Sunday, December 16, 2012

Romantic Comedies - A Debriefing.

The American Film Institutes order: #10 - Sleepless in Seattle, #9 - Harold and Maude, #8 - Moonstruck, #7 - Adam's Rib, #6 - When Harry Met Sally, #5 - The Philadelphia Story, #4 - Roman Holiday, #3 - It Happened One Night, #2 - Annie Hall, #1 - City Lights

My order:

#10 - Adam's Rib - Too misogynist, not funny enough
#9 - Sleepless in Seattle - This is not a romance. They don't know each other.
#8 - Roman Holiday - Oh get over yourself. You only knew her for two days, and she was drugged for one of them. Move on.
#7 - The Philadelphia Story - Great cast, but the plot is odd.
#6 - Harold and Maude - Love the dark, odd Harold scenes, and Bud Cort's weirdly proportioned legs, but Maude is a little too hippie for me.
#5 - Moonstruck - The women in this movie are great and self-assured, and I love the romantic Italian atmosphere of it. Nicholas Cage remains a crazy person.
#4 - It Happened One Night - I love when this movie gets all Seinfeldian about piggyback rides and stuff, and I love the dad, surprisingly, but it's missing something. I don't know. Maybe it just needs better sound editing.
#3 - Annie Hall - Woody Allen's terrific, and I love how abstract this movie can get, but it is, admittedly, something you can only watch every once in a while. Little slow. 
#2 - City Lights - This is everything a romance should be, and Charlie Chaplin I swear is the sweetest man I've ever seen, but some of the comic routines like the boxing scene go on a little long for me.
#1 - When Harry Met Sally - This movie is perfect. Nothing is wrong with it.

Up next: Gangster movies.

Romantic Comedy #1 - City Lights (1931)

City Lights is a Charlie Chaplin movie, and honestly the most adorable thing I've ever seen. It stars Charlie Chaplin's Tramp, obviously,although I can't figure out if he's supposed to be homeless or just poor. The Tramp falls in love with a blind flower girl, who thinks that he's rich because she heard a car door close when he came up to her. He gets her money to have surgery on her eyes, even though he knows that she'll know he's not rich if she sees him, and then goes to jail for stealing for her. It has an ambiguous, bittersweet ending, because Charlie Chaplin was a troubled man.

It's so cute. This is what people are trying to do when they make romantic comedies, this is the emotion they're trying to create. The Tramp never considers not getting her the surgery to maintain his illusion - He knows that he'll lose her after that, and he's resigned to it. He doesn't want to deceive her, he just loves her. The scene when she realizes who he is sweet and heartbreaking. This is what Charlie Chaplin was really good at - Even though he's well-known for hollow slapstick, he was one of the first film comedians to bring this kind of emotion into his comedies. Granted, he was one of the first film comedians period, but still. My point stands.

Cool thing about Charlie Chaplin - He did everything in his movies - Directed, acted, scored, wrote. And he was crazy. He was supposed to have done one of the scenes 472 time.

I was also very distracted though the whole movie by how spot-on Robert Downey Jr. was in Chaplin. I'm very impressed.

Romantic Comady #2 - Annie Hall (1975)

I'm a big Woody Allen fan, when it's all said and done. I think he's terribly funny - not even just his jokes, really - he himself is very funny to me. I'm also a big fan of how he made this movie. It is, admittedly, a bit slow - that's the 70's for you - but it's got a lot of things going for it. I like the jazz, and I love the simple little titles. The nonlinear storyline is always a classic, of course. I really like my movies to be a little abstract, so I'm a huge, huge fan of the fourth wall-breaking. It's so great, and it just fits in to the movie perfectly, I absolutely love it. I always appreciate a good Truman Capote cameo. I've seen Annie Hall three times now, so by this time I've looked up most of the jokes, and it really is very funny.

I relate to Woody Allen a lot. Not the daughter-marriage part, obviously, and I don't like jazz quite as much as he does, but beyond that his movies speak to me. I've only seen three so far, but I've watched a lot of his stand-up, because I'm cool like that. I consider myself a fairly nervous person, and I like watching other nervous people be funny. It's why I like Finding Nemo.

I recently saw Diane Keaton on The Colbert Report, and I had not realized until then how much she is Annie in real life. I mean - she is a strange lady. She's weird.

Woody Allen originally wanted to call this movie Anhedonia, which is the inability to enjoy one's self, and because I knew that bit of trivia, I got that question right on a psychology test. True story.

Romantic Comedy #3 - It Happened One Night (1934)

I like It Happened One Night. It's got a lot more energy than Roman Holiday, an a much less baffling plot than The Philadelphia Story. It from a time period that you don't see a lot of live-action movies from, and so has a very cartoon-y feel. Claudette Colbert's hair looks Betty Boop-y and everything.

It's interesting to me that this movie has a very similar plot to Roman Holiday - a reporter hangs out with a run-away aristocrat, plans to sell her story, and then falls in love with her. Peter and Ellie are much more charismatic than I-forgot-their-names, though, and the movie doesn't take itself so seriously. It Happened One Night knows that it's sort of a silly movie, probably because it's just a cheap blockbuster, and that makes it much more charming. It allows itself to digress into discussions on donuts and hitchhiking without pretending they mean anymore than amiability between the leads. This movie doesn't treat every little scene as if it were weighted with the romance of the century, and that I think is what makes it so good. I'm of the opinion that a really good romance needs some degree of naturality, to make it both believable and something you can root for. A quality romance is one where the people seem to be actually happy when they're around each other.

I'm surprised by how much younger Clark Gable looks in this movie - it's only five years before Gone With the Wind. It only just struck me that he should be kind of smarmy looking, what with his mustache and his self-righteous chracter roles, but somehow he isn't. That's some charisma for you.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Romantic Comedy #4 - Roman Holiday (1953)

I'm going to cut to the chase here - I don't like Roman Holiday. At first I thought that maybe it wasn't good, that there was something wrong with it. But no. I just find it unpleasant.

It's..soppy. Drippy, you know. It takes itself too seriously with all its regal sophistication and its stoicism. Do you know those women who watch old movies and say"Oh, that was the good old days. When people had class, and wore long skirts and didn't swear. Just good old sterile romanticism. They don't make them devoid of feeling or energy like that anymore." I might be paraphrasing a bit there, but you get the picture. This is those women's favorite movie.

I hate it. The more I think about it the more it disgusts me, with it's breezy Italian setting, and it's danced-around romance, and Audrey Hepburn with her pixie cut and her noble dedication to the morale of her people. Gregory Peck just stands around being mildly amused and stony-faces.

Look at this guy here! Look at that Hipster! He's like a time traveler! What am I even supposed to do with this movie?

This movie makes me feel nothing. The characters feel nothing. Nothing but the knowledge that their stoicism makes them better than everyone else. I have no use for this movie or its romantic vespa ride.

I do like the poster though.

Romantic Comedy #5 - The Philadelphia Story (1941)

The more Katharine Hepburn movies I see, the more I realize that I adore her, but can't stand the way her persona was treated in plots. Hepburn - this wonderful, saucy, sophisticated lady who isn't going to take any of your crap - is commonly portrayed as being too controlling and not emotional enough. The plots of her movies very often reveals her contemporaries fear of the "new woman," and emerging (however slowly) gender equality. Katharine Hepburn movies, to me, highlight the very real sexism of the past, and the kind of response that stronger woman got at the time. Hepburn characters are always sexy and desirable, but always relentlessly criticized. I can't comprehend this.

Who in their right mind wouldn't want to be this woman? And yet it was the type she played.

Which brings me to The Philadelphia Story, a remarriage comedy starring Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, and some guy who looks like Clark Gable but, disappointingly, isn't. I like the characters in it, I really do. I think they're interesting. Cary Grant's character is especially intriguing to me. For the whole movie he's painted as this hot-headed, irresponsible jerk, but what we see is a recovering alcoholic who is resigned to the turmoil around him, although he is somewhat bitter. It suggests some off-screen development that none of the other characters are recognizing or acknowledging.After we're told how crazy and aggressive he is, he spends the whole movie playing the only sane man. It's much more complex than I'm accustom to seeing in a 40's screwball comedy. I like the way he interacts with the other characters, too - his seen with a drunken Jimmy Stewart is one of the funniest things I've seen in a while.

What I don't get about The Philadelphia Story is this: Why doesn't she marry Jimmy Stewart? I mean, I do get it, really. The thing with Macaulay was fun and all, but the first marriage had real passion and emotion, and now that Dexter's cleaned up his act, all that's stopping them is Tracy's inability to accept human weakness like addiction and physical abuse, because apparently those are in the same category of reasonability. Tracy just needs to open up and get in touch with her emotions like a normal human woman. One contemporary discussion on this movie said that an actress playing Tracy "won't relate" to her problem of stoicism, but that the men will. Awesome.

Of course, I think this is a silly thing for the movie to be trying to tell us. Dexter and Tracy are obviously both decent people who bring out the worst in each other. They should not get remarried. I do get the divorce comedy, but I don't like it - I think it's a silly and unrealistic reaction to the changing social statuses of the day. She should have married Jimmy Stewart.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Romantic Comedy #6 - When Harry Met Sally (1989)

When Harry Met Sally is perfect, and I will fight anyone who tries to argue otherwise. I love this movie. You could approach me at pretty much any time and I will be willing to watch When Harry Met Sally with you. That is a true story.

When Harry Met Sally is concerned with a specific question - Can men and women be friends? The answer it arrives at: No. They cannot. That, admittedly, is a little bit odd to me - It says very strange things about the nature of relationships - but I'm willing to overlook that oddity in the face of such overwhelming quality.

When Harry Met Sally has dialogue that sounds like things that real people might say. Harry and Sally's romance is based on actual interaction and qualities of each other that they enjoy, not some intangible feeling of magic. It's funny. It develops it's characters through their conversations and interactions with each other, but not through heavy-handed metaphors like the romance movie motif of Sleepless in Seattle. Billy Crystal is wonderful and charismatic, and Meg Ryan is relatable and real and oh it's just all so wonderful. There's just nothing wrong with this movie. I enjoy watching it, I don't feel like I have to sit through it. The characters feel like real people with believable flaws - Harry's cynical and thinks he's smarter than he is, Sally's structure allows her to push away her feelings. It's a story, and believable, and it's everything a romantic comedy should be.