Titanic? Something Borrowed? Pretty Woman?
Umm… no. Most chick flicks are so overrated. When I get dizzy after too many action fantasy thrillers, I might de-stress by watching one. This usually happens when I’m with friends because I don’t have the patience to see a chick flick by myself. Often, instead of feeling wonderful afterwards, I am dissatisfied. The movies are shallow and don’t really express how real love can happen between two individuals. The modern, forgettable fairy tale endings grate at me.
Look at Just Go with It. I don’t think a girl with Brooklyn Decker’s ass would even look at Adam Sandler’s face, much less sleep with him. Dear John was a disappointment. The Last Song was a summer infatuation. A Walk to Remember turned a perfectly good book into a ghastly movie. Avatar made alien sex mainstream and made people believe for five precious minutes that Sam Worthington is an actor. The Twilight series is a showcase for Robert Pattinson’s hair and Taylor Lautner’s abs (K. Stew’s lack of personality makes her invisible). Memoirs of a Geisha is visually exhilarating, but Zhang Zi Yi and Ken Watanabe do not have the intense chemistry that Sayuri and The Chairman has in the book.
So, coming from Ms. I-Hate-Overblown-Mass-produced-Big-budget-Pseudo-Romantic-Movies herself, here are my top 10 heart-wrenching, pancreas-squeezing love stories in random order.
Carl and Ellie had it down pat. They had dreams, big dreams. They saved for their Great Adventure and were were unquestioningly loyal towards each other. They retained their childlike wonder for the unknown as they aged and, at the same time, endured the harsh realities of life. But they did it all together! And after Ellie died, Carl flew to South America in a house with 10,000 balloons to fulfill their promise of a great adventure. For her.
After years of bringing us soppy princesses and dashing prince charmings, Disney finally got it right with a couple so extraordinary that you might find them in your neighborhood coffeehouse arguing over the Sunday crossword.
The Painted Veil (2006)
They were extreme opposites. She thought he was a boring, stuffy intellectual and only married him because of her biological clock. He though she was shallow and flighty yet still loved her enough to marry her. She ended up cheating on him and, in revenge, he brought her to a backward village with a cholera problem in the heart of China, away from her lover and friends.
If this happened today, the couple would instantly divorce, hurl invectives at each other, air their dirty laundry at court, and spend the rest of their lives telling everyone what a bitch/bastard the other one is. But Walter and Kitty persevered. In an unlikely place, they settled their differences and learned more about each other than what was possible if they stayed in the city.
Naomi Watts and Edward Norton are reliable actors, as always. This film’s quiet arrival and departure from the theaters didn’t do it justice.
Pride and Prejudice (1995 TV Series)
Forget other versions, especially the 2005 one where the actors were terribly miscast. They thought that skinny, stooping Keira Knightly could embody the legend that is Elizabeth Bennet. The 1995 BBC production was a perfect adaptation. With six episodes totaling six hours of screen time, it can be daunting to watch it all in one day. But, trust me, it’s worth it.
Colin Firth manages to be sexy without removing his shirt and Jennifer Ehle is a witty, intelligent and unconventional Eliza. The hate that turned into love plot is an overused one, but it was unusual in Jane Austen’s time. Besides, cliche or not, Miss Bennet and Mr. Darcy will make you believe that there are fairy tales, even if you end up with the most arrogant, tall, dark and brooding hero of all time.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
A martial arts, wuxia film seems like an unlikely candidate for a sweeping romantic movie. But this energetic yet serene film has a lot of surprises. In the midst of amazing fight sequences, there are two love stories. The first, between Lo and Jen, is an idealistic young love. He’s a notorious desert bandit and she’s an aristocrat engaged to marry someone else. Their relationship is doomed from the start in spite of the excitement of their first meeting.
Shu Lien and Mu Bai are the reverse. They are older and both are mature enough to know better yet are still bound by society’s norms and their warrior lifestyle that they chose to keep their feelings to themselves. I’m fonder of this pairing than the first. One can really feel the tension throughout the movie and the ending is heart-breaking. (Oopsie, slight spoiler there.)
I know what you’re thinking. “It’s that film again! people keep on saying that it’s the greatest love story ever but it’s an ancient, crumbling movie and all of the actors are dead. ” So what? It doesn’t make it any less great.
What’s wonderful about this film is that the love story isn’t two dimensional. People forget that it’s not just Ilsa and Rick’s tragic love affair. There’s also Victor. Courageous, silently rebellious Victor who loves Ilsa in his own stoic, calm manner. Victor was ready to give Ilsa up for her safety and because he believed it was what she wanted. Rick gave her up for her own good and because it was right. And Ilsa was… confused. I don’t blame her, I would be as well if I were in her situation.
But after thinking about it, I would’ve stayed with Victor. No one could love you enough than a husband who would release you if it made you happy. How can one not respect and love someone like that? By the way, there’s a colored version that was recently introduced. Don’t even think about watching it!!! The black and white original is perfect as it is; the monochromatic shades contrasting with the story’s complicated choices.
Big Fish (2003)
Ok, enough with the costume dramas. What about modern films that stay away from kitsch and do not sacrifice depth to pander to the masses? Big Fish leads the pack with a unique storyline detailing the fantastic life of Edward Bloom, his relationship with his son Will, his undying love for Sandra, and his imaginative storytelling.
Edward and Sandra’s story is sweet in itself. While working in the circus, he sees her among the audience and instantly falls for her. He did everything he could to learn about her, even working without pay in exchange for a Sandra trivia once a month. When his son was born, he included Will into his weave of tales that could match any epic by Homer.
There is also the big fish–the great, scary, manipulative fish that Edward pursued and attempted to catch throughout his boyhood. He caught it on the day of his son’s birth and that was when he came full circle; he had found himself. Because Edward is that same fish. But the adventure didn’t stop there. And, when faced with an ending, he transformed it into a beginning, ensuring that the story would never die.
(Yeah, yeah. I know half of the movie is set in the past. But at least I tried.)
Forrest Gump (1994)
Forrest Gump? The one where this wacky guy never tries to be anything and succeeds in everything without any smidgen of ambition? Yep, that one.
Forrest has a really low IQ, but that didn’t stop him from being sure about Jenny. He’s not sure about most of what he’s doing and just goes where life takes him but he pushes through with dogged determination without lapsing into existential crises about his identity and his niche in the world. Periodically, his paths cross with Jenny. His childhood sweetheart,seems to have made all the wrong choices and failed to make anything out of her life. They see each other differently. Forrest’s love is simple and persistent. He doesn’t force her to return his feelings yet is devoted to her in his own passive way. Jenny initially put him in the friend zone, making it clear that they will never be anything more than friends. But, at the last minute, she finally grows up and sees the gentle person behind society’s stigma of Forrest.
The ending is ambiguous and is left to the viewer’s opinion. Is it a happy ending? is it tragic? Or is it just real?
There are also strong performances by the great Gary Sinise and the unflappable Sally Field.
Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Homophobic men and bible thumpers will surely object to this. But Brokeback Mountain is one of the strongest love stories of all time. (I think this might be my favorite. *bows to Ang Lee*) The introduction isn’t too promising: two cowboys who bond in the mountains discover their sexuality in the fairly conservative American West during the sixties. Men of their generation do not shack up with other men. They’re supposed to marry a nice girl, have five children, drink beer with their man-friends while flexing their macho cowboy muscles. But Ennis and Jack tried their best. They go on with their lives, doing everything expected of them. Jack makes it big by marrying an heiress while Ennis struggles with his lower middle-class paycheck. Throughout the next twenty years, they return to Brokeback Mountain for short weekends, always with the same excuse: it’s a fishing trip. But they never bring any fish home.
They know and we know that their relationship is doomed but we never stop rooting for them. In the spirit of all great love stories everywhere, the movie ends with a silent, flawless moment. When Ennis quietly touches his and Jack’s entwined shirts, reverently arranged in his trailer’s little closet, his eyes speak what words could not express.
I DARE you to not reach for tissues!
Everyone made a fuss about Heath Ledger’s performance in The Dark Knight. I believe his interpretation of Ennis del Mar in Brokeback Mountain was his best.
Er… two little robots in post-apocalyptic Earth? However weird it sounds, the robots who have developed sentience also show an attachment that many married couples today lack. When EVE leaves, WALL-E clings to her spaceship in desperation. EVE’s rescue of WALL-E and her determination to repair his little metal parts is admirably heroic.
You start thinking: Will my boyfriend/girlfriend leave her comfort space for me? Will (s)he go to the moon and back to save my life? WALL-E and EVE did. Sure, they don’t need oxygen, but they symbolize commitment without the corny dialogue.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010)
This nerdy, quirky film resists categorization. During the first 10 minutes, it seems like a teen movie. Later, it lets us peek into the fantasy world inside Scott’s mind as he dreams of Ramona. Then, around the middle, it transforms into a video game.
Scott Pilgrim pines for Ramona Flowers — she with the hair of many colors — like any teenage boy who has a crush on a popular or mysterious girl in school. He follows her in parties, walks her home, drinks her herbal tea. But Scott doesn’t stop there. He somehow manages to gain her affection and, after a date or two, agrees to face the curse bestowed upon her. Any guy who wants Ramona would have to fight her seven evil exes and defeat them. Scott is bruised, beaten, abused and thrown around so many times that he begins to get frustrated. He didn’t ask for this, all he wanted was a date! But our geeky hero persists and proves his love for Ramona in the end.
Guys would probably like this because it would remind them of Playstation games. The powers (psychic vegan abilities?!) and points are amusing and the special rewards (Power of Self-Respect sword! WOOT!) are a riot. Besides, any boy who would risk his life seven times just to date you is definitely a keeper.
And there’s a special mention:
The Notebook (2004)
It’s very easy to turn Nicholas Sparks’ book into a disappointing film. Despite Sparks’ tendency to churn out literary dramas with the efficiency of a T-shirt sweatshop, The Notebook isn’t a bad book. It’s one of his best, along with A Walk to Remember. I remember reading the book while I was a teen in my parents’ living room, lounging on the couch for hours. When I was done, I was in tears and tried to hide it before my little brother laughs at me. Then I insisted that my mom read it.
Allie and Noah’s story transcends time, social classes, the advent of old age, and even Alzheimer’s. It’s a classic example of “first love never dies.” As much as I don’t believe in it (I conveniently forget my ex as soon as I’m with a boyfriend; and my combined affection for them pales in comparison to what I feel for C), you believe it while watching this and chewing popcorn. Not only do you believe it, you’re convinced that it’s right. That first love conquers all! (insert thunder and lightning)
Ryan Gosling reflects Noah’s silent love for Allie. He wrote her letters for a year — all unanswered. He fights in the war and thinks of her. After his father’s death, he refurbishes the decrepit house of her dreams and built it with her in mind. (I know this because he kept a stock of paint, brushes and an easel for eff’s sake!) And when she came back, with the news of her engagement, he is not discouraged. Rather, he took it as a sign that they were meant to be together. If Rick made Ilsa’s choice for her and insisted that she stay with Victor, Noah did no such thing. He left the decision to Allie, accepting whatever choice she makes.
There’s the proverbial kiss in the rain but it can be forgiven. All in all, it’s a treat to watch and manages to match the fullness of the book.
Note [14 June ’11]: I edited this and removed all the spoilers except for Casablanca. Even if you haven’t seen Casablanca, then I’m sure you would’ve heard all about it by now. Sometimes I forget that not everyone has seen all these movies.