Thursday, October 13, 2016

Things I Learned from the Movies: 5 Life Lessons from Romance

This blog entry is my submission to Speakeasy’s Things I Learned from the Movies blogathon. I thought I’d share five invaluable lessons that I learned from devouring so many romantic films. Because romance is the warmest genre.

Vague spoilers for Blue is the Warmest Colour, Café Society, Carol, Cinema Paradiso, Slumdog Millionaire and Some Like it Hot follow!


05) Sometimes it’s not about changing the other person. It’s about changing yourself. (Carol)

Carol, my favourite film of 2015, has plenty to recommend about it: flawless performances, and chemistry between, Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. Sensuous cinematography and production design that transported me right back to 1950s Manhattan. Carter Burwell’s swoon-worthy score. Todd Haynes’ subtle, meticulous direction, never putting a prop wrong.

But what I really love about Carol was how Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara, on transcendent form, and despite the Weinsteins forcing her to commit category fraud at the Oscars, very much a lead performance) transformed over the course of the film. At the beginning she is so wide-eyed and callow that she even mimics what Carol orders for lunch. Her eagerness to please the sophisticated older woman proves to be her downfall, leaving her exposed and a sitting duck to have her heart broken.

At the end of the film, however, we notice how this bruising experience has moulded her. She isn’t the pushover she once was, standing up to Carol when they next meet, and whilst Carol is taken by surprise about this, this makes the older woman respect her more. The closing shot of the film, where the two smile at each other across a crowded restaurant, tantalises with hope, but at the same time, is intelligent enough not to make any empty promises.

The love story in Carol encapsulates that age-old adage: how can someone else love you when you don’t love yourself? Therese’s head-over-heels passionate voyage with Carol was more about finding herself than it was the titular character.


04) Sometimes, the improbable happens. (Slumdog Millionaire)

It was Jane Austen who observed ‘Friendship is certainly the finest balm for the pangs of disappointed love’. Whilst I don’t refute this, I have another route I take when I don’t want to piss off my friends by ranting about the same cnutty boys hi Wasteman. Hi Boy with the Forest Tattoo / Wolf of Fleet Street. for the ten thousandth time: movies. And Slumdog Millionaire is one of my favourite feel-good movies.

Danny Boyle’s multi-Oscar winner Slumdog Millionaire is regarded by many a sniffy film critic as one of the weakest films to win Best Picture (and they would be wrong in that assertion. That would be Crash). But I bloody love this movie.

The film revolves around a youth from an impoverished part of Mumbai who, from personal life experience, is able to correctly answer all 15 of the questions and win Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, as well as the heart of the girl he’s adored since childhood.

In theory, I should be averse to such a film, as my chief criticism of a lot of the romances I watch are that they are projecting dishonest messages to the audience, an audience of which will surely include impressionable young girls who will take what they see at face value. As a more distrustful 26 year old woman (dating in London means I’ve met far too many Ben Afflecks in Gone Girl-type clowns, let me put it that way), I know better.

But such is the thrill and entertainment value of Slumdog Millionaire that I was able to take off my cynic’s hat and not only forgive the film its contrivances, but positively bask in them. Slumdog Millionaire is a fairy tale. Such a story would never happen to me. But that doesn’t make Jamal’s quest to find Latika any less touching.

No one in the corner has swagger like them.


03) Well, nobody’s perfect (Some Like it Hot)

A pithy lesson, but an important one. Some Like it Hot, Billy Wilder’s fabulous film about two jazz instrumentalists who go on the run from the mob and disguise themselves as women, has inspired many imitations (for example, the very amusing White Chicks), but the original remains the blueprint.

Even without an important life lesson, I strongly recommend y'all watch Some Like It Hot. It's got sensational zingers (Marilyn Monroe's curvy figure is described as 'Jello on springs'), a musical number with a very sexy Marilyn Monroe and all manner of comedy of errors. 

Much of the laughs arise from Tony Curtis' playboy encouraging  Jack
Lemmon, who's female disguise who has caught the eye of Joe E. Brown's dim-witted millionaire, to lead him on, so that Lemmon can get access to Brown's yacht, which Curtis plans on wooing Monroe with. Does it pay off? Well, it's a romantic comedy...

The film’s most famous line comes at the very end. As the two men escape on a boat with their respective love interests, Lemmon's character takes off his wig, as a means of ending the facade and explaining why he can't marry his besotted admirer. Brown's response, 'well, nobody's perfect', is one of cinema's greatest punchlines.

Man isn't wrong, either.


 02) Even if it ended, that doesn't stop us dreaming (Blue is the Warmest Colour and Café Society)

The dreamy look that came over Jesse Eisenberg’s Bobby and Kristen Stewart’s Vonnie in Café Society simultaneously as they are on opposite coasts of the United States was some of the most emotionally honest storytelling Woody Allen’s given. Similarly, the ambiguous ending of Blue is the Warmest Colour has Adèle Exarchopoulos still not moving on from the love she shared with Léa Seydoux’s arty Emma, some years after the relationship broke down.

I've included these two examples although there are a tonne of moments of people savouring momentos from past lovers that have affected me (Ennis cradling Jack's shirt in Brokeback Mountain was heartbreaking), because they illustrate two instances of longing: mutual and unrequited. Regardless of whether, like in Café Society, that melancholy feeling is shared, or in Blue is the Warmest Colour, the object of longing has moved on, in both cases, it's best to just cherish the memories.

Cherish the memories and let it be.

There’s nothing wrong with giving old relationships the odd flitter of thought now and then. There are many good reasons why you’re not with that person any more. But the fact that you still occasionally think about them merely shows that what you had was of substance.


01) Life isn’t like in the movies (Cinema Paradiso)

Cinema Paradiso is a film that means a lot to me, because it conflates the two elements that define my existence: love of cinema, and having a tendency to fall truly, madly, deeply, in love. 

The film charts a young lad, Salvatore’s journey through adolescence and adulthood and the role his local cinema plays on his formative years. At the age of 6, his passion for films and cheeky nature catch the eye of Alfredo, the cinema’s elderly projectionist. Salvatore comes to view Alfredo as a father figure and asks him for advice when he falls hard for the local beauty, Elena, to which Alfredo offers guidance, often in the form of movie quotes.

As life gives him lemons, Salvatore comes to realise that life isn’t quite like the stories shown on the screen, where the love interests always end up together and tribulations of life evaporate. Reality isn’t like that, and Salvatore’s idealised imagining of the world, etched so deeply into his cerebrum from his many hours spent at the cinema, render this harsh lesson ever the more poignant.

It’s a straightforward story, but gorgeously told, and the way Salvatore’s amorous experiences and his cinema-going ones dovetail with each other to build his character, is something that resonates deeply with me. To this day, I’m incapable of hearing Ennio Morricone’s ‘Love Theme’ without crying.

Life doesn't turn out how like in the films. The boy doesn't get the girl. He might get someone else instead, and that person could well be even better.

Ironically, only a film could show me such a crucial lesson.


Gosh, I love romantic films so much!

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Quiggy said...

I have only seen Slumdog Millionaire once, after a night of carousing so I was not completely sober, but I remember liking it. And who possibly couldn't like Some Like It Hot? The others I haven't seen, but the observations are still quite valid and illuminating.

Emma said...

Hey Quiggy, thanks for reading! Yeah, SOME LIKE IT HOT is a masterpiece!

I love it when movies can teach us things, or just reflect ourselves :')

Silver Screenings said...

Romance movies kind of have a bad rep for being mindless entertainment. Well, you've disproven that theory, thankfully. I really liked the variety of films you chose and the different (and real!) lessons they teach us.

Thank you for joining the blogathon with these lessons from romance movies. You've given me a few things to think about.

Caftan Woman said...

Tender, thoughtful and truthful look at how the movies can reflect our lives.

Kristina said...

Good choices and lessons, seen all except for Slumdog which I want to asap, sounds great. Therese in Carol, her big shift from saying yes to everything to a no (even though it precedes another yes) is a neat sum of her changes. Thanks for taking part in this!


What a cool post! Your take about Carol made me love it even more, I already liked the open ending, but I hadn't thought about the "love yourself first" lesson on it. Also, "nobody is perfect" is a wonderful lesson to take from Some Like It Hot!
Don't forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! :)

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