Without fail, at least once a month I peruse my DVD collection looking for a solid film focused on a female star -- a film where the woman is smart and successful, a film that focuses on something other than her romantic foibles. It's like I think wishing for there to be more films that fit "The Rule" will create a whole slew of new selections in my library. If only ... But there aren't a horde of these films to pick from, so that often means picking something of the romantic variety, often with a side of comedy.
But oh, the woes of romantic comedies. These days the term usually meets the following criteria: women acting irrationally, men being jerky, unbelievable occurrences taking place over and over again -- you know, all those super-fun stereotypes that every damn romcom these days seems to latch onto.
However, there are some romantic comedies out there that cater to those outside the throngs who thrive on fashion-obsessed ladies and relationship stereotypes. Sure, the films might get sappy or take an easy laugh here or there, but they also showcase a variety of relationships and romantic scenarios without falling into that typical void. These films work for a variety of themes -- the fantasy, the lesbians, the intellectuals, the music lovers, the single people, the passion fiends, and the lovers of foreign film -- and prove that romance is about a lot more engaging, and a lot more real, than many movies might suggest.
The Princess Bride
I've had this film on the brain a lot recently, which is part of the inspiration for this post. See, the movie keeps popping up in conversation, ever since I went to a party where a drunk girl was adamant that it was a film men loved much more than women. Obviously, her logic is not our Earth logic since The Princess Bride is one of those films that just about everyone likes. Why? I'd say that it's because the romance is strengthened by smart wordplay and a myriad of engaging characters that balance the story. Yes, it's the tale of true love, but it reigns in the sap so that the romance balances nicely with the unfolding adventure. How else would a young Fred Savage stand it?
Imagine Me & You
This has to be one of the most underrated romcoms that I've seen in years. It's proof that a romantic story doesn't have to rely on unbelievable situations and caricatures to be cinematic and charming. The character's everyday actions are easily relatable -- instead of female fashion frenzies and male machismo, their actions exceed beyond stereotypical bounds. There's grocery shopping and small dinner parties, sporting events (attended not by the boys, but girls!), fireworks... Sure, there's also some of that sappy, love-at-first-sight chatter, but it's nice to see a film that not only details the divide between passionate love and platonic love, but also maintains a sense of normalcy.
Now Woody Allen isn't the most normal man out there, and the mere fact that he has often cast himself opposite Hollywood's top leading ladies is certainly wishfully self-indulgent, but Annie Hall has a real, engaging depth to it. There's a healthy dose of absurdity, but that's the point. Where some films will take this to their illogical conclusion, Allen does it to speak to a greater truth. As Alvy, when speaking of relationships, he says: "y'know, they're totally irrational, and crazy, and absurd, and ... but, I guess we keep goin' through it because most of us ... need the eggs."
Often seen as the man's romantic comedy, High Fidelity offers a satirical view of the over-used romantic mainstays, but does so in a way that's pretty easy to relate to. Perhaps it is the music that helps us, or how even when he's being ridiculously over the top, John Cusack can make things seem real and genuine. The stereotypes are there, but they're also ridiculed, preying on our tendency to make assumptions that often have little semblance to reality.
It's funny. While Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous was the film that blew me away, Singles is the one that I always go back to. With an ensemble cast settled nicely into Seattle's '90s grunge scene, the film gives a little bit of everything -- nostalgia, crazy romantic antics, fear, growing up, and more. Crowe once said that the characters are based on composites and that the film is a "slice of life, with long scenes so you're able to observe the twitch on a guy's face when he's talking to a girl." Real moments mixed with characters who actually look real, or did back in the '90s, it's like a little bit of voyeuristic, romantic fun.
I first saw this film in the theaters, when I was ten years old. Even though there was a screen full of actors and actresses much older than me, and in an entirely different, Italian-centric Brooklyn world, I dug it. Heck, I still do. For some, the story is completely relatable, for some it's not, but either way, it's charming and easy to enjoy. Both Cher and Olympia Dukakis won Academy Awards for their performances, and it's hard not to fall into the story of a woman who commits to the easy relationship without love before getting swept up into the tumultuous world of passion.
Finally, there's Amelie. It's part fantasy, part reality, and full of charm. While much of the film looks nothing like most of our real lives, it's still extremely recognizable. Amelie taps into to all those inner-head moments we all have, whether day-dreaming or wishing for a world that was just a little bit different. As she strives to make those around her happy, it's with such simple brilliance that it's hard not to like -- especially the wonderful, world-traveling gnome.