Love is in the air, or so claim the candy and greeting card industries, insisting that the best way to show intimacy with someone is to partake in a mass regurgitation of saccharine platitudes and empty rituals. To celebrate the occasion, please find below a few romantic recommendations from our contributors. Happy Valentine’s Day!
Fever Pitch (2005)
I like romance movies as much as the next chick, but I always get annoyed at the fact that, in most romantic comedies anyway, one character comes off practically perfect and the other is invariably portrayed as a broken, insecure, commitment-phobic, arrogant or all-of-the-above jerk. Think The Proposal (2009): Ryan Reynolds’ Andrew is smart, charming, sensitive, and funny. He, of course, falls for Sandra Bullock’s Margaret, who is cold, borderline abusive, and just plain hard to stand. I’m always left wondering why that good guy bothers waiting for the object of his affection to smarten up, even as I cheer him on.
Fever Pitch avoids that cliché. Inspired by Nick Hornsby’s novel and its 1997 British adaptation, the movie tells of Lindsay (Drew Barrymore), a workaholic statistician with control issues, who falls in love with Ben (Jimmy Fallon), an inspiring math teacher and all-around great guy with a lifelong Red Sox obsession (hey, in the storm of a lonely childhood, one has to grasp at any port). Lindsay’s struggle to balance her career with his over-the-top hobby is at times uncomfortable but also very sweet. Unlike so many entries in the genre, this one has us rooting for both characters to find happiness.
Food! Fetishes! The Japanese! Tampopo offers what any good romance should: a hero, a damsel in distress, and a healthy serving of culinary kink. Several yarns are spun, each involving love and food, or rather love of food. In the main plot, Goru (Yamazaki Tsutomu), a rugged trucker, rides into town and helps a single mother, Tampopo (Miyamoto Nobuko), save her restaurant. Under his guidance, she perfects her ramen recipe and turns her life around. They develop feelings for each other, of course, but then the tale takes some unexpected turns.
Yes, the film is filled with sexy snacking, following the colorful adventures of the man in white and his pretty accomplice, who have no reservations about playing with their food. These scenes are creative, to say the least, but don’t fast-forward through the rest of the movie just to get to them. You’d be missing tasty vignettes like the old woman who molests produce, the peking duck scam, and a class on western table etiquette. Romantic and comedic, appetizing and arousing, Tampopo should be watched with that special someone in your life, and, by “special”, I mean “not easily weirded out”.
Lost and Delirious (2001)
Ah, young love! A lot of movies pander to the notion, but few capture both its intense beauty and destructive volatility like Lost and Delirious. The film tells of a forbidden love between two classmates at an all-girl boarding school, as witnessed by their new roommate Mouse (Mischa Barton). Before long, one of the lovers succumbs to peer pressure, and loyalties get divided, setting in motion a tragic chain of events that might have come off like some heavy-handed after-school special if not for director Léa Pool’s lyrical approach to the material. Consider the final shot, which avoids grisly exploitation by delving ever so slightly into surrealism (follow the bystanders’ eyes). Some have criticized the sequence for romanticizing a serious mental health issue. They make a fair point, but I was taken by the poetry of it all.
Much of the credit goes to the two leads, who portray the young couple as complex, realistically flawed individuals rather than avatars for the audience. I like, for instance, the quiet intelligence with which Jessica Paré plays Tori’s superficiality, evoking a young woman whose depth isn’t so much lacking as it is repressed. By the same token, Piper Perabo leans into Paulie’s unbridled passion with such earnestness that I felt the weight of her character’s every emotion, both high and low. Her performance alone will make you fall in love with falling in love.
If Valentine’s Day holds any value beyond the opportunity for Hallmark to bleed us of our hard-earned money (a big “if”, granted), then it should celebrate enduring love rather than burgeoning infatuation. Our culture doesn’t give enough recognition to what it takes to stick things out and make them work, and the reason is simple: the long haul doesn’t make for good stories. How does one cram a life and the slow accretion of detail, the accumulation of resentment and the deepening of affection, into a medium that demands we show, not tell?
Predictably enough, the movie I’m recommending is adapted from a book that, in turn, is based on real life. Inspired by John Bayley’s memoir regarding his wife, Iris Murdoch, and her descent into Alzheimer’s, Iris works as an elegy to the end of things. It is the sad, beautifully wrought story of a love affair at its twilight, when the body remains but the mind of the person you loved has slipped away. Why hold on? Because you do, because you’re in love, and because you can’t imagine otherwise. We should all be so lucky to have that in our lives, Hallmark card or no.