But before we begin allow me to make the smallest of confessions …
You see, on the whole I ABHOR modern romantic comedies and any combination of the words “romcom”, “Sarah”, “Jessica” and “Parker” are likely to result in extreme violence and/or crippling nausea. Now, don’t get me wrong, that’s not to say I’m not a hopeless romantic at heart, merely that your average multiplex friendly romantic slushfest is likely to have the same effect on me as a tablespoon of salt on an altogether unsuspecting slug. So, for those of you reading this who are keen to find out about the latest Matthew McConaughey/Jennifer Aniston vehicle, a Richard Curtis penned BAFTA-baiting schmaltz-fest or that godforsaken endurance marathon featuring a boat, an iceberg and that bloody Celine Dion song then you’re all, alas, looking in the wrong place.
For what you’ll discover here instead, over the next fourteen days, is an entirely personal list … a list of films that, whilst not always commercially successful, nonetheless affected me in some way or another and are thus films that I personally consider to be amongst the greatest romantic movies of all time. Now, before you all scream blue murder at me for not including your own favourites, perhaps I should stress that the following selection is wholly subjective and it’s by no means intended to be a definitive countdown. For whilst there are many a classic love story to be found amongst the many pages of Hollywood’s Golden Age it’s these fourteen that ultimately resonated with me the most for some reason or other.
Several remind me about fond moments in my own torrid love life … of love both madly sentimental and sadly excremental, whilst others hinted at a hopeful poetic notion that may have once sown its seed into the overly fecund soil of my romantic mind. Others still have been simply content with caressing my mind and warming my heart with the kind of romantic thoughts and images I’d never usually admit to getting so damn sappy about!
And if that’s not enough each review will also feature an attached video containing a personal musical highlight from each film which will allow you all the opportunity to compile a fourteen track playlist to accompany the feature and thus evoke warm memories of the C60 compliation cassettes we’d so lovingly compile our sweethearts in an age before digital downloads and iPods made such romantic gestures a thing of the past.
So, I ask but one thing of you all … that you temporarily lay aside those novelty shaped chocolates, put your cards safely back in their overly-expensive padded boxes and, if you really must, bring along your sweetly-scented pink teddy bears as we embark on a two week journey together that will conclude with me revealing my all time favourite romantic movie on Valentine’s Day itself. And fear not, should things not work out as planned I won’t expect you to ever call me again …
#14 – “PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE” (2002)
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Though perhaps more widely known to audiences for the phallus-enhancing Seventies chic of “Boogie Nights”, the apocalyptically amphibious sweep of “Magnolia” and the milkshake-drinking grandeur of “There Will Be Blood” Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Punch Drunk Love” still remains one of the most unique and fascinating entries in the acclaimed director’s impressive back catalogue to date.
Embracing both chaos and unpredictability the film displays an endearingly whimsical view of romance that whilst often as extreme and uncontrollable as its main character is nonetheless virtually impossible to resist. A sudden car crash and an abandoned harmonium are just two of the unexpected factors that kick-start this bizarre series of events and lead Barry Egan (Adam Sandler) into the arms of Lena Leonard (the ever charming Emily Watson).
On approaching Anderson’s fourth film I was initially filled with a sense of heart palpitating dread and portentous apprehension when I noticed Mr. Sandler’s name plastered across the posters. For much as I appreciate the fact that Sandler has a wide fan base and his films are frequently a huge success I personally can’t abide his brand of puerile, childish humour. Imagine my surprise then when I discovered a film in which his trademark tics were all still present and correct but moulded into something altogether more endearing. In Barry Egan we still have the socially inept man-child prone to sudden acts of extreme violence and shouting so familiar to Sandler fans but filtered through the vision of Anderson he becomes so much more and thus avoids falling into the trap of relying too heavily on Sandler’s shtick. Here, instead, we are presented with a peculiar little man whose persistent henpecking by his seven sisters, late night sex chat phone calls and obsession with blue suits, frequent flyer miles and tubs of Healthy Choice pudding are equally endearing, sad, hilarious and oddly affecting.
So when Lena enters his life amidst this turmoil of chaos she serves to lend his life a new sense of purpose not to mention a renewed sense of belief in himself and suddenly Barry’s life seems to finally find its true direction.“I have a love in my life”, he informs the owner of a mattress store who is out to extort money from him (a wonderful cameo from Philip Seymour Hoffman), “It makes me stronger than anything you can imagine”.
It’s later in the film, when the four henchmen sent out to claim the money from said scam attempt to run Barry and Lena off the road, that we witness the full wrath of his anger channelled towards this quartet of wrongdoers. The sight of blood running down the face of his beautiful Lena causes Barry to snap and violently attack the henchman in a display of considerable skill and extreme fury and we, as an audience, suddenly feel like cheering him on as this strange act of violence, anger and love is unexpected, uncontrollable and pretty damn exhilarating.
Elsewhere we have a wonderfully sweet scene when Barry leaves Lena’s apartment cursing himself for not kissing her goodbye only to receive a sudden phone call downstairs in reception from Lena herself who informs him that she did, in fact, long to kiss him farewell after all. Thus we witness Barry frantically rushing upstairs once more, taking wrong turnings aplenty and frantically checking the hotel signs until he finally reaches her door, rings the bell, grabs her in his arms and kisses her with all the pent up passion he can possibly muster whilst the stirring strings and lush orchestration of Jon Brion’s elegiac score do wonders to add to the old school romanticism of the scene. And who can possibly forget the gorgeous refrains of Harry Nilsson’s “He Needs Me”, a song originally written for the 1980 Robert Altman film “Popeye” but here employed to quite charming effect.
The work of a truly gifted director “Punch Drunk Love” is ultimately a peculiar beast. Much like Barry himself it’s simultaneously unpredictable, offbeat, surreal, unusual and occasionally quite chaotic yet at its heart is so much warmth, character, heart, soul and energy that it surely won’t be just Lena that finds it totally and utterly irresistible.
“I’m lookin’ at your face and I just wanna smash it. I just wanna fuckin’ smash it with a sledgehammer and squeeze it. You’re so pretty”
Track #1 – “HE NEEDS ME”
Written by Harry Nilsson
(performed by Shelley Duvall)