Romcoms are really not my thing. I don’t even get all that excited over purely romantic films. Still, there are some of my favourite films that happen to also have romance and romantic couples. So I’ll share those with you.
The Princess Bride
This film is officially old: it was made in 1987 and it has gained classic status. From the description you’d think this was a romantic film. But it’s mostly a fantasy comedy. A young boy is home sick and his grandfather decides to entertain him by reading him a story. Mind you: this was way before tv’s in bedrooms or mobile phones with internet connections. The book is called The Princess Bride and the boy is concerned it may be a mushy book with kisses and stuff. But grandfather assures him it has swashbuckling in it. As in pirates and fighting.
That story is about a girl and a boy who like each other, but the boy disappears one day at sea and the girl is very sad about that. Then the crown prince of the land wants to get married and somehow the girl ends up being his bride: the princess bride, see? But she still believes her one true love will come back to her. Meanwhile, a plot is hatched to abduct the princess bride and as she is being whisked away, a pirate happens to follow her and seems bent on rescuing her. This is where the swashbuckling comes in. And indeed some lovely choreographed sword fights take place. The princess bride learns who the pirate is and decides she has to follow her heart. To be fair, the romantic couple seems a bit unbalanced to me, but if it works for them: good on them!
This film is easily the most romantic film ever, right? Penniless writer, beautiful dancer at an exotic venue, an evil duke who wants to buy the beautiful dancer: and then all that singing (it’s a musical)! But I actually like it for the way the songs are used in this film. Moulin Rouge (2001) used popular songs to tell the story and it works. Rather than writing songs to fit the story line in, the story is captured in these songs most people already know. It gives each song more depth and makes the whole film feel utterly familiar.
The film is a loud one. Not just in sound, with lots of songs – sometimes overlapping – and lots of noise. But also in colours and visuals. It bombards you and that is unusual. The most demure thing in Moulin Rouge is Ewan McGregor’s acting. He just acts so sweet and innocent, it’s really almost too much. But that’s his character. It makes the ending so much more heartbreaking. Because yes: your heart will break in the end. But it’s worth it, even if it is not a film for everyone. Love it or hate it, seems to be the way.
Science fiction films don’t have any romantic sides, right? Wrong! The Matrix is at its center a romantic film. For me, anyway. The main story may be about a young man who discovers he is living in a simulation and is being used as a battery for evil robot overlords, but once his mind is free, he falls for the woman who basically rescued him. But because of the whole war with the machines, they never really get a chance to have nice dates, get to know each other and meet each other’s family. So they do their romancy stuff on the side, while fighting and fleeing.
Again, The Matrix is an old, old film by now. It’s still a very good film to watch, especially if you are in a relationship where one person is into science fiction, and the other one not so much. Just suspend your disbelief and imagine that we live in a world where people live in a computer simulation of an imperfect world. If you imagine that, it certainly explains a few things about the world. Then when the film is over, this life in this world doesn’t seem to bad.
The musical Grease is all about summer love, so it already qualifies as an actual romantic film. Set in the repressed 50’s, a rebel ‘greaser’ and a cutesy girl fall in love, at the beach, in summer, away from school and peer pressure. But when they discover they go to the same high school things change. They don’t seem to belong together. Or do they? Because they feel so strongly for each other, they are willing to do what it takes.
It’s not just about romance, you know. The film was based on a musical play, that explored more than just love and romance. There was a subplot dealing with unwanted pregnancy, which was toned down for the film. It’s also just about being a teenager (even if all the actors are way older than their characters). Trying out who you want to be, what your boundaries are and who you want to hang out with. The romance in Grease is just the sickly sweet cover.
I do like old films. I mean: really old. The Pirate is a musical from 1948! Starring Judy Garland, iconic singer, and Gene Kelly, legendary dancer, it’s a forgotten classic (my opinion, as not everyone enjoyed this film). The story is pretty simple. 1830: Young girl must marry hideous man, but has a young-girl-crush on a horrible pirate (pirates are cool and romantic to her). Con-artist/performer comes to town, likes what he sees in young girl and discovers her crush. Then he pretends to be that pirate! But what will happen if the real pirate comes around?
There are some very nice songs in this film, but I mostly like it because Gene Kelly is such an amazing dancer. I think The Pirate has the best dance sequence he has ever done. And that is saying something, seeing as he performed in Singin’ in the Rain, American in Paris and danced with Jerry the cartoon mouse. But yes: it has a twist, and it is romantic, even if it is a bit weird for a young girl to idolize a ruthless pirate. Also, it’s a bit icky that the con-artist tries to fool her into thinking he’s someone he is not, just to get her interested in him. But the dancing!
West Side Story
There are two films of this musical: one from 1961 and one from 2021. Since both have the same romantic couple, it really doesn’t matter which one you see. Though I will always prefer the 1961 version. West Side Story is a take on Romeo and Juliet, but set in the 50’s/60’s with two opposing families making life difficult for the romantic couple. In both versions there are awesome songs and impressive dance scenes.
You can compare this to Moulin Rouge, because it is not a very upbeat, happy romcom film. But underneath the drama there is the very real story of exclusion and racism. In Romeo and Juliet the couple is just caught between two families who happen to hate each other, thanks to a family feud. Tony and Maria are from different ethnic backgrounds. This theme is set out heavier in the 2021 version. I almost say ‘of course’, because though the 1961 version has muted that aspect, West Side Story‘s message must have been loud and clear to the audience at the time. Romance and drama, made to look spectacular by song and dance, and still able to point out a social issue.
Walk the Line
Biopics are something I enjoy. Walk the Line is the film that tells the story of Johnny Cash, a musician/singer who grew up in the 1930s in a rather poor family. His love for music brings him to start singing and recording. He’s rather successful at it, eventually. But being out on the road is hard on a young family, so his wife leaves him at some point. But that is not the romance. Because his great love was still out there and he has known her basically all his life. He just never thought he’d get the chance with her. Until, of course, he does.
Just like with Respect (Aretha Franklin biopic), there is a lot going on in Johnny Cash’s life. You get all the wonderful songs, which I am sure you realise you know, but you didn’t know you knew. You get the drama of how he has a difficult relationship with his father. You feel the pressure he was under at times and how he understood how little it took for people to make the wrong choice in life. Cash performed for inmates at a (notorious?) prison and put the recording of that concert out on an album. He was never one to choose the easy road and that lead to many interesting twists in his life and his music. Walk the Line is an excellent film, even if you’re not familiar with Johnny Cash (who is played brilliantly by Joaquin Phoenix).
Yes! Shrek! Oh, how impressed I was the first time I watched this, back in 2001. On re-watching it recently, I thought it looked rather cheap. But at the time, the technique was awesome. The story holds up. Ogre gets kicked out of his home, blackmailed into rescuing a princess for a horrible nobleman and has a talking donkey for a sidekick. Then it turns out the princess has a secret that makes her less suitable for the stuck up lord and more right for the ogre. Then there is also a dragon/donkey thing going on. It’s romantic! It’s about picking a partner you’re comfortable with, who has something in common with you.
But other than the romance options for an ogre, this is a funny film. Shrek is voiced by Mike Myers and he is really enjoying himself as this rude and anti-social creature. It isn’t just Shrek, the donkey and the princess Fiona who get to shine. The film has a large cast of seemingly small parts that are all funny and somehow important. And yes, it is a perfect family film. Watch is with kids and they’ll laugh at all the silly things that the fairy tale creatures get up to. And for grownups there is plenty to laugh at too.
I Love You Phillip Morris
This story is so out there, you’d think someone made it up. But this actually happened. The film I Love You Phillip Morris is based on real events. Steven is married to Debbie and they have a happy life together. But after Steven has a car crash and survives, he takes stock of his life so far and comes out as gay. Even more so, he decides life is too short to not live it to the fullest. From being a police officer, he turns to con artist, so he can do what he dreams of. This leads to him ending up in jail for fraud, where he meets Phillip Morris and they fall in love. Hence the romance. Steven ends up breaking the law for Phillip and love, to have the best life together. Yes, it requires lots of successful cons, but they have a wonderful time. Until they don’t. But it’s not a sad story. It’s a love story.
It’s a strange set of events, a series of weird choices, a mad dash to get everything out of life that you possibly can. Is Steven selfish or obsessed with his love? Is he a victim or a hero? I don’t think I can even begin to judge that and I just take I Love You Phillip Morris for what it is: a wonderful and colourful story. It helps that the leads are Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor. Let’s just say that the film shows that love can make you do crazy things, that it creates an insanity that is usually temporary. But it can also bring you so much joy and beauty, maybe it is worth it.
Shaun of the Dead
It’s a horror comedy, but it is also a tale of love. Shaun of the Dead is a film about surviving a zombie apocalypse, while trying to save your mum and getting back together with your girlfriend. I had no interest in watching this film, but my guy insisted on taking me to the cinema to watch this. And I thought it was funny. It’s now become such a cozy film for me, that I just watch it when I am having an off day or one of those days where you just don’t want to move from the sofa. It’s this or Happy Feet.
Though it definitely is funny, it’s also a zombie film. So I would not necessarily recommend watching this if fake blood and creepy zombie make-up is not your thing. But it is funny, if you understand some of the zombie and horror film tropes. Zombies are slow. When fleeing in a group beware that someone will get bitten. Trying to keep safe, the group will barricade the windows and doors, but the zombies always get through in the end. Does Shaun get back together with his ex-girlfriend? Who knows. You’ll have to watch Shaun of the Dead yourself.