I am one of those people who pretty much despises what passes for romantic comedies these days, they all either have Kate Hudson in them (one of the worst/best examples of nepotism in Hollywood) or are pure sap written by the likes of Nicholas Sparks* (otherwise known as the Thomas Kincaide of fiction) and are in general just God-awful. I much prefer movies that take a more unique, non-traditional and humorous approach to love so in honor of this totally made up holiday by Hallmark (with a generous dose of assistance from the chocolate and floral industries), here are a few more interesting movie choices for you to check out this pretend holiday weekend.
Fun Fact: Did you notice Lisa Vanderpump, of Real Housewives of whatever and Vanderpump Rules as the video vixen because it really is her. She still looks awesome today, if not better (blame the 80’s hair) and appears to still have her original face which is something Uma Thurmond might be missing.
Born Romantic: This one would probably qualify as the most traditional romantic comedy of the bunch but with just enough quirk and off-beat charm not found in movies generally made on this side of the pond to make me love it. Born Romantic centers around a London salsa club and three of the couples who frequent it. Snobby art historian Eleanor (Olivia Williams) flat-out rejects Rat-pack obsessed professional wedding singer Frankie (Craig Ferguson) from the get-go because his face is not symmetrical enough for her tastes but Frankie does not let a little thing like his wonky face or lack of money stop him in his valiant quest to win her over.
Couple number two includes Eddie (Jimi Mistry), the world’s worst mugger who one day while trying to elude the cops ducks into the club where he meets professional grave tender Jocelyn and promptly steals her wallet which is probably not the best way to get a girlfriend but this is a movie and not real life so it kind of works. Dia de Muertos’s biggest fan Jocelyn (Catherine McCormack) sports a completely unnecessary neck brace and a pair of vintage 1980’s Rhonda Weiss glasses that almost makes you forget that in real life McCormack is quite stunning and is playing totally against type.
But my favorite couple in Born Romantic has to be sad-sack failed musician Fergus (played by an almost unrecognizable as a blonde David Morrissey) and Mo (the absolutely fabulous Jane Horrocks). After dumping her one week before their wedding eight years earlier, Fergus decides he wants Mo back and will leave no stone, or in this case marbles (the Elgin Marbles to be exact), unturned until he finds her. When he finally does and Mo reacts just about how anyone but Fergus, the human equivalent of a golden retriever (sweet but dumb) would expect, he is devastated. Fergus’s numerous attempts to get back in Mo’s good graces is like watching a grown up dating game version of Captain May I? with one step forward and many, many, many steps back. (Amazon Instant)
Fun fact: Way before Craig Ferguson was a late-night talk show host or Mr. Wick on The Drew Carey Show and way, way before Peter Capaldi became the 12th (?) Doctor, they were in a punk band together called The Dreamboys.
Cherish: Robin Tunney stars as Zoe, a socially awkward career woman who loves music, especially 70’s and 80’s pop songs so be prepared for a lot of Hall & Oates and don’t even try to pretend that you don’t like it because everyone does, deep down inside. Zoe spends her days as a computer animator at a snooty San Francisco start-up where she works with a bunch of mean girls, chief among them is Brynn played by 90’s indie music darling Liz Phair who I don’t think had much of either a movie or music career post-Cherish. One night after one too many cocktails a crazy man who has been stalking Zoe takes control of her car and makes her run over a policeman, which is very uncool and a surefire way to end up with something on your permanent record. Before help can arrive the crazy stalker flees so of course no one believes poor Zoe that she wasn’t driving. The policeman later dies from his injuries and Zoe ends up on house arrest with a super restrictive ankle bracelet and the imminent threat of jail hanging over her head.
Stage actor Tim Blake Nelson plays the man in charge of her ankle bracelet and one of Zoe’s few contacts with the outside world. Zoe knows she did not hit the policeman so she spends her time roller-skating around her sparsely furnished apartment trying to figure out how to find her stalker and thereby clear her name. This movie came a few years after Tunney co-starred in The Craft which was hugely successful however Cherish was not and that is unfortunate because it is clever, sweet and original but has absolutely no black magic involved so the teens stayed away in droves. Look for both Nora Dunn and Jason “Brandon Walsh” Priestly to show up and I don’t want to say anything else other than spend the three bucks and watch this. (Amazon Instant)
Let the Right One In: the original Swedish version only please. I would like to forget the American one ever happened much like that time I tried henna in my hair and ended up looking like Lucille Ball despite bi-weekly applications of ash-brown Loving Care hair color to dull the orange nightmare on my head. Just like I had to do with the henna-from-hell, you too can suck it up and read the subtitles because reading is fundamental and good for you.
Lonely, picked upon so blonde he is practically translucent Oskar spends his evenings plotting revenge against the boys who torment him at school. One day or night (who knows it is almost always dark in Sweden in the winter), a girl named Eli moves in with her guardian to the apartment next door to Oskar’s and the next thing you know people start disappearing, cats start freaking out and nothing in their quiet little town is ever the same. Let The Right One In is a movie about a vampire but at its core is really a story about two socially isolated 12-year-olds only one of them has lived for a couple of hundred more years than the other and maybe isn’t even a girl so I guess you will have to watch it to find out for sure.
This was one of the rare times that I read the book AFTER I saw the movie and while the filmmakers did a very good job the book fills in a lot more of Eli’s back story and Oskar’s loneliness. It also has a lot more kitty paranormal activity that thankfully was not in the movie as one or two scenes of cats on crack is enough for anyone. There is some gore as to be expected when vampires require human blood to survive but it was not at all gratuitous and if squeamish me can take it anybody can. The ending of Let The Right One In has one of the best what-goes-around-comes-around scenes in the entire history of movies because sometimes karma IS a bitch/. (Netflix).
Fun fact: I never knew until this movie how courteous vampires are and that they must be properly invited into one’s residence, nor was I aware how much cats despise them and will freak the hell out should they come across one. Definitely news you can use.
Obvious Child: Donna is a twenty-something under-employed by day stand up comedienne by night who goes on a serious booze and ice cream filled pity party after her long time boyfriend dumps her for someone else. It’s a painful rite of passage we all go through, so much so you would think there would be a Girl Scout badge for it somewhere between good citizenship and positive body imagery.
One night she meets a cute guy named Max, they get drunk, they spend the night together and Donna thinks that is the last of it. Until a few weeks later when Aunt Flo does not come to town and Donna finds herself in a bit of a conundrum. What follows next is bittersweet, poignant and one of the very few times the movie industry has ever tried to be realistic in showing what an unplanned pregnancy looks like from the inside.
This might not seem like it could even remotely be a rom-com and it isn’t, not in the traditional sense. Donna is forced to grow up and make a decision that she probably never thought she would have to make and the guy is not even a jerk which is so not the way a typical Hollywood film would have played it. This movie got unfairly pigeon-holed by some as “the abortion movie” but it is so much more than that. I honestly did not want to see, not because I had anything against it, I just wasn’t super interested but am glad I did because while I have always liked Jenny Slate as a comedic actress, I had no idea she could you know, act act and she does that in this, very convincingly. And in case you have never seen the magic that is the one and only Mona Lisa Saperstein from Parks and Rec, check it out here. (Amazon Instant & Apple TV)
Fun Fact: Jenny Slate voices the absolutely adorable-as-all-get-out Marcel the Shell character she co-created with her husband.
Tampopo: the first ever Japanese noodle western and if that was all I said about it that should be enough to pique your interest. I mean how many of those have you seen before because I don’t think there has ever been another one. I first saw this movie during my international film formative years otherwise known as college when I saw pretty much everything that the U Film Society brought to town and is how I came to ultimately minor in film. Tampopo, which literally translates to the English for dandelion, is a widow with a young son running a crummy road side noodle shop frequented by truckers. When one of the not very nice truckers insults her culinary skills, a nice trucker by the name of Goro steps in to intervene. Of course he gets beat up because they out number him three to one but nonetheless Goro decides to stick around and educate Tampopo on the finer points of noodling and other things since this a romantic comedy and all.
There are some hilarious sidebar stories including a shopkeeper who is terrorized by an old lady squeezing all his goods like poor Mr. Whipple and his Charmin and a handsome gangster and his lady friend who were about 20 years ahead of the whole naked sushi trend and take food erotica to a whole ‘nother level that could be called 50 Shades of Seafood. This movie is funny, charming and will leave you wanting to find the nearest Japanese restaurant for some noodles and broth as soon as it’s over. Tampopo will be a little bit harder to find (no streaming) but I whole heartedly recommend you go the extra mile for this one and I am not the only one to think so since it has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. (Netflix disc only)
Fun fact, you can find a lot of movies at your local library, and a quick check of my local country library showed they had five copies of this very film.
*Full disclosure, I have seen The Notebook and just like George Washington I can not tell a lie, I cried my guts out and am not ashamed to admit it AND I still think Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams are destined to be together FOREVER, despite Eva Mendes and her little baby friend trying to keep them apart.