thank goodness, because this bakery was still very much in need of a baker, although it turns out Isabella is perfectly capable of doing the baking, she just lacked the confidence. But that’s not all Matthew’s contributing to the bakery! He’s also putting out daddy vibes, leaving Clarissa to question whether he might the mystery father she’s never known and her mother never revealed. Oh, and he makes the pretty pastries of course, which do indeed look good enough to eat, so if food porn is what you’re after, this movie’s got loads, presented rather prettily on a buffet of white platters. But for some reason, they’re just not selling. The bakery makes no money at all until they decide to rebrand and start baking up international delights to lure in London’s many and varied immigrants.

The bakery thriving or failing is almost secondary to these characters’ healing, which they’re all needing to slightly different extents. Healing takes different forms of course – romance, success, family, forgiveness – and it’s not just the bakery at work but the fact that these four people have found each other in their hour of need and created a community for themselves that fosters connection and leaves everyone just a little less isolated with their grief or their loneliness.

On a scale from “microwaving for one” to “molecular gastronomy,” Love Sarah is canned pasta sauce, not particularly complex or memorable, but easy and comforting. It’s sweet, it’s got wonderful performances, it feels good in a heartening, borderline inspirational way. It’s very watchable, and would in fact pair well with a nice slice of cake and a tall glass of milk.

Frozen In Love

January is the most depressing month of the year; the 24th has the unfortunate reputation of being the absolute worst day of all. The joy of the holidays is over, the bill are due, the work has piled up, and there’s lots of long, cold winter months ahead. Maybe you’re feeling down because you’ve already broken your new year resolutions, maybe you’re feeling blue because you’ve hardly seen the sun, or maybe it’s because what feels like a “winter wonderland” on Christmas feels more like a “snowy, slushy shithole” just a week later – pass the Advil, my back is killing me from shoveling all that goddamned snow.

Bear with me, I do have a point. OR MAYBE the reason you’re feeling a little less happy is because the Hallmark Christmas romance movies have dried up, and you’ve had to tuck away the corner of your heart that enjoys them in the same storage bin as the wreath and the wrapping paper. But rejoice! The Hallmark channel is actually all year round now, and you can be enjoying generic winter romance movies like this one RIGHT FREAKING NOW!

Mary (Rachel Leigh Cook) is the owner of a severely struggling book store (also just known as a book store these days). It’s facing closure if she doesn’t magically rebrand it into something people will choose to overpay for books at in a really big way. She’s got a friend in PR who vows to help, but I think we should check her credentials because her great idea is to use a “buddy system,” pairing 2 of her clients (her only 2 clients as far as we know) together to somehow turn each other’s luck around. If Mary, a book store owner, doesn’t know how to run her book store profitably, why would anyone who is not a book store owner? And Mary doesn’t wind up paired with anyone, she winds up paired with Adam (Niall Matter), the bad boy of hockey. He’s been kicked off any number of teams and has recently received a 10 game suspension for being naughty again. He has to rehab his image and you know what they say: only a failing book store can do that!

Naturally, Mary and Adam hate each other at first; she’s a know-it-all but never-do, and he’s a jerk. But working together to solve their common book store-hockey problem turns their animosity into instant attraction. Hubba hubba! Only one problem: if they’re successful and his team takes him back, it’ll take him away from Mary and back on the road to unspecified glory. Oh well, that little wrinkle is their problem, not yours. It’s January. Take some time for yourself. Pour generously. Sit cozily. Munch happily. And watch guilt-free, because you deserve it, year round.

All My Life

Jennifer (Jessica Rothe) and Solomon (Harry Shum Jr.) are a happy young couple. They’ve had their share of ups and downs like anyone else, and he’s struggled to balance his desire to pursue his passion for food as a career and do the responsible thing, keeping his stable but uninspired job to provide for his new little family. Because oh yes: they’re making a go of it. Sol’s asked Jen to marry him, and she’s said yes, and they’ve got happily ever after twinkling in their eyes. Wedding plans are in the works but you know they didn’t make a movie about this couple because everything was easy for them.

Inspired by a true love story, Jennifer and Sol’s relationship is about to get tested, big time. Sol’s got liver cancer, which means wedding plans are put on hold and every last penny is poured into life saving treatment rather than cakes and dresses. But their supportive friends and family take pity on them, pitching in and asking for help from strangers to grant Jen and Sol their dream wedding, a beautiful bright spot during an otherwise terrible time.

It’s nothing we haven’t seen before. True love tested by tear-jerking terminal cancer. But All My Life is helped considerably by charismatic leads with chemistry, a supporting cast that truly uplifts, and a story that may not be original, but is nonetheless well-executed. If you’re in the mood for a weepie, this one’s going to fit the bill.

Palm Springs

Nyles (Andy Samberg) is in Palm Springs (I assume – the title might have you believe this is of even the slightest importance, but it’s really not, could be anywhere) for a wedding. His girlfriend is a bridesmaid and he’s her plus one, which doesn’t quite account for just how uninvested he is in the proceedings. Even if you’re not close to the couple, you generally want to be respectful of their big day. Nyles shows up in a bad Hawaiian shirt, pops beers all ceremony long, and then hijacks the maid of honour’s speech to the bride. You can’t quite pinpoint how or why Nyles seems just a little bit off, but he is, considerably, and yet when he directs his charm toward the bride’s sister and maid of honour, Sarah (Cristin Milioti), even she seems unable to resist, and she doesn’t appear to be having a great day herself.

What gives? Turns out, it’s one of those infinite time loop situations you might have heard about. You know, like Groundhog Day? And a dozen other copycats, none of worth mentioning? Yeah, like that. Nyles has been reliving the same day over and over for goodness knows how long (you know who does know? The screenwriter. Excellent source. His answer: about 40 years. Forty fucking years!). Anyway, after a particularly nice day spent with Sarah, she follows him into the time loop cave of doom despite him cautioning her not to. The rest isn’t so much history as an infinite present. Nyles has 40 years of this under his belt, so he’s given himself over completely to nihilism (hence the Hawaiian shirt), but Sarah is new enough to the game to be fed by her anger, resentment, and frustration. She wants out, and she’s so determined to solve or win the time loop, she’ll try anything, including but not limited to: exploding an innocent goat, getting hit by a truck, making the ultimate sacrifice, and learning quantum physics.

Time loop movies are a dime a dozen and I haven’t liked a single one since Bill Murray, but now, suddenly, there are two. Like Groundhog Day, Palm Springs is a rom-com of sorts, or perhaps an anti-rom-com – there is no worse romance killer, not even death, than too much time together. But one man’s existential crisis is another man’s pure entertainment. Samberg and Milioti not only have a viable chemistry, she brings a darkness that balances Samberg’s goofball energy perfectly so that, despite the extreme challenge to mental health in this film, we don’t fly off the deep end of either side of the continuum, but we do enjoy a sliding scale of extremes and a lot of laughs because of it. Writer Andy Siara keeps us intrigued with a script that is unpredictable and unexpected, but most of all coated in well-earned giggles that are executed perfectly by the cast, including JK Simmons as Roy, someone else caught in the infinite loop thanks to Nyles, and not super gracious about it either. Siara and director Max Barbakow work well together to subvert our expectations and challenge what we think we know about rom-coms.

Palm Springs was bought by Hulu at Sundance for a record-setting sum: 17.5 million dollars and 69 cents. The 69 cents set the record; Birth of a Nation held it before this, and that turned out to be a bit of a debacle, didn’t it? But Palm Springs was a great investment for Hulu, becoming the most-streamed in its first weekend Hulu had ever seen. Since Canada doesn’t have Hulu, it is now available to stream on Amazon Prime, and that’s a good thing, because Palm Springs is one of the brightest spots in an otherwise dull year.

Modern Persuasion

Wren (Alicia Witt) is started one day at work to find that her ex-boyfriend Owen (Shane McRae) has hired her firm to do work for his wildly successful company. Her firm has suffered some financial setbacks and has recently had to downgrade its offices to keep running, so there’s no question of turning this down. They need the money, and a win. But Wren and Owen haven’t spoken in years – things ended badly, and you can’t exactly blame Wren for not wanting to relive the relationship in front of her coworkers.

While trying to avoid Owen, Wren gets to know his right hand man, Sam (Dominic Rains), who is handsome, sensitive, and still tending his own wounds from a rather bad breakup. He’s basically irresistible. But Wren’s aunt Vanessa (Bebe Neuwirth) is pushing her toward someone else – Tyler (Christopher O’Shea) is handsome and fun and pushy enough to insinuate himself to the head of the pack.

Who we are and how we’re feeling colour the way we watch movies – they way we interpret any story, really. And the way I’m colouring things these days is in red and green. It’s Christmastime and I’ve been watching Hallmark movies nearly round the clock, some of which even star Ms. Alicia Witt. So I confess that a) I assumed I knew which of these suitors she’d end up with, based on the tried and true Hallmark formula, and b) at one point I got disoriented because I realized that none of the sets were decorated within an inch of their lives. It brought me back down to earth, where I spent the rest of the movie reminding myself that this wasn’t a Hallmark movie, and it didn’t owe me the ending I’d expected, or indeed a happy ending at all.

Of course, as a lover of books, I was also familiar with Jane Austen’s Persuasion, upon which this film is loosely based, in theme anyway, if not in faithful plotting. But I never did shake that Hallmark feeling. Is it possible that Jane Austen is the prototypical romance writer, and Hallmark’s just be cribbing her style this whole time? In fact, it is very possible, and Modern Persuasion might be the greatest evidence of the fact.

Overall, the movie is a pretty light affair. Its modernity is rather unsubtle and at times cringey, but you can always see where it’s coming from and how it got there. It’s not adding much to the genre, as undemanding as cinema gets, really, a big flimsy and forgettable, but I do see its use: in just a few days, the 2020 Christmas season will be over, and with it goes Hallmark’s slate of holiday romance movies for another year. This piece might be a welcome transition so you don’t have to go cold turkey. It should help with your Hallmark detox and bridge that gap between Christmas romance and Valentine’s romance, and we all know that January is indeed an overwhelming and icy gap, so warm your cockles with a dose of Modern Persuasion.

AVAILABLE DIGITALLY AND ON DEMAND FRIDAY, DECEMBER 18TH 2020
AND IN SELECT CANADIAN THEATRES

Wild Mountain Thyme

According to critics, I really shouldn’t like this movie. They make some pretty valid arguments, yet I’m going to stray from the path and mow one of my own, over the green, green hills of Ireland, which provide such lusty landscape porn over the opening credits alone that I need very little further convincing.

Neighbouring farms belonging to the Muldoons and the Reillys have supplied friction as well as friendship over the years, and if this was anywhere else this might have made them enemies, but these two generational farming families are wise enough to know not to completely estrange the very people who will be counted upon in a pinch should the need arise, and the need is always arising. Rosemary Muldoon (Emily Blunt) and Anthony Reilly (Jamie Dornan) have known each other their entire lives, and since there’s not exactly an excess of options, it’s been assumed by locals that they would someday marry. Now their elderly parents are dying off, but the relationship hasn’t deepened much beyond “Good morning to ya'” because Anthony is terminally awkward and believes too strongly in a family curse. And he’s always at odds with his father (Christopher Walken), who decides to pass over bachelor Anthony in favour of keeping the family name and the farm’s inheritance alive and well. Enter Anthony’s American cousin Adam (Jon Hamm), a Yank in every sense of the word. Arrogant, showy, with no real concept of farming, Adam’s worst crime is of course this his eye is immediately caught by the girl next door, Rosemary, who is understandably growing antsy waiting for “shy,” “slow” Anthony to come around.

Writer-director John Patrick Shanley adapts his own play for the screen and gives us a unique love story specific to a corner of Ireland just outside Mullingar. Rosemary and Anthony remain separated by a gate and a silly family feud, but they’re emotionally separated as well, never really able to connect. Since we spend privileged time with both, we’re privy to them each burning up from wanting the other, which makes their failure to connect all the more frustrating.

You’ll need three things to even have a hope of enjoying Wild Mountain Thyme: 1. patience; she’s a slow burn, folks 2. a willingness to overlook some pretty dodgy accents, and 3. a willingness to let go of convention and embrace its offbeat charm. Wild Mountain Thyme isn’t just set in Ireland, but set in its own time and place, a place that looks Irish and a time that seems like the 21st century, and yet is so rural and insular not only have modern conveniences barely touched them, our grown-ass protagonists also seem almost child-like in their (lack of) lived experience. They’re naïve. The film has its own rules and internal logic but doesn’t feel compelled to share them with us, things just are how they are and you can either love it or leave it, and honestly I won’t blame you either way. Like all truly quirky movies, this one is not meant for everyone. For those of us whose souls thirst for the truly eccentric, it is a puzzle not to be solved but to be admired for its opacity. When things come out of left field, we should merely note what a lovely field it is, and remember to admire the right one as well, while we’re at it. I know first hand what it is to spend a movie yelling “WHAT THE HELL IS HAPPENING” at the screen and checking wild-eyed with our co-watchers to see if they, too, are experiencing the brain melt. But this one simmered just above that level for me, an enjoyable stew of lyricism, unconventionality, and idiosyncratic story-telling that exists well outside the normal realm of romance I couldn’t help but admire its bold posture.

The last time John Patrick Shanley adapted his own work for us, we got Doubt, a small film with big impact. This is not Doubt. It is very much its own thing, without comparison or peers. Emily Blunt, of course, could make me watch almost anything; every performance seems to find some new undiscovered corner of her essence as she stretches to reach corners of the human spirit she hasn’t shown us before. She’s the best thing in this, and reason to watch all on her own, as long as you’re up for some uncommon trappings.

Wild Mountain Thyme is in select theatres now, and will be available on digital and on-demand Dec 22.

 

A California Christmas

Joseph (Josh Swickard) has a lot to prove working for his mother’s company, and he’s determined once and for all that he’s worthy of the job. He’s sent out to a ranch down on its luck to convince the family to sell before Christmas. Joseph is convinced this will be an in and out job, but boy was he wrong.

For some reason, he ends up posing as ranch hand “Manny” and believes that working alongside owner Callie (Lauren Swickard) and getting to know her will provide invaluable insider knowledge so he’ll know exactly what buttons to push to get her to agree (when he eventually reveals himself, one supposes). This actually requires a man with soft hands to work on a dairy farm for some time, which isn’t exactly Joseph’s forte. Luckily he’s got his driver Leo (Ali Afshar) stashed nearby, and Leo’s rooming with the real Manny (David Del Rio), who can be coaxed with cash to provide insight into the job and even he wardrobe.

Laura Swickard wrote A California Christmas, and stars in it with her real-life husband. She wrote a thirst trap for her own husband (who starts removing his shirt well before the ranch work commences). Do they have chemistry? Sure. Nothing crazy, but they’re watchable together. Less watchable: Gunnar Anderson, who is mis-cast as the film’s antagonist. It’s hard to take a man with curly hair seriously as a cattle hand, let alone as a villain – no matter how oversized the tires on his truck are, and believe me, he’s compensating for something MAJOR with the size of those babies.

Callie’s got a sick mother, a dead father, and a tragic backstory; Swickard has really written herself a juicy part, but while she thinks it’s a beautiful piece of tenderloin, it’s actually a hamburger steak, and there’s not enough gravy in the world to convince me otherwise.

This movie is trying to disguise itself as a romantic Christmas movie, and while it does okay in the romance department, it’s a complete failure holiday-wise. However, once the setting was established as Petaluma, I knew that the movie was really neither – it was really part of the Petaluma conspiracy that seems to be even vaster than I’d imagined. A lot of films coming out of Petaluma these days are very thinly veiled ranching propaganda.

Altogether, this is a pretty forgettable movie, and if you’re in the mood for something sweet and Christmassy, you’re better off over at Hallmark.

A New York Christmas Wedding

Jennifer loves David but her overbearing almost-mother-in-law is pushing them into a high-society Christmas Eve wedding in just a few months that Jennifer doesn’t really want. Having lost both her parents and her childhood best friend Gabby, the holidays have always been hard for Jennifer, and she’s worried her loneliness will be more pronounced. But never mind that: Jennifer (Nia Fairweather) is about to meet her fairy godfather (Cooper Koch) who sends her to an alternate universe to, you know, learn a lesson or whatever.

Alternate Jennifer is in a committed relationship with her dead childhood best friend Gabby (Adriana DeMeo), who is not dead in this version of reality, obviously. Neither is her father, which is nice. But instead of an overbearing mother-in-law ruining her impending wedding, they’re now dealing with a heartbreaking rejection from their catholic church. Father Kelly (Chris Noth) has been instrumental in their lives but his hands are tied – the church does not permit or approve of same sex marriage.

Full disclosure: there are no Christmas weddings in this movie. There is no Christmas, period. Writer-director Otoja Abit (he also plays David) seems to be trading on the romantic holiday theme to bring attention to his gay rights in the church movie. Which is a little dishonest, but I guess you gotta do what you gotta do.

It’s a timely film considering a documentary by Evgeny Afineevsky called Francesco that premiered at the Rome Film Festival a couple of weeks ago featured comments by Pope Francis that seemed to indicate his acceptance of same sex civil unions. Not of marriage in the church of course, and certainly not of “homosexual acts” which are of course still very very wrong and very sinful. But hey, if two dudes want to spend a committed life together, raise a family and share a marriage, that’s cool, they can put a ring on it and get the tax breaks as long as they promise to never have sex.

That Father Kelly even considers their request is a work of more fantasy and fiction than the godfather’s alternate universe in which it exists. I guess it’s nice to dream.

If it sounds interesting to you, A New York Christmas Wedding is a tolerable watch. It has that much in common with the romantic holiday movie it pretends to be: it’s low budget and medium quality but don’t mind the genre, then you won’t mind it’s production values. It’ll do.

Holidate

I’m not a Scrooge, but I generally like to keep my Christmas season to about 2-3 weeks total. Both Sean and my young niece share an early December birthday, so I don’t really open the Christmas floodgates until after that, when I can give it my full attention. Many others, including my mother, and my sister (the mother of said niece), are very early celebrants, decking their halls promptly on November 12th (we observe Remembrance Day on the 11th), and would love to do it earlier if decency allowed. Stores unveil their Christmas fare earlier and earlier; they used to wait for Halloween to pass but it is now not uncommon to see wares for both holidays as early as August. Which is when some people start watching holiday movies, according to Netflix. For a longtime the Hallmark channel had a stranglehold on the kind of Christmas movie I’m talking about: the cheesy romance holiday film, low-budget and incredibly formulaic, and yet as much a tradition in some people’s holidays as trees and stockings. Lifetime has gotten in on the action, and now Netflix has too, running last season’s Hallmark movies, and pushing their own Christmas franchises, like the Royal Christmas and Christmas Switch. Holidate, which started streaming on the service on October 28th, seemed early enough to be declaring war on the other sources: “we’re Here, We’re full of good tidings & cheer, Get used to it.” Alas, no. Holidate is only about 10% Christmas, a very tolerable amount even outside of the season, so you can quench your eggnog-equivalent movie thirst with Holidate and not even feel ashamed. Rejoice!

Sloane (Emma Roberts) is fed up by her family’s constant, invasive questions about her marital status – specifically, her lack thereof. Her mother Elaine (Frances Fisher) can’t imagine a fate worse than singledom for her daughter, so you can imagine her ongoing disappointment when Sloane remains in this dreadful state year after year. Christmas is just one among many holidays that prove intolerable to the spinster at the table. So when Sloane meets Jackson (Luke Bracey), a single guy who’s spent too many uncomfortable holidays in the presence of regrettable dates, they seem like a perfect match. They resolve on being each other’s ‘holidate,’ their reliable plus one to holiday-related events but no more, no friends, no benefits. Nothing outside the holidays.

It works pretty great, for a while. They have fun together, even though I still maintain that St Patrick’s day and mother’s day aren’t exactly romantic holidays that require dates, and that Labour Day is hardly a holiday, period. And yet.

And yet the dubious plot is hardly the film’s greatest challenge. Emma Roberts and Luke Bracey have no chemistry. In Roberts’ defense, it’s hard to have chemistry with a cardboard-humanoid Chris Hemsworth replacement product.

Holidate pretends to be self-aware, Sloane rolling her eyes at corny rom-coms that always predictably end in love, which the poster never bothers to hide, and yet the film then unabashedly follows the same formula in all the expected cheesy ways. It would be better to say nothing at all than to call attention to the rules you aren’t about to break.

That said, Holidate isn’t an awful movie. As far as holiday romances go, it’s perfectly middle of the road, exactly the kind of movie that is easily half-watched as you prepare a meal or fold some laundry or wrap some gifts. It probably goes down easier with some wine (like most things, but never more true than with Hallmark-esque movies of a holiday nature). And you can dip into it, guilt-free, in November, or anytime you please.