Romance

ROUNDTABLE RECOMMENDATIONS: Belated Valentine’s Day Special

Editor’s note: An extended weekend vacation out of town is the main reason this post is just now going up. Even though Valentine’s Day is two days past, I think it’s a good thing to keep those loving, heartwarming feelings going even after the holiday has ended. So here’s to love, relationship, and just really good romance movies!

Demi Moore, Patrick Swayze and Whoopi Goldberg pose for a marketing photo op for Ghost | Paramount Pictures, 1990.

The Formal Review: As an almost 31 year old movie, Ghost (1990) is still one of the best romantic movies to watch. It was directed by Jerry Zucker, written by Bruce Joel Rubin, and stars Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, Whoopi Goldberg, Tony Goldwyn, and Rick Aviles. It is about a young woman in trouble (Moore) who has to be saved by the ghost of her murdered boyfriend (Swayze), and a reluctant psychic (Goldberg). Yes, the plot may seem a bit cheesy but if audiences suspend their disbelief for a little bit, they’ll be rewarded with a phenomenal love story. Regardless of its age, the movie is still enticing, even with a simple, yet tragic, love story. Once the movie begins you will not want to fast forward anything as it has a number of elements that make it irresistible to any viewer; from comedy to thrills, and (obviously) romance. The performances are fantastic, especially by Whoopi Goldberg in her sole Academy Award winning performance. There are some things, like the CGI, that may be a bit dated, and yes, Molly probably should have simply changed her locks. However, Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze’s chemistry keeps the most important part of this story, the romance, intact. There’s a reason why this movie brought back the 1965 Righteous Brothers’ cover of “Unchained Melody” to the top of the radio charts, and was made into a stage musical in 2011. It has one of the most iconic moments of 90’s cinema–and the word “ditto” has never had more emotion tied to it.  It’s a film that will make viewers cheer and cry on every rewatch, again and again.

Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in a scene of You’ve Got Mail | Warner Bros., 1998.

Rachel Wagner: There are so many reasons I love You’ve Got Mail. To start off it is probably Nora Ephron’s best script; she manages to take a classic film like, The Shop Around the Corner (1940) and add her witty banter throughout. Then you add the incredible chemistry of Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks and you are in for a treat. I also love the supporting cast with Dave Chappelle, Greg Kinnear, Parker Posey, Dabney Coleman and Jean Stapleton. There are so many quotable lines like, “You don’t go to Spain and fall in love with fascist dictators,” or, “When I get out of this elevator I’m having my eyes lasered,” and,”They are called readers, Dad.” All of that comes from Nora and her brilliant script. The other aspect of You’ve Got Mail I love is what it has to say about work. Joe and Kathleen have both defined themselves by their work and yet it is not who they are. It’s no wonder they don’t fall in love until they meet each other outside of work where their vision is broader and open to trying new things. It’s such an easy trap to define ourselves by our work, and yet, it is not truly who we are. If we can broaden our horizons perhaps love and happiness will in our lives as well. There’s always hope!

Steve Carell and Juliette Binoche in a scene of Dan in Real Life | Walt Disney Studios, 2007.

Sam Cooley: Dan in Real Life is not only one of the greatest romantic comedies, it’s the quintessential comfy movie. In one of Steve Carell’s first leading roles, it looks at a single dad of 3 girls just trying to keep it together. The surrounding feel of the flick just adds to the coziness, set at an autumn family reunion in Rhode Island. The soundtrack is contagious. Laughs are constant from everyday blunders and the often inconvenience of love. Touching moments, sincere characters, helpless attraction, jealousy, more laughs–it’s so fun! Dan in Real Life is a sweet look at the complications of being a dad, and that of being open to love for a second time. It’s appropriate for all ages, and it’s soooo rewatchable.

Rachel McAdams and Domhnall Gleeson in a scene of About Time | Universal Pictures, 2013.

Parker Johnson: About Time may be the greatest love story ever put to film in my completely authoritative opinion. Very few films have impacted my life in the way this one has. And apparently, I’m not alone. Go to the trailer on youtube and look at the comments, or whenever this movie is mentioned on reddit. This is no mere “will they, won’t they” rom-com, but a lesson on the true meanings of romantic love, familial relationships, and life. Rachel McAdams and Domhnall Gleeson as Mary and Tim are amazing, and Tim’s relationship with his Dad (played by the amazing Bill Nighy) had me tearing up. Most rom-coms will have you feel the warm fuzzies at the end, and even though About Time indeed left me feeling warm and joyful, it was even more than that… it left me wanting to be a better person. I cannot express how great this movie is, and cannot recommend it enough.

Doing Sentimental Right: ‘Made in Italy’ and ‘Chemical Hearts’ Review

We watch movies for lots of different reasons. Sometimes it is to get our adrenaline pumping; other times it’s to have a good cry, and every so often it’s to connect with the human experience. Often these types of films can be labeled as ‘sentimental’ or trite, but if they have an emotional heft to them they can be just the ticket to help us process our own relationships and life challenges. Such is the case with 2 new films: Made in Italy, which is available in select theaters and VOD (video on demand), and Chemical Hearts, which is available on Amazon Prime Video. While neither film is perfect, they both have their heart in the right place and are worth a watch.

Made In Italy

Lionsgate
Rated: R
Run Time: 93 minutes
Director: James D’Arcy

Our first film is Made in Italy. Watching this film is the cinematic equivalent of eating a big bowl of pasta with a good friend: warm and comforting; it just works. The film stars Liam Neeson playing a father who is estranged from his son, an art gallery curator played by his real life son Micheál Richardson. Together they must work to renovate a house in Tuscany, all while finally coming to terms with the loss of their wife and mother years before. 

This of course has extra poignancy given the real life story of Liam and Micheál losing their own wife and mother Natasha Richardson to a terrible accident in 2009. One can’t help but feel the experience of making the film was cathartic for the father and son, and we as an audience pick up on that catharsis and experience that along with them. 

Plus we also get to see Neeson doing great work as he processes his grief and tries to connect with his somewhat bitter son. In the home they are renovating there is a wall of art he created after the loss and its presence throughout the renovation is a story all unto itself. 

Made in Italy also has some sweet romance and the escapism to Florence we all need in these days of quarantine. If you like movies like Return to Me (2000) or Under the Tuscan Sun (2003) you will enjoy this movie. I don’t think it needed to be an R rated film as none of the language added much to the story, and Richardson can’t quite live up to the acting chops of his Dad but it’s a sweet and sincere film about a father and son that is definitely worth a watch.

Recommendation: Go See It!

Chemical Hearts

Amazon Studios
Rated: R
Run Time: 93 minutes
Director: Richard Tanne

While Made in Italy explores a father and son dynamic, Chemical Hearts dives into a more standard teenage love story, but it is no less heartfelt and sincere. The film stars Austin Abrams as Henry, a hopeless romantic teenager. It’s similar in a way to the Disney+ Stargirl (2020), but it’s better executed here. One day, to his chagrin, Henry gets assigned to work on the school paper with the new girl, Grace, played by Lili Reinhart. 

Like Stargirl, this could have easily devolved into a manic pixie dream girl teen edition but Grace is better written than that. She is confusing and feels like a real teen struggling to deal with her feelings. Reinhart is also better than the typical manic girl with a warmth and honesty to her performance you don’t always see in this genre. Grace is more emotionally mature than Henry, and while he is delighted by his first love, she is worried about deeper things like the possibility of death and the fleeting nature of happiness, especially as an adolescent. 

Even at 93 minutes Chemical Hearts did feel a little stretched out at times and there are moments when the pacing could have been improved. The film looks gorgeous with beautiful cinematography by Albert Salas but at sections that do feel a bit languid. Also, the teen romantic dialogue does get a little syrupy on occasion, even for me who loves that kind of thing. 

With that said, Chemical Hearts is definitely worth watching, especially if you are a teenager or have teenagers in your life you will likely love it. Again I wish it was not rated R as the sensuality, language and drug use is not needed and could ostracize some of the very people who the film was made for. Nevertheless, mature teens should be able to handle Chemical Hearts and will hopefully gain some insight into trauma, romance and how human connection can help us through something as turbulent as growing up.

Recommendation: STREAM IT

Smash Critic’s Ultimate Feel-Good Movie List to Get You Through the Quarantine

At the beginning of the month I had a completely different topic in mind for an article. Boy, how the last few weeks have brought perspective. Thankfully, most of us aren’t critically affected by this event, but we might be left with a cloud of gloominess as we continue to get through the unknown. As our day-to-day activities have been reduced to what we can do in doors, here’s just one pro-tip to get you through your quarantine. The following are movies that I feel will most likely get you out of any biohazard blues due to their common thread of cheerfulness, low stakes, and unapologetically happy endings. I’ve broken them up into a few different categories based on your taste or mood, but why not work through them all!?

Inspiring Feel-Good Movies

Eddie the Eagle (2016), directed by Dexter Fletcher | 20th Century Fox

Eddie the Eagle (2016), PG-13
This one kind of flew under the radar when it came out in theaters a few years back. As it turns out it’s one of the most underrated movies of 2016 and has joy-filled performances from Hugh Jackman and the fast up-and-comer Taron Egerton (Rocketman, Kingsmen: The Secret Service). Based on a true story, Eddie (Egerton) is an awkward outcast that’s always had a burning desire to be in the Olympics. Once he meets a cynical has-been Olympic skier (Jackman), a fateful journey begins leading to one of the biggest and most heartwarming flukes in Olympic history (along with the Jamaican bobsled team). Honestly, this movie brags a music score and climatic scene that brings happy tears to my eyes everytime! Such a sweet story of friendship and determination. Watch it!
How to watch: Buy or rent on iTunes, Amazon Prime or Vudu.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013), PG
So, I’m a little ambivalent about the following pick. This movie may inspire you to get out and explore the world… which is kind of a complicated endeavor at this point. But if you’re able to just store that motivation in your backpocket till hopefully the near future, you’re still going to get a movie that offers a quirky, picturesque story. A daydreaming (this element is hilarious by itself), timid corporate worker played by Ben Stiller is forced to get out of his comfort zone and travel to multiple countries in the hopes of saving his Magazine company’s final printed cover. What comes next is an awesome, unique viewing experience that you’ll want to revisit again and again. Also directed by Ben Stiller!
How to watch: Buy or rent on iTunes, Amazon Prime or Vudu.

The Peanut Butter Falcon (2019) PG-13
Alright guys, this was hands down one of the best movies of this past year, and probably one of my top 3 favorite feel-good movies of all time. Reminiscent of a Mark Twain story, this modern day journey through the po-dunk south will make you so pumped for a post-pandemic summer full of rope swinging into lakes and beachy bon-fires. A fugitive fisherman played by Shia Labeouf befriends a runaway nursing home resident with Down Syndrome (Zack Gottsagen). Together they go on a search for the latter’s wrestling idol which turns into a journey of self discovery and brotherly love. I’ve watched this like 4 times since it came out a few months ago because I just keep wanting to show it to my friends.
How to watch: Buy or rent on iTunes, Amazon Prime or Vudu.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2013), PG-13
Taika Waititi is getting pretty well known at this point with directing Thor Ragnorak and winning an Oscar for Jojo Rabbit (both may deserve to be on this list themselves!). In case you missed this earlier gem, now’s the perfect time. This movie is full of beautiful landscapes, quippy one-liners and characters with hearts of gold and the best accents ever. A foster boy named Ricky causes himself and his reluctant, old guardian, Hec to have to go on the run from child welfare. They end up having the time of their lives in the New Zealand Bush.
How to watch: Streaming on Hulu. Buy or rent on iTunes or Vudu.

Classic Feel-Good Movies

The Goonies (1985), directed by Richard Donner | Warner Bros. Pictures

Angels in the Outfield (1994), PG
Say what you will about 90’s Disney movies but this is, and forever will be, a classic in my home. Sure it’s got clichés all over the place and a plot that’ll make you scoff when first hearing about it, but it’s truly just the best. Roger (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a foster kid who wants his dad to finally commit and make them a real family. In passing, the dad says they’ll finally work things out around the same time the Angels (who suck) will win the Pennant. Roger then prays to God for a miracle, and literal angels start helping the titular major-league team. Yeah, it’s bananas but it stars a young Gordon-Levitt, Danny Glover, a pre-famous Matthew McConaughey, and a heaven-sent Christopher Lloyd. And it’s just a chill, goofy, old, kids’ movie. Give it a chance!
How to watch: Streaming w/ tv subscription to DIRECTV.

The Goonies (1985), PG
Pretty much the original Stranger Things but it was actually made in the 80’s… so it’s not even trying profusely to be 80’s-like! A bunch of dorky teens living in a soon-to-be-demolished neighborhood find an old pirate map in one of their attics (the Dad is a curator). They then go on a legendary Oregon treasure hunt. But will a homicidal family that the map leads to end up killing the vibe… Or even killing the teens?! You gotta find out, it’s so great. Starring a young Sean Astin (The Lord of the Rings), Corey Feldman (Stand By Me, The Lost Boys), and Josh Brolin (No Country for Old Men, Avengers: Infinity War).
How to watch: Buy or rent on iTunes, Amazon Prime or Vudu.

The Three Musketeers (1993), PG
Another slightly campy 90’s Disney movie, this one’s just a good time. I don’t know if it’s anywhere near accurate to the book, but it’s fun! Chris O’Donnell (Batman and Robin), Kiefer Sutherland, and Charlie Sheen.
How to watch: Streaming on Disney+. Buy or rent on iTunes, Amazon Prime or Vudu.

School of Rock (2005), PG-13
I think we’ll all be pretty familiar with the rest of the nostalgic picks. Jack Black plays a dead-end musician that tries to make some extra money posing as a substitute teacher. He ends up realizing his purpose to turn his elementary school class into the greatest rock band of all time—and the result is stuff of joy. If you haven’t watched the final performance in a while, you need to revisit this!
How to watch: Buy or rent on iTunes, Amazon Prime or Vudu.

Galaxy Quest (1999), PG
Honestly, this has gotta be the best space movie spoof ever made: Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Sam Rockwell—it’s stacked. Galaxy Quest is a hilarious meta movie about has-been TV stars that get abducted by aliens who are under the belief that their old Star Trek-esque episodes are historical documents, and that the actors really are intergalactic heroes. They then have to try to improvise through the most realistic, deadly mission they’ve ever encountered.
How to watch: Buy or rent on iTunes, Amazon Prime or Vudu.

A Knight’s Tale (2001), PG-13
I’m sure we’ve all at least heard of this one. Heath Ledger is a peasant in Medieval times who sneaks his way into becoming a jouster and changing his destiny. Probably the most historically inaccurate, but most fun soundtracks of all time.
How to watch: Buy or rent on iTunes, Amazon Prime or Vudu.

Maverick (1994), PG
Underrated Western film! Set in 19th Century American Frontier, Mel Gibson plays an aspiring poker player looking for his biggest win yet—and everyone west of the Mississippi is out to get in his way. This flick has that total campfire feel that takes you for a fun stagecoach ride. Really gives just a truly happy, old-timey feel to it that’ll bring you to a simpler age. Also starring Jodie Foster, and Alfred Molina (Spider-Man 2).
How to watch: Buy or rent on iTunes, Amazon Prime or Vudu.

Laugh Out Loud Feel-Good Movies

Pineapple Express (2008), directed by David Gordon Green | Sony Pictures

Pineapple Express (2008), R
This movie is for stoners but also for the friend that declined the joint, and then proceeded to be entertained for the rest of the night. Starring Seth Rogen, James Franco, and Danny McBride. A pothead and his dealer try to evade a drug kingpin after witnessing a murder, and it creates the biggest, funniest mess in the world.
How to watch: Buy or rent on iTunes, Amazon Prime or Vudu.

21 Jump Street (2012), R & 22 Jump Street (2014), R
The most non-stop hilarious buddy-cop movie series that’s out there (though I love me some Shanghai Noon and Rush Hour). I believe that both the first installment and the sequel are equally quotable, hysterical, and self-aware. If you’re trying to get through four or so hours of being indoors and just need a good laugh, watch both of these. Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, and Ice T.
How to watch: Streaming on STARZ. Buy or rent on iTunes, Amazon Prime or Vudu.

Bridesmaids (2011), R
A lot of people call this “The Hangover for Women”. Forget that. This movie makes for twice as many laughs with 10 times as much heart. It’s one of the best comedies—period. Starring Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, and Melissa McCarthy.
How to watch: Streaming on HBO Now and HBO GO. Buy or rent on iTunes, Amazon Prime or Vudu.

Romantic Feel-Good Movies

About Time (2013), directed by Richard Curtis | Universal Pictures

About Time (2013), R
This totally flew under my radar for years. Then my brother convinced me to open my heart up to another romantic comedy. And God bless him for it! This is a simple, but lovely story about a man who realizes he can travel through the past, and uses this to help him find love and cherish the present. It’s honestly a beautiful, purely happy movie. Stars Domhnall Gleeson (Star Wars, Ex Machina), Rachel McAdams, and Margot Robbie. Same director as Love Actually, but this is far superior. Warning: One scene makes me weep like a child every time (happy tears!).
How to watch: Streaming on Netflix. Buy or rent on iTunes, Amazon Prime or Vudu.

Pride and Prejudice (2005), PG
The one with Keira Knightley! When I say “low stakes” being an essential element to feel good movies, this is the movie I think of. The worst that can happen is marrying someone that makes less than a billion dollars a year, and people will speak gossip about your family. I’ve read the book, seen the A&E series, and this captures the spirit of the Jane Austin story to a T. As a bonus, the cinematography and music is truly breathtaking. This is one of my go-to Sunday afternoon movies. Make sure you watch the version with the final scene, or find the scene on YouTube (for some reason, one version ends super abruptly before you get the last bit of closure).
How to watch: Streaming on STARZ. Buy or rent on iTunes, Amazon Prime or Vudu.

Dan in Real Life (2007), PG-13
You guys… I love this movie. I’m pretty sure this is one of the first films Steve Carell was in that wasn’t a straight-up comedy. He’s a widower with three daughters, and writes a periodic news column on parenting—but he has no idea what he’s doing as a parent and it’s hilarious. The love interest is introduced in a clever way, the relationships feel real and familiar, and the backdrop of a family reunion makes for such a homey, comfy viewing experience. I’ve probably watched it like six times this year because it makes me feel so good. I want to watch it right now just writing about it.
How to watch: Streaming on Showtime. Buy or rent on iTunes, Amazon Prime or Vudu.

While You Were Sleeping (1995), PG
The Smash Critic awarded “Best Sandra Bullock Rom-Com” (and there’s a lot to choose from). This may belong with the others like Angels in the Outfield and School of Rock just because of how ridiculous the plot sounds, but it’s gold, true gold. Crazy story short: Sandra’s character likes this man that’s in a coma and his family is misled into thinking that she’s engaged to him. She’s not, but doesn’t know how to tell them the truth, so she goes with it. The movie tells it a bit better, but it is pretty dumb sounding. But trust me—it’s a good time.
How to watch: Streaming on Showtime. Buy or rent on iTunes, Amazon Prime or Vudu.

Road Trip Feel-Good Movies

Little Miss Sunshine (2006), directed by Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris | Fox Searchlight Pictures

*Note: this section isn’t about movies that are good for watching on road trips. There are just literally enough fantastic feel-good movies with the majority of their run-time spent on road trips to demand its own section.

A Goofy Movie (1995), G
This is old enough that maybe some of us aren’t aware that Goofy has a teenage son named Max and they go on a zany field trip together (against Max’s will) full of the best cartoon dance scenes and the most obnoxious but hilarious Bigfoot representation.
How to watch: Streaming on Disney+. Buy or rent on Amazon Prime or Vudu.

Fundamentals of Caring (2016), TV-MA
Oh my gosh, you guys. This is the most relentless feel-good movie I’ve ever seen. By that I mean every second you think something awful is going to happen (like the car crash in Remember the Titans or the freaking rope swing in Bridge to Terabithia), you’re reminded, “No stupid! Relax—this is a happy movie”. Paul Rudd plays an unmotivated, soon-to-be divorcée that starts care-taking for a quadriplegic, viciously sarcastic teenage boy. Together they go on a trip to the most mediocre American landmarks. It’s so great. When I was dealing with being indoors all day and getting very little sleep on paternity leave, this brought me out of my funk!
How to watch: Streaming on Netflix.

Little Miss Sunshine (2006), R
My friend won’t watch this movie no matter how much I plead and beg. This is all because he didn’t like the trailer when he first saw it like 15 years ago. It brings me sorrow because I know he’s missing out on a little piece of happiness that this film will give to whoever watches. Comical, messy, sincere family relationships all put to the test in a cramped VW van headed toward a children’s beauty pageant three states away. Greg Kinnear, Toni Collete (Hereditary), Steve Carell, Paul Dano (Swiss Army Man, There Will Be Blood), and a little, sweet, Oscar-nominated Abigail Breslin (Signs, Zombieland). And Alan Arkin won the supporting Oscar for playing the coked up Grandpa. It’s a gem.
How to watch: Streaming on STARZ. Buy or rent on Vudu.

Tommy Boy (1995), PG-13
Like many of you, I grew up with these last two picks. They probably belong in the classic section but it was just too convenient to not create a road trip section! Tommy, played by Chris Farley, goes on a sales trip with his pessimistic coworker, Richard (David Spade), to try to save his dad’s company. It’s quotable beyond compare, it’s heartfelt, and it’s gut-bustingly funny—even the 100th time around. If you haven’t seen it, get on this train! Or even if you have, get on it again!
How to watch: Buy or rent on iTunes, Amazon Prime or Vudu.

Dumb and Dumber (1994), PG-13
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels. The epitome of stupid buddy films. I hope you’ve seen this. But in case it’s been awhile, cheer yourself up with this classic!
How to watch: Buy or rent on iTunes, Amazon Prime or Vudu.

And there you have it! Even if you just take one movie recommendation from each category, that should keep you busy through the weekend. Let me know in the comments which movies you decided to watch, or reach out to me on social media.

REVIEW: Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Pyramide Films
Rated: R
Run Time: 120 minutes
Director: Céline Sciamma

The first thing that piqued my interest about this movie was the title. And then I learned that it was a French film. But not just any French film, it was an LGBT+ romance. By the time I saw the trailer, I knew that this film needed to be firmly on my radar. Unfortunately, since Cache Valley is relatively small compared to the rest of Utah, the chances of seeing any independent film that wasn’t nominated  for Best Picture at the Oscars at our local theater is pretty slim. Thankfully, Broadway Center Theaters (operated by the Salt Lake Film Society) answered my cinephile prayers by showing all the lesser- known indie movies that I could want. I want to give them a huge shoutout for being awesome, and accommodating film buffs like me!

I was not prepared for this two-hour work of art I was about to experience. This movie was so impeccably crafted that when the credits began rolling, you could see my tear-stained face in the reflection of the screen. Normally when I review a movie, I like to get all the things I didn’t like (my quibbles, as I like to call them) out of the way before moving on to the things I thought were well done. Well, (and I can’t believe I’m saying this) I have nothing to report that I didn’t like! This movie was THAT good. So, this entire review is just going to be me gushing about how good this movie was.

Adèle Haenel and Noémie Merlant in a scene of Portrait of a Lady on Fire | Pyramide Films

The Acting

Noémie Merlant (who plays Marianne) and Adèle Haenel (who plays Héloïse) are absolutely phenomenal as the two leads. All the acting is spectacular, and the two leads really bring their A-game to this movie. One thing I really appreciate about international and independent cinema is the different approaches they have to the way acting and emotion could be conveyed on screen. This film had the potential to be overly-melodramatic, but it is more meditative and thoughtful. Every facial expression has meaning and adds depth to the characters. I became so focused on what their expressions were saying that the first time that Héloïse smiles, I wanted to cheer! Every desire, every confession of love, every heartbreak is written all over their faces without having to ham-fist it down your popcorn-stuffed throat. And the acting is only enhanced by the cinematography…

Héloïse, played by Adèle Haenel, in Portrait of a Lady on Fire | Pyramide Films

The Cinematography

There are certain movies where the cinematography is the main standout of the film. Movies like 1917 or  Birdman, (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)  where the one-shot technique is the device, or like The Lighthouse, where it was filmed entirely in black and white and on a 1.19:1 aspect ratio. Portrait of a Lady on Fire does not boast of any major achievements or innovations in cinematography. Nevertheless, it is one of the most well-shot movies I have ever seen. Every camera angle and movement is geared toward highlighting the emotion and thoughts of the characters—I hate to use the cliché “every frame a painting,” but that’s what this movie felt like.

The Score (or lack of)

You would think that such a beautiful, intimate movie would have a haunting, sweeping romantic score to go along with it…. Right? I was so engrossed with the movie that it was near the halfway mark when I was shocked to realize that there was no score. Nothing. In fact, there are only two diegetic pieces in the entire film. One is a piece called “Portrait de la jeune fille en feu” (written for this film) and the other is “Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 8, RV 315, ‘Summer’” by Vivaldi from The Four Seasons. Both come at highly emotional significant points in the film, and the lack of any other music (diegetic or non-diegetic) frees and allows the viewer to take in every sound, every gasp, every whisper. By NOT having an intimate score, it allows the movie to feel even more intimate.

Adèle Haenel and Noémie Merlant in a scene of Portrait of a Lady on Fire | Pyramide Films

The Subtlety and Subtext

Like I said in my commentary about the acting, the film could have really hammed up the melodrama and not be subtle about its messages at all. Thankfully, the dialogue and themes of the film are just as well crafted as the rest of the movie. In an interview with The Guardian, Céline Sciamma (the director of this film) said that that the French found this film not to be erotic because “it lacks flesh.” And really, they are right. Unlike another French lesbian romance film, Blue is the Warmest Color, Portrait of a Lady on Fire contains very few scenes of nudity, and no sex scenes at all. The story is not about the two leads’ sexual relationship, but the very real love and affection they have for each other. I found that to be quite refreshing. 

The motive of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, and the various interpretations of that myth that the characters present, is also quite fascinating. The idea that Opheus “chose the path of the poet rather than the lover” by turning back to look at Eurydice was a fascinating observation and gave the outcome of the plot of the movie weight and clarity.

One other thing I really enjoyed is actually getting to see Marianne paint. There was no montage where the finished product sprung into view. We spent time watching her sketch, telling Héloïse how to pose and position herself, mix the paint to create differing colors, and so much more. It allowed time for us (and the characters) to really know Marianne and Héloïse, and understand their feelings and motivations.

Final Thoughts

Portrait of a Lady on Fire is nothing short of a masterpiece. It was crafted as a living portrait of these two women as they fall in love with the complexities and expectations of the society surrounding them and governing their choices. The acting, cinematography, minimal use of music, and the screenwriting were all masterful. It was announced in December that this film was joining the prestigious Criterion Collection and, in my opinion, it is more than worthy of that honor. If you have the privilege of having this film playing in a theater near you, make this movie one of your top priorities.

Recommendation: GO SEE IT!

REVIEW: The Photograph

Universal Pictures
Rated: PG-13
Run Time: 106 minutes
Director: Stella Meghie

The Photograph was the perfect film to watch on Valentine’s Day: a classic romance with nostalgic nods, a jazzy soundtrack, and lovely acting. The film takes place in both New York and New Orleans, with these settings actually playing a fun role themselves. Actors Issa Rae and LaKeith Stanfield star opposite one another, and it was something new to see Issa Rae play a more reserved character. I love her in the HBO series, Insecure, and she was hilarious in the 2019 film, Little. I’m so used to seeing her in comedies, and I think that is where her strengths lie—maybe that’s the reason that her delivery on some of the more serious dialogue felt forced to me. The supporting cast almost outshines the two leads: Lil Rel Howery (Get Out, Bird Box) and Kevin Harrison Jr. (Mudbound, It Comes At Night) played characters who provided some much needed comic relief.

The love story between the two leads begins when journalist Michael Block (Stanfield) discovers a photograph (get it?) while working on a story in New Orleans. He wants to learn more about the photographer of said photograph, and is led to Mae (Rae), whose mother was the photographer. The film goes between modern times and the past, following her mother’s romantic life in 1980’s New Orleans, and her own love story with Stanfield. The juxtaposition between the mother-daughter relationship through the time jumps was well-executed.

LaKeith Stanfield and Issa Rae in a scene of The Photograph | Universal Pictures

Being a photography major, I really enjoyed the nostalgic storyline of “the past.” Much of it took place in a DIY darkroom, while prints were being developed. The care and detail that went into showing the delicate process of film photography was lovely. This is something I think the film portrayed really well: the fact that photographs can be instrumental in telling a story that can last decades and connect us to our loved ones’ pasts. In all, The Photograph was an enjoyable romance, following most stereotypes of the genre, which is why I say it was slightly lackluster. The cast, nostalgia, and the soundtrack were the highlights of the film.

Recommendation: MAYBE A MATINEE

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