Sleepless in Seattle (1993)

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Those were the days when people knew how to be in love. Jeff Arch’s story was a meta discourse about people’s views of love and relationships being mediated by the movies. Nora Ephron turned it into a valentine to An Affair to Remember, a 1957 movie starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. Together with her sister Delia it became as much com as rom, but it still has a baseline of melancholy and that killer feeling, bittersweet. Sam (Tom Hanks) is the widowed architect whose son Jonah (Ross Malinger) wants him to find The One so he can have a mother again. They live in Seattle. Annie (Meg Ryan) is the very proper journalist in Baltimore who gets engaged to the allergy-afflicted Walter (Bill Pullman).  She hears Jonah on a late night radio phone-in and stops at a diner where the waitresses talk of nothing else but this sweet  guy whose son wants him to remarry. She thinks there’s a story there but there’s more, as her friend Becky (Rosie O’Donnell) figures when her newly affianced friend is so distracted.  While she vaguely plans to hunt down Sam and carry out some friendly stalking, he starts to date again and his son is disgusted by his choice, one of his co-workers. Sam and Annie see each other across a crowded road when she nearly gets hit by a couple of trucks. Her letter to him asks him to meet at the top of the Empire State building on Valentine’s Day a la Cary and Deborah and it’s sent by Becky without her knowledge.  Things pick up when Jonah flies to NYC to keep the date and she’s there having dinner with Walter during a romantic weekend at The Plaza … The tropes from When Harry Met Sally are here – the mirroring conversations, the advice from friends, the movie references, and even that film’s director Rob Reiner plays Sam’s friend and even though she’ d already made a movie this was what really made Nora Ephron as an auteur. It’s a clever premise, discursive as well as fairytale, positing the idea that even though they’re a country apart a pair of compatible people are destined to meet. Eventually. Isn’t that wild? Separating a romantic couple until the very last five minutes of a film?! What a risk! With a helping hand from fate, a kid and a dream of finding love on Valentine’s Day, it helps that this hits three holiday celebrations including Christmas and New Year’s.  It shouldn’t work but it does, helped with some tart lines about men and women and what people settle for as opposed to what everyone really wants. What a dream team, boosted by some wonderful songs. Irresistible.

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Love Happens (2009)

Love Happens poster

Aaron Eckhart is the self-help guru specialising in bereavement who needs more help than any of his acolytes since he’s never been entirely truthful about who was really behind the wheel the night of his wife’s death in a car crash.  Jennifer Aniston is the commitment-phobe florist who helps him get to the reality of his situation and set free his inner parrot, or something. (There really is a parrot). This is a romantic drama which focuses on Eckhart’s dilemma to the exclusion of any screwball comedy, to which it clearly aspires:  there are tonally wrong dramatic scenes and comic scenes which should have been swopped,  and not enough time is spent on Aniston’s potentially interesting character.  She serves as some sort of satellite to shed light (or enlightenment) on Eckhart (not the most sympathetic of fellows). She is a friend first and foremost – that poster is highly misleading. There is some banter with his manager and some insight into gurus’ mirthless cynicism but it’s not remotely as interesting as Tom Cruise’s performance in Magnolia.  Martin Sheen shows up as his forgiving father in law but the shifts from pathos to comedy don’t work. Confusing. From the pen of Mike Thompson and Brandon Camp, directed by Camp.

North to Alaska (1960)

North to Alaska poster

Such a fun-filled, rumbustious comedy western must have had a great concept – but it didn’t, other than being a Wayne vehicle in Alaska, the newest state and vaguely based on a play called Birthday Gift. There was no script. The first director didn’t like the choice of Capucine as Angel, the prostitute, declaring her unsexy – he didn’t know she was shacking up with Charles Feldman, the producer. So Henry Hathaway came on board. And they started shooting this adventure about prospectors George (John Wayne) and Sam (Stewart Granger) who strike it rich but need to steer clear of conman Frankie (Ernie Kovacs) and keep Sam’s kid brother Billy (Fabian) on the straight and narrow. When Sam’s fiancee in Seattle proves to have married someone else, George brings back Angel and her relationships with each of the men reveals something of each of their characters in the midst of their efforts to keep the gold haul for themselves. For a script written mostly on the hoof by old-timers John Lee Mahin, Martin Rackin, Claude Binyon, Wendell Mayes and Ben Hecht, with contributions by Feldman, it works like a dream, with a tongue in cheek touch that more prepared productions should envy. The song was a huge hit and made the film even more popular. Proper entertainment.

10 Things I Hate About You (1999)

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The vogue for interpreting classic texts and placing them in modern high school settings started with the peerless Clueless. Amongst the films that followed, this is pretty much in the top two. It’s an ingenious take on The Taming of the Shrew (adapted by Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith) with the two battling daughters now in school in Seattle and a conscientious if obsessive widowed ob-gyn dad (beautifully played by Larry Miller) trying to control them and their dating lives. Julia Stiles is a find as Kat, Larisa Oleynik does a good job as younger sis Bianca but it’s the charisma machine that was the late, great Heath Ledger that really leaps off the screen as Patrick, the bane/love of Kat’s life. When he bursts into song it’s something. Excellently handled by director Gil Junger.