I have an eclectic taste when it comes to romantic comedies. That’s not to say I’m a movie snob – quite the contrary, really. I enjoy a pointless movie as much as the next gal, and sometimes Oscar bait and critic favorites leave me cold. I’m easily amused and will watch pretty much anything involving a good premise, or an actor I like.
I’ve enjoyed myself immensely watching flicks that tanked at the box office, and sometimes have no interest in huge hits like Notebook or the Titanic.
Some movies I enjoy just because they make 2 hours pleasantly go by. They’re not pretentious or thought-provoking, they’re just meant as good fun, and they actually deliver. Magic Mike, Two Night Stand, No Strings Attached, Friends With Benefits, Easy A were all thoroughly enjoyable. Others are deeper, sadder, more complex, such as Silver Linings Playbook, the underappreciated The Oranges, Crazy, Stupid, Love, or even Win Win.
I don’t have much of a system when it comes to listing my favorites among this type of movie: I simply save the ones I enjoyed on my hard drive for a rainy day.
The problem is, all these moves have one thing in common: when you try to find others like them to add to your watchlist, every single so-called informed and accurate suggestion keeps recycling the same titles. At some point you just have to succumb to the will of the masses and take their suggestions to heart.
Which brings me to the moviethon I had last weekend.
Aside from the snoozefest that was Only Lovers Left Alive, I watched The Art of Getting By (2011), Stuck In Love (2012) and The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012).
I subconcsiously just listed them in the order I would rank them, rather than the order I watched them.
The Art of Getting By wasn’t bad. It wasn’t spectacularly good, either. A teenage boy who hasn’t really completed a day of work in his life is befriended by a gorgeous popular girl, and that marks the beginning of what is, for most of the movie, a one-sided infatuation. Hanging out together makes them realize they’re kindred spirits, although that’s mostly nuanced in the movie. The boy’s artistic inclinations make him popular – which, I’m sorry, has never really happened in the real world unless those artistic inlinations are expressed with electric guitars, sultry voices and a lot of sulking. Okay, he’s got the sulking down pat, but when did doodling on your schoolbooks ever score you more friends in high school?
Anyway, we watch them walk around NYC, cut school, go to clubs and parties. Then, an improbable friendship between the boy and an alumni now making a living as an artist throws a spanner in the works when it comes to the boy’s quest to win over the girl, who keeps leading him on but ends up sleeping with the artist. Meanwhile, the boy is looking at the very real possibility of not graduating, because, as mentioned above, he’s never really done a day’s work (or, in this case, homework). It’s his intellect that helps him get by, and although he’s articulate and smart, at no point during the movie is he presented as a genius.
As graduation looms closer and both kids’ home situations get bleaker, which was one of the things that brought them closer to begin with, they’re faced with decisions. For the boy, it’s either cram like hell to complete a whole year’s work in a matter of days. For the girl, it’s either move to Texas with her mom and her new fiance, or backpack across Europe with the alumni artist all summer, and then who knows?
In the end, of course everything works out. The boy’s mom throws his useless stepdad out and sells the apartment to deal with her financial problems (largely caused by the stepdad); the boy graduates; the girl opts for neither trip and returns to school to find that the art project that got the boy over the line was a beautiful portrait of her. She doesn’t know what she’ll do next. He wants to get into an art school. It’s (almost) happily ever after. Boy meets girl, boy gets girl by the end of the third act. Ta-da!
I felt underwhelmed by the movie, largely because of missed opportunities. Teenagers in NYC, rather in suburbia, is an idea that should have been explored more. Cutting school to watch a matinee just doesn’t really cut it for me. The girl was mostly portrayed as the femme fatale who, although warned by her mother against toying with the boy, did just that – and all was forgiven. The boy still doesn’t convince me he’s capable of salvaging his grades and actually graduating. I either have too much faith in the school system, or too little in his abilities.
It was an okay movie, but nothing to write home about.
Then came Stuck In Love (2012). Bigger stars in this cast, featuring Jennifer Connelly and Greg Kinnear, and a more uplifting tone. At first glance, the movie has it all: adults stumbling through their love lives just as their kids are. Teen literary prodigies (one publishing her first book at 19, the other getting a rave review of his short story by his favorite author); the daughter terrified of falling in love and experiencing her college life by being promiscuous, the son a hopeless romantic falling for a girl with a drug and alcohol problem. The father still clinging to the hope that his divorced wife will see the error of her ways and return to him; the wife struggling to convince herself she made the right choice by leaving him, even if this decision cost her the affection of her own daughter.
The movie is cleverly written and well-acted throughout. The sad scenes always leave a flimmer of hope. The funny scenes are actually funny. There is even a mini-makeover scene where the wonderful Kristen Bell is giving her fuck-buddy dating advice.
In the end, everything seems to fall into place organically. The father finally admits the truth to his daughter: her mom is not the bad guy here, so she should give her a break. The daughter, hurt by the boyfriend she originally fought hard not to fall for, returns to him and is there for him during the painful loss of his cancer-stricken mother. The addict that is the object of the son’s affection goes to rehab and writes him heartfelt letters. He finally has life experience to write about, and his efforts are recognized. Finally, just when the dad decides it’s time to stop setting another place at the Thanksgiving table, hoping for a surprise visit by the mom, she comes knocking at the door, asking for a second chance.
It’s a sweet film about kids and adults all struggling with the concept of love, each in their own way. Though slightly unrealistic, it doesn’t feel fake. The dialogue is consistent throughout, and maybe what makes it good is that it doesn’t appear to take itself too seriously.
This one I would watch again. It stays on my hard drive.
But this next movie has been on my hard drive for a while. I downloaded The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012) when it first came out and ever really felt like watching it, because the premise seemed slightly boring. An introvert is befriended by older kids and gains significant life experience in the process. Okay, so…?
Boy am I glad I was proven wrong.
The boy in question is Charlie, a lonely freshman who, like any introvert in high school, doesn’t have it easy. His only new friend on his first day of school is his English teacher, which is sad when you’re a fifteen year old trying to fit in, as our protagonist acknoledges right away.
Through a series of flashbacks and exposition, we learn that the kid’s had it tough: not only has he lost his best friend to suicide, he’s also lost his favorite aunt, who had been an abuse victim. So when seniors Patrick and his step-sister Sam take him under their wings, he is liberated. They bond over their love of music, which is such an important aspect of every teenager’s life, portrayed so beautifully here. The two older kids introduce them to their friends, take him out on the town, show him a good time. They drive through a tunnel, blasting the radio to David Bowie’s “Heroes”, which immediately becomes their song, although they have no idea which song it is at the time.
Naturally, he falls head over heels with Sam, who by her own admission used to be slutty, but now just seems to fall for the wrong guy (she later finds out her college boyfriend has been cheating and dumps him). He helps her study for her SATs, they share a kiss (his first!), she shares a story about her own first kiss, from a grown up who molested her.
Meanwhile, he and Patrick share a little secret too: Patrick is gay, secretly hooking up with the star football player of the school. When the football star’s father catches them in the act, the two break up, and we’re witness to the classic, cringeworthy scene of the tough guys attacking the guy kid while the closeted gay kid joins in. Surprisingly, Charlie is the one to intervene and save the day.
Sam sets Charlie up with her friend Mary Elizabeth, the somewhat quirky, homely, clingy, smart, soon-to-be-attending-Harvard senior who drives Charlie up the wall with her constant chatter. One night he break up with her in the most humiliating way, but isn’t even too upset about it, because he managed to steal a kiss from Sam in the process.
Throughout the movie, Charlie has flashbacks and occasional blackouts, all of them relating back to the night his aunt died and his own feelings of guilt for her death. When his friends graduate and he’s faced with the prospect of losing Sam, he breaks down. He’s hospitalized, and his repressed memories come to life; all this time he kept blaming himself for his aunt’s death, he hid the truth from himself and everyone else: his aunt had been molesting him. It was bleak for a while, but therapy and time worked its magic. Charlie is doing a hell of a lot better now.
The movie ends on a positive and symbolic note. His friends come home from college and take him for a drive. Sam has found the song, and plays it for Charlie.
Although dealing with difficult subjects, the movie has a decidedly uplifting tone. Each of the protagonists has their own set of problems to deal with, and nothing gets magically resolved by the end of the movie, which is good, because it would have felt like cheating. Friendship, first loves, growing up are all subjects handled beautifully throughout the film. The characters are by no means perfect, but they’re likeable and easy to relate with even if we can’t really identify with their struggles. All three main actors are brilliant in their roles. The “moral” of the story is subtly handled, not forced down our throats. It’s sad, it’s hopeful, it’s bittersweet… for those two hours, I was a teenager again. And that’s never a bad thing.
This one stays on my hard drive and will be reccommended to everyone I know.