2013 was a year of great debates – about health care, gay marriage, recreational marijuana….and whether Love Actually is a good or a bad movie. It seems that for every person who defends its poignant charm, there is someone to deride it for its treacly sentimentality. In an effort to keep the peace, I’ve selected four recent films that stand a good chance of satisfying both rom-com enthusiasts and skeptics.
Her takes place in a not-too-distant future, where operating systems are so advanced they have personalities. Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), lonely and disconnected, falls in love with his operating system (voice by Scarlett Johansson). Beautiful and offbeat, director Spike Jonze created a film that tweaks the rom-com formula just enough to make it original and provocative, and it’s earned five Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Original Screenplay, Production Design and for Music (both Original Score and Original Song).
Enough Said, the latest from director Nicole Holofcener, represents a refreshing change of pace for rom-coms by telling the story of a romance between two middle-aged people. Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and Albert (the late, great James Gandolfini) are 50-something single parents who meet at a party and begin an unlikely romance. It’s complicated by the presence of Marianne (Catherine Keener), Eva’s new friend – and Albert’s ex-wife – who causes her to second-guess their relationship. Wry and awkward, Enough Said is a smart comedy that reflects the reality of adults finding life at an unexpected time of their lives.
Equally refreshing is The Spectacular Now, another smart film that examines an unlikely romance at the other end of the age spectrum, among high school students. Hard-partying Sutter (Miles Teller) lives for the moment and finds himself on the front lawn of focused, “good girl” classmate Aimee (Shailene Woodley) after another night of drinking. It may sound like a thousand other coming-of-age flicks, don’t let it to deter you from watching it – it’s a bittersweet and mature tale of young love from the writers of (500) Days of Summer and based on the popular YA novel from Tim Tharp.
Though not a feature film, the documentary Cutie and the Boxer (nominated for a Best Documentary Oscar this year) deserves a mention for its portrait of a 40-year relationship. Ushio Shinohara is an avant-garde “boxing” artist who has toiled on the New York art scene. Noriko is his wife and sometime assistant, who put her own artistic aspirations on hold to support her husband. The couple is cantankerous and not everyone would call their relationship loving, but this story of love, art and sacrifice reveals how they’ve remained married for decades.