Thursday, February 13, 2014

Watch This: Reeves Does Romance Right for Valentine's Day

A bi-weekly series featuring a recommendation of a movie available in the Reeves Memorial Library DVD collection

From dramatic tearjerkers to quirky comedies, here are some of the many romantic films available from the library, just in time for Valentine's Day:

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

From the wildly inventive mind of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich) comes this unique meditation on love and memory.  Jim Carrey steps out of his comedic comfort zone to play the solemn, heartbroken Joel, who finds out that his ex-girlfriend (Kate Winslet) had her memories of him erased, and decides to undergo the same procedure.  However, he changes his mind mid-process, and attempts to hide away some of his happiest recollections of their time together.  The film is a beguiling labyrinth, bouncing back and forth between reality and memory, but it is anchored by the brilliant, grounded performances of the two leads.  Eternal Sunshine reminds us that while love may not always last, the blissful moments will always remain with us.

Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004)

Before Sunrise finds American tourist Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and French student Celine (Julie Delpy) meeting by chance on a train to Vienna.  They connect immediately, and Celine accepts Jesse's invitation to spend the rest of the day and night with him, walking around Vienna before he departs the next morning.  What will happen when morning comes?  Will they ever see each other again?  The latter question is answered in Before Sunset, which finds best-selling author Jesse in Paris nearly a decade later, where he reconnects with Celine after a book signing.  They spend the day together, and clearly their bond is still strong.  Again, they are faced with the same dilemma: do they part ways at the end of the day, knowing that they seem meant to be together?  Both films are conversational in nature, but the premise never approaches dullness, thanks to terrific writing and the wonderfully lived-in performances of Hawke and Delpy.

Brief Encounter (1945)

Married housewife Laura meets married doctor Alec in a railway station cafe, where the two continue to meet every week as they gradually fall in love.  Both are tempted toward infidelity, but propriety and practicality demand that they cannot be together.  Rarely, if ever, has a film explored the theme of adultery with such thoughtfulness, sophistication, and lack of judgment.  A fair warning, though: this is a classic tearjerker, so make sure you have a box of tissues handy.  The film was directed by the great David Lean, best known for his work on large-scale epics such as Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Doctor Zhivago (1965), and its quality is proof that he was equally adept at helming intimate dramas.

Sweet Land (2005)
This little-known gem tells the story of Inge, a spirited German mail-order bride who travels to rural Minnesota in 1920 to begin her arranged marriage to fellow immigrant Olaf, a Norwegian-born farmer.  Anti-German prejudice and a possible bank foreclosure threaten to prevent them from beginning a happy life together.  The film is a moving tribute to love and endurance in the face of hardship, but it is an equally potent work of social commentary, providing a earnest portrait of both prejudice and the immigrant experience.  Beautifully shot, and featuring nuanced performances from a talented cast (including Alan Cumming, Lois Smith, John Heard, and Ned Beatty), Sweet Land is a tender love story not to be missed.

Punch-Drunk Love (2002)
Paul Thomas Anderson's oddball romance is certainly one of the more unusual cinematic love stories from the new century.  Adam Sandler plays Barry Egan, a lonely small business owner with a heart of gold and a penchant for brief, violent outbursts, often the result of constant hounding by his overbearing sisters.  One day he meets the sweet-natured, quirky Lena (a luminous Emily Watson), and they immediately hit it off.  However, his complicated personal life threatens to derail his newfound romance.  Sandler's portrayal of Barry is a revelation, offering a more sophisticated take on the alternately violent/sweet man-child character that Sandler built his career on in films like Happy Gilmore and The Waterboy, and Jon Brion's intoxicating musical score sets the perfect tone.

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