Showing posts with label romance. Show all posts
Showing posts with label romance. Show all posts

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Crazy Rich Asians (2018) Puts A Feminist Twist on Rom-Com Fairytale

Warner Bros. Pictures
Anyone who’s anyone has probably heard of Crazy Rich Asians, Kevin Kwan's international bestselling book that's taken the literary world by storm since 2013. If you haven't, chances are you'll know its name now with the critically acclaimed adaptation closely following its lead. And for good reason: director Jon M Chu charms with a story about love, sacrifice and identity that'll sweep you off your feet.

An economics professor Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) is invited by her boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding) to attend a family wedding. Making a good first impression to your possible-in-laws is naturally intimidating, but Chu’s meet-and-greet brings a shocking revelation: Young is the prized son to one of the richest families in Singapore and the approval of his mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh) is extraordinarily difficult to earn; so much so, it might end up tearing them apart.

At first glance, Crazy Rich Asians is a lighthearted, endearing movie that's pretty much like every other romantic comedy: pretty people falling head over heels for each other in wonderful locations set to an addictive soundtrack. But sometimes the best rom-coms have substance as well as style, and this film has both in spades; especially the latter starring women (and men) struggling to sacrifice or uphold a part of their identity and traditions to appease the people they love.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Watch On Netflix: Set It Up (2018)

For the past several years, romantic comedies haven't flourished like they used to. Gone are the days where one quirky love story after another swept us off our feet and dominated the box office. While The Big Sick and Love, Simon have recently become beloved favorites, regular hits seem few and far between. After significant word-of-mouth through social media, there might be some hope left for the ol' harmless genre with Netflix's Set It Up

Two hardworking assistants Harper and Charlie (Zoey Deutch and Glenn Powell, respectively) are anxious to live a normal life outside of the office and enjoy more free time to themselves. To get a much-needed break and reconnect with neglected aspirations/relationships, they decide to secretly set up their bosses Kristen (Lucy Liu) and Rick (Taye Diggs) for a quick hook-up that might just become the real deal.

Fascinatingly, Set It Up is not entirely different than most 'chick flicks' you'd find on the Hallmark channel - which isn't an insult to Netflix's surprise hit at all. Like all rom-coms, the story is a bit of a fairy-tale and more happy-go-lucky than real life fails to be; there's cutesy montages, sappy quotes about what it means to fall in love, a dance-party-Spotify-worthy songlist. Drawing on elements of what's worked in the past for the genre - heartwarming characters, the right cast, and a joyful setting - director Claire Scanlon and writer by Katie Silberman revive the rom-com wheel to create a funny and light-hearted movie night and a big hit online.

Where the movie truly shines is the leads. Zoey Deutch charms the hell out of her role as Harper, an awkward, dorky 'insert foot into mouth' aspiring writer who's become too comfortable filling out her boss's requests in order to take a leap of faith and combine her love of words and sports into a different career. (Something I relate with all too well, fyi). Glen Powell is the perfect counterpart as Charlie, a likeable guy-next-door who puts up with his hotshot boss in order to be promoted and live the high-life, but in getting everything he wants, he might inadvertently fall down the same loveless path Rick's on. As a pair they truly steal the show, wonderfully alienating each other until they fall in love as we fall in love with them.

As for Harper and Charlies' bosses, the script for both Kristen and Rick isn't horrible but could be a bit stronger. There's simply more to love about Lucy Liu's performance and wardrobe than Taye Diggs's. The former's boss-from-hell is fierce, independent, and demanding yet as down-to-earth-as possible, while the latter's quite one-sided and doesn't put his charisma to good use. Though Diggs is typically wonderful in everything he does, his character is less of a perfectionist womanizer with a heart of gold underneath, and more of a spoiled tantrum-thrower with shades of decency thrown in. While the rest of the cast has a sense of humor tailored to them (Harper's sarcastic/clever, Charlie's dry, Kristen's sharp), Rick's one-liners are so random they'll require a double-take. Additionally, Kristen/Rick's initial run-in can only be described as awkward, in comparison to the rest of the movie that's quite subtle and wholesome. While Rick's faults goes to the writing more than the actor, everyone blends together quite smoothly; Liu has a lot more to work with here (she might even get her own sequel), but with Diggs, they manage to exude 'will-they-or-won't-they' chemistry as well as Deutch and Powell.

The most refreshing aspect about Set It Up might be how it avoids falling into tropes with its characters, especially its heroine. The script, and Deutch, have a great time with Harper as a hard-working and dorky-to-the-max protagonist, and also showing that she hasn't had a lot of romantic partners but that doesn't necessarily define. Charlie, who thinks he's quite the ladies man, doesn't try to change her personality or looks to improve her life. Their relationship starts out as strangers who want the same things, which develops into a relateable friendship and something more. There's no man-boys forcing women to be something they're not (looking at you Judd Apatow) or a girl being forced to choose between work and love (looking at you...every other rom-com ever); all of the characters are on equal playing fields. As Netflix churns out feel-good flicks left and right, this one's reminiscent of traditional romantic movies that are thoroughly missed.

Set It Up might not be the most original romantic comedy, but sometimes that's the best kind of escape; girl and boy meet; for the most part get along and wear their 'friendship blinders' until they discover what they've been missing: each other. The movie has a lot to love just the way it is. With a great cast and delightful setting, it's genuinely worth a watch or two.

Have you seen Set It Up? What did you think?

Thursday, February 1, 2018

5 Favorite "Guilty Pleasure" Romantic Comedies

I don't believe in guilty pleasures. We all have books, movies, or tv shows that we love, but in other people's eyes, we're supposed to feel bad about liking. Why? 'Cause they're not masterpieces or universally praised? We're supposed to "hate ourselves" for liking something other people don't? I don't get it. Since it's the month of love, and romantic comedies are supposed to be the bane of "serious" filmmaking, I thought it'd be fun to share some movies I should probably feel guilty about but don't. Here are 5 Favorite "Guilty Pleasure" Romantic Comedies. What are you some of your favorite rom-com movies other people hate? Feel free to share in the comments!

Thursday, October 26, 2017

My Cousin Rachel (2017) is the Victorian-horror-romance we need

My Cousin Rachel 2017 Movie Review
Fox Searchlight Pictures
Based on the novel by Daphne DuMaurier, director Roger Michell creates a spellbinding Gothic horror that fits our every period-drama need. In the beginning, the story seems like an open-and-close of murder, but languidly turns into a tale between an unreliable narrator and a Victorian femme-fatale.

Observing from afar, a young man Phillip (Sam Claflin) becomes suspicious about the torrid affair between his cousin Ambrose and companion Rachel (Rachel Weisz). When his revered fatherly figure dies rather quickly and under mysterious circumstances, Phillip declares justice for his loss but instead finds himself down a path Ambrose took: falling under her spell.

So rarely does a Gothic horror movie plant a very simple idea in our heads, but My Cousin Rachel sparks us to ask did she or didn't she, and then makes us question our choice every step of the way.

From the beginning, Phillip's beliefs about her guilt and wanting to make her pay for his relative's death is easy to side with. What he knows or assumes about Rachel from his loved one's letters about her as a "torment" and his worsening his health is all we need to believe she may be guilty too. When she shows up on his doorstep, her compelling presence, only wanting the best of everything for him, makes it difficult to gauge whether she's working his emotions to her own benefit or if she's as innocent as she could be. Lacking in any romantic relationships himself, he's overwhelmed by her femininity and prowess, easily squashing the vengeance he held so firmly. But as Phillip grows increasingly obsessed with his newfound love, nearly vying for ownership over her, it becomes harder to see Rachel as a murderess casting revenge, and more of a free spirit not wanting to be possessed by anyone; unfortunately, caged in by societal rules.

One thing is almost certain: their love affair will end in catastrophe, but along the way, the story asks who the culprit is. The story starts out concerned if Rachel murdered Ambrose, and slowly begins mirroring a possibility of how their relationship grew troublesome. At once Phillip and Rachel can be hopeful, joyous, and splendidly over the moon about each other, but then on a dime turns extraordinarily spiteful and malicious. At every turn, Rachel never escapes the unyielding paranoia Phillip has cast on her, or she cast on herself. For both of them, the question we started out with of who killed Ambrose turns into who is the victim and the manipulator.

To make this work, the leads had to be very special. From big adaptations The Hunger Games and Me Before You to smaller productions like Their Finest, Sam Claflin rarely does no-wrong. Phillip required someone who was dashing and broken, skeptical and selfish, and Claflin offers everything his character needs to believe in his convictions whether they're wrong or right. To build his downfalls, by the same token, Rachel Weisz captures an enigmatic spirit for Rachel. In no time at all, one can't help but be warmed by her spirits, sympathetic of the quickly forgotten notion that she too lost Ambrose, guilty for casting her innocence aside too soon, but also left questioning her intentions. Throughout her career Weisz's managed a myriad of complex roles, slipping under the radar as one of the best actresses in Meryl Streep's league. Together, they make an hypnotic, complicated duo.

Melding the story and performances with the direction and stunning cinematography, My Cousin Rachel adequately fills every gothic-romance fanatics's needs. If a scene is cast in a meadow, one can't help but feel the breeze and freedom the outdoor gives. When set inside the house, it's quaint by claustrophobic. Every frame evokes that moody, unrequited stay in a haunted house waiting for the skeletons to come out of the closet. As an author DuMaurier has always been ample material for Hitchcockian-like films, and Roger Mitchell rekindling one of her stories delivers the ambiguity she delved into to make a visually and emotionally pleasing puzzle.

My Cousin Rachel proves to be a compelling mystery, a rare chameleon as a whirlwind love affair, and an identity crises for its leads. Thriving on paranoia, the who-dun-it elements work seamlessly for a first viewing, and subsequently inspire you to seek what you might've missed before. Aided by fascinating actors, a capable script, and beautiful cinematography, the movie dispenses a daunting ballad of horror and romance.

Rating: ★★★
Have you seen My Cousin Rachel?
What did you think?

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Working Girl (1983) spins the Cinderella fairytale in the workplace

Working Girl movie review
Photo Credit: Working Girl / 20th Century Fox
Tess McGill (Melanie Griffith) may not have an ivy league education, but she knows her value - a hard worker, creative, determined and a team player. Unfortunately, as a Wall Street temp, these qualities are taken advantage of by chauvinistic co-workers to treat her as a prostitute and to get overlooked by her bosses. Finally, when she's had enough, she risks everything to strike out on her own by posing as a high-end executive Katharine Parker (Sigourney Weaver) to make a business deal with a handsome investment broker Jack Trainer (Harrison Ford).

Though cliche and a little imperfect, Working Girl is a Cinderella story sprinkled with workplace sexism. McGill wants more than anything to prove her worth, share her ideas without a co-worker taking the credit and simply move on up the latter. Her age, gender and lack of former education hold her ambition hostage. In the most drastic ways like dressing up in her boss's clothing and setting up meetings with executives out of her professional league, she becomes her own fairy godmother. Women can be successful in a few different ways: stepping on people to stay atop the ladder, playing the game, or accepting their lot in life; using fashion, contacts, and an open ear as an opportunity to make their stamp.

The script isn't perfect, but it's a fun little romp to see who or when someone will catch onto Tess' extreme scheme. While posing as her boss, she has insatiable chemistry with the ever-charismatic Jack and tries to dodge other increasingly suspicious employees. Time isn't on her side as she cleverly pushes her ideas to the finishing line but risks people finding out she's just a secretary.

I’m not going to spend the rest of my life working my ass off and getting nowhere just because I followed rules that I had nothing to do with setting up.

Right away, Tess feels relatable, someone (a woman) who wants to work without involving sexual politics. This is primarily accomplished by Griffith as Tess; she's very subtle as a comedienne, quirky, and a fresh face that even now one would be interested in watching out for. You can see where she gets it as the daughter to Tippi Hedren, and Griffith's daughter Dakota Johnson carries the mantle now. As a second generation movie star, Griffith shares great chemistry with Harrison Ford whose dapper charm still holds up in the charisma department like hunks Clark Gable and Cary Grant.

Alongside Griffith for the ride is Sigourney Weaver, kinda unlike audiences have seen or are familiar with her before i.e. kicking ass and taking names in Aliens. Here, as Tess' boss and frenemy, she doesn't have a problem with stepping on people to get to the top, but she isn't entirely villainous. It's fun to question whether she is a true mentor to her protege or looking out for herself. Weaver is funny and sharp, and as usual, her character is not one to cross.

While the cast and story may be a little timeless, the movie is also a shocking refresher of the eighties era it's trapped in. The production design, and in particular, the costumes, are an astounding walk down memory lane, even if you didn't live through the era personally. The ginormous desktop computers, shoulder-padded suits, overwhelming perms, and gaudy make-up all come back to delight or horror.

Thirty years after this movie was released, equality in the workplace hasn't been fully achieved. The movie rightfully earned Academy Award nominations for its ladies: Griffith, Weaver, and Joan Cusack, as well as Best Picture and Director, and won for Best Original Song. Though elements of Working Girl might be outdated, but its scrappy heroine is funny, relatable, and elicits a serious case of go-getting.

Rating: ★★☆
Have you seen Working Girl? What did you think?

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Where Did All The Rom-Coms Go?

Similar to studios releasing horror movies into theaters at New Years or Christmas movies in July, romantic comedies haven't been relegated to February releases in several years. But it still has remained a strange mood to adjust to when Cupid's month rolls around and there isn't a bundle of swoon-worthy films to enjoy a girls' weekend or single's dalliance at the theaters. In fact, looking at the next year ahead in 2017, only a handful of romantic-centered movies are coming out in theaters or on a streaming service like Netflix. And the lack of popularity of this once inescapable genre makes me ask: where did all the rom-coms go?

While pondering about recent releases at home and in theaters, I reasoned that my inability to find more options was because my own personal tastes for this genre are limited. Generally, I like to be swept off of my feet, but prefer rom-coms where the characters aren't around to fill a 'swooning' quota, the script offers dynamic dialogue, and the story has something other to offer than just two people falling in love. Mostly, I don't like to watch comedies where guys just ogle the girl-next-door or use women for their own macho rivals with other bros. My favorites run the lines between You've Got Mail and Bridget Jones’s Diary to sweeping epics like Titanic and Pride and Prejudice - basically flicks that could be denounced as a romantic movie at a glance but I'm not compelled to defend its chick flick sensibilities.

In looking back on films in 2016, I realized the grand sum of what I had seen was two: How To Be Single, a hot mess about three women learning to be single by not being single, and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies which pits Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy against the zombie apocalypse.  Even though my own preferred style of rom-coms is limited, I was hard-pressed to find not only rom-coms where the women are swept off their feet but lifestyle movies - where women are as focused on their career and family as they are on their relationships - and came up short. Whether released online or in theaters, around or far-away from Valentine's Day, the genre has slowly started to wither away.

But if rom-coms aren't as popular as they used to be, have they subtly transformed into another genre altogether that we just can't recognize them anymore.

There's nothing inherently wrong about movies where women find the love of their lives. We escape from real life in many ways, and surely, one of them is to have an amazing designer wardrobe, high-profile job, and finding fervent fantasies with Mr and Mrs Right through our celebrity crushes. However, considering some of the biggest money makers or influential actresses over the past few years, women flocked to theaters to see many different types of movies, and yet the genre hasn't been able to maintain its previous influence:

The Devil Wears Prada put Anne Hathaway and Emily Blunt on the map as assistants to a powerful fashion magazine editor played by Meryl Streep. The movie focuses on the duo getting ahead in their careers and the double standards of female bosses versus men.

Magic Mike flipped the tables on women as the typical eye-candy by turning Hollywood’s hottest ab-actors like Channing Tatum and Matthew McConaughey into strippers.

Bridesmaids, with Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Rose Bryne, and, was the female answer to The Hangover, where competition between a maid-of-honor and a bridesmaid causes chaos before a friend’s wedding.

Over the years, rom-coms have changed from the inside out. Thanks to the likes of comedians like Melissa McCarthy, Sandra Bullock, and Kristen Wiig, women have moved into the comedy genre where their characters purely bring on the laughs instead of the love. Meanwhile, other actresses like Reese Witherspoon and Julia Roberts have grown out of the  'American Sweethearts' image to take on more mature, complicated roles, and more up-and-coming actresses strive for complex roles in indies and dramas than the typical boy-meets-girl route in young adult.

Just as moviegoers want to see more dynamic women in science-fiction, fantasy, and action, women in romance have come to closely resemble real women living next-to-normal lives. More subtly, other types of movies focusing on relationships or singledom have come to the forefront in the form of independent movies focusing on heartbreak or topical social issues: A broken marriage was torn to pieces with Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling’s characters in Blue Valentine; Joseph Gordon-Levitt went through the complicated seasons of love to co-star Zooey Deschanel in the indie 500 Days of Summer; a comedian played by Jenny Slate faces having an abortion after a one-night stand in Obvious Child. And if a film still centers on a women's love life, the dynamics of stories we used to know like the back of our hands have changed: characters aren't limited to just being completed by someone else, women befriend other women without becoming enemies or fighting over the same guy, and are starting to prominently feature LGBTQ couples and minorities.

In asking myself where did the rom-com genre go, I also have to ask how it has changed. It hasn’t necessarily gone anywhere – just that the ones we're used to are on a break. To have any sort of comeback at all, the genre has to become smarter, well-rounded, and inclusive.


What do you guys think? Do you miss rom-coms? Let me know in the comments below!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Sleepless In Seattle (1993)

Photo Credit: Sleepless in Seattle/ TriStar Pictures
Having relocated from Chicago to Seattle following the loss of his wife, Sam Baldwin (Tom Hanks) is encouraged by his adolescent son to pour his feelings of grief to a sensationalist shrink over the radio. Across the country, in Baltimore, that very same evening, a newly engaged Annie (Meg Ryan) hears Sam's story and becomes increasingly infatuated that she could be the one for him.

Nora Ephron's Sleepless in Seattle poses us with the question: is someone you never met the one for you? Her main character Annie treks across the country to challenge the safe path she is on and to take a risk on a different kind of partner who may be able to satisfy her expectations (most of it being driven by classic romance movies). It's a brave and sorta hopeless romantic quest because she could end up looking crazy, or it could not work out all. There's a cutesy-allergy sensitive obstacle that stands in Annie's way: her fiance Walter. Currently involved in a relationship she never really questions, until her mother mentions that meeting Annie's father was magic.

As much as I admire Ephron's filmography, Annie's escapade comes off more as stalkerish, and weird, than insatiably naive and quirky (as Meg Ryan wonderfully plays her). Maybe it's worth it to some characters, or real persons, to go out of their way to see if there is another love out there for them...  I couldn't quite fall for her attempt at looking for other romantic possibilities, someone she never met before, when Walter is endearing, considerate, and thankfully, isn't imbued with condescending faults that make his imperfect personality a love or leave him an ultimatum.

Annie all but throws her engagement to Walter aside as if it's not living up to its potential, and Sam's voice over the radio becomes a preemptively created fantasy in her mind of what great love can be. It's sorta the fangirl's ultimate fantasy - to know a guy, find him, and everything works out. Ryan is truly enthusiastic and lively, but her efforts seem to cross the line of being attracted to a guy she never met and overstepping her bounds.

On the opposite end of the line, Sam is guarded and isn't ready to take chances for a new relationship. All he's known is Maggie, and once she's gone, he believes moving across the country will aid his grief. His friends are not hopeful nor entirely enthusiastic he'll find another Maggie but he gives a few dates and the possibility of getting laid a chance - just because everyone suggests he does it. Though Hanks delivers a rightfully sensitive performance, there's never really a deep exploration (as far as romantic movies go) for Sam to identify his loss - which keeps him literally sleepless in Seattle. For the magnitude of love that each character was aspiring to capture for themselves, neither one fully seems emotionally ready. Annie has a hard enough time hiding her one-sided infatuation with Sam from her fiance, it's hard to imagine how her first date w/ Sam will go: Oh yeah, I heard you on the radio and hired a private investigator to trail you out on dates and days off with your son.... Instead, their prospective romance comes off more like my favorite line from the film: Sam: Didn't you see Fatal Attraction?....it scared the shit out of me! It scared the shit out of every man in America!

Taking on the common theme that This Relationship Is Destiny, I didn't feel this iconic story translated very well. Director and writer Ephron tries to emulate this same kind of "magic" found in other films like An Affair to Remember (cited numerously by her characters) by invoking the same type of characteristics both Sam and Annie share: favorite Baseball players, separate friends talking about Cary Grant, believing that touching someone's hand you may know they are the one. There are plenty of cute moments that show how compatible they are with each other, but more of the storyline is Annie forcing her hand, Sam's son making all the arrangements, and Sam balancing his first fling since his wife passed away.

Relationships can be many things; a respectfully familiar yet full of love, lightning in a bottle, a lucky meeting of the minds or hearts labeled as fate, or an adventure in which you move mountains to find ( the latter of which is Annie's heartfelt, if not weird, quest). The possible romance for Sam and Annie never quite live up how Ephron injects the idea of that their meeting is destiny. Every woman wants to fall in love just like in the movies, and there's probably no one more than me that feels heartless for not going gaga over Sleepless In Seattle. Even the classic ending didn't inspire as much magic as it is known for.
Rating: ★☆☆
Have you seen Sleepless In Seattle? What are your thoughts?