There was a time when I was a romantic. Crazy, over-the-top, hopeless, Phantom of the Opera (novel and musical) loving, Jane Eyre quoting, Colin Firth-induced drooling, Tchaikovsky overdosing, self-proclaimed romantic. During undergrad I wrote short stories about doomed love affairs where young artists dying of consumption spent their final days in the arms of the women they were born to love — La Boheme, anyone? — and a novel about a girl who was so love with the boy next door that she dressed up like a boy and joined the Union army only witness the death of her brother and get shot herself. It’s happy to be a romantic, let me tell you. Is there a dramatic equivalent of schadenfreude? Or maybe it’s still pleasure derived from someone else’s pain even if you want to cry with them as opposed to laugh at them. It’s the wanting that makes the difference, right?
I might have been a bit of a freak in undergrad. Egad.
Point is, somewhere between then and now I got a little — I think the word folks like to use is cynical. Why is that? Have I had my heart broken? I mean, really broken — shattered into sharp-edged, man-hating, Ben and Jerry’s commiserating, not leaving my apartment except for pizza anti-social, sitting alone in the dark and crying when it’s sunny outside depressed, irreparable bits sucked into a vacuum cleaner full of lies? Is that an overstatement? Yes, I did really just write two of those overblown sentences within mere lines of each other so that you can see a demonstration of the kind of nut I was. Am? Hmm.
If I’m cynical now, it’s not because some two-bit returned missionary stomped on my heart. It’s because I go to the movies to renew my faith in true love and, well… Recently that particular addiction hasn’t been getting the proper fix. Which means I’m not cynical; I’m just cranky.
Romantic comedies suck lately. And I think I know what the problem is.
They aren’t romantic anymore. Cheap laughs, people. The vast majority of the romantic comedies being made in recent years — both supposed chick flicks and bro-mances — aren’t about a girl and boy getting together. They’re about badly staged prat falls and potty humor. Low angles of short skirts and frat boys in drunken stupors. Yes, I know I shouldn’t keep going with the drug metaphor, but that’s some really cheap crack you’re making me smoke; I’m not even going to get high, let alone get my fix. I want a love story, people! Give me a love story.
This last Friday I saw a movie I initially didn’t think I would enjoy at all: Letters to Juliet. The title alone says why I was skeptical. It was billed as a romantic comedy and totally looked sap-tastic. Admittedly, I went in with pretty low expectations. But that left the door open for Vanessa Redgrave to sneak in and steal my heart.
See, here’s the thing. The trailer makes you think the movie is about this girl Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) falling in love with this boy Charlie (Chris Egan). And it is. But at the same time, it’s about Charlie’s grandmother Claire (Redgrave) reconnecting with a lost love from fifty years in her past. And she steals every scene she’s in, which makes me say three cheers and palm fronds all round.
Vanessa Redgrave aside — because, let’s face it, she’s always amazing, so the fact that she is here, too, isn’t really that much of a surprise — the movie works for me because it’s not trying to make me laugh. There are funny moments — very, very funny moments — but they come organically out of the romance.
Is the movie flawed? Yes. But there was so much to like that I was overlooking the bits I didn’t. Movies are like people; none are perfect, and whether or not you like one depends on you. The movies that work highlight the good stuff to distract us from the less shiny moments. Yes, there are unbelievable characters. Unlikable ones. Silly ones. You can’t seem to get away from those, and sometimes you actually need them. The jerk in the film isn’t a jerk just because we’re told he is; he can’t get over his business long enough to actually pay attention to his fiancée. That’s a genuine problem people have, and I’m pretty sure I’ve met that guy before. Several of them, actually.
Really there’s not just one love story happening here, but two, which is good for my habit; and that made everything okay in the end. Well, maybe not exactly. I actually was kind of brassed because the very end of the movie didn’t match the rest of it — that was the bit that was sap-tastic, if you can believe it — but Vanessa Redgrave and Franco Nero more than make up for it. Seeing them together is magical. I totally fell for it. Totally and completely.
So maybe I’m still a hopeless romantic after all.
…Huh. Oh, well.