Total Recall: Offbeat Romantic Comedies
We mark this week's release of (500) Days of Summer with 10 of our favourites
"What is it, a quirky comedy?" Michael Cera asks Charlyne Yi about the film she's making in next week's docu-rom-com Paper Heart. "Yeah, we need more of those." Cera's deadpan delivery (is there any other kind?) hints at the fact that "quirky" has become a something of a dirty word for a few -- implying a forced eccentricity that crosses the line from the endearing to the irritating. As this week's breakout hit (500) Days of Summer is proving, however, audiences still appreciate a romantic comedy on the right side of idiosyncratic. With 'indie' pinups Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel in the leads, this unconventional tale of heartbreak is a long way from the cheesy era of Meg Ryan and Hugh Grant.
But (500) Days isn't the first film to mess with our rom-com expectations. So, to celebrate its release, we've gathered together what we think are 10 of the most original films to challenge the conventions of the genre. Some have happy endings, some end in tears or confusion -- yet all work an unfamiliar, offbeat magic on the romantic comedy template. There's no Hallmark rubbish to be found here...
Based on Mary Gaitskill's critically-acclaimed short story of the same, Secretary is a dark and deviant romantic comedy about the subjectivity of love, focusing on the idea that love doesn't necessarily have to be predictable and pain free. It's a coming-of-age love story about the journey of sexuality, shame and innocence. Like American Beauty and other dark comedies of its sub-genre, Secretary explores taboo concepts in an accessible way that still manages to tease out its controversial messages light-heartedly. It's understandable, then, that critics might be have been a little divided by a movie that glorifies S&M, self-harm and -- perhaps worst of all -- inter-office dating.
Paul Thomas Anderson's Punch-Drunk Love tackles the love story between the socially-impaired, emotionally-disturbed Barry Egan (Adam Sandler) and the sweet Lena Leonard (Emily Watson). Barry is not your average male protagonist, spending his days selling toilet plungers and collecting trolley loads full of pudding in order to accrue the attached frequent flyer coupons. He also gets himself into some unusual circumstances, such as calling a phone sex line run by con artists who then pursue and attempt to bully Barry into giving them all of his money. The romance in this film is unique as it speaks its own language; quite unlike that of any rom-com. At one tender moment Barry whispers to Lena: "I'm lookin' at your face and I just wanna smash it with a sledgehammer... and squeeze it. You're so pretty." Isn't love sweet?
When people develop relationships with unusual characters in a movie, it's usually received by the majority of audiences in one of two ways: support or disgust. In rom-com Lars and the Real Girl, we found ourselves encouraging Ryan Gosling to fall in love with his life-sized doll. However, in the case of Harold and Maude, we're challenged with a love much more confronting than that of a man for his plastic girl. Eccentric and shy young Harold (Bud Cort) passes his time by faking his own suicide attempts and attending funerals at his leisure in his very own hearse. It's there he meets 79-year-old spontaneous and carefree Maude (Ruth Gordon), who teaches Harold new experiences. No doubt Harold and Maude is a one of a kind, a romantic comedy that tackles the social constructs of ageism behind a clever mask of dark humour and a fascinating (to say the least) love story.
Marion (Julie Delpy) and Jack (Adam Goldberg) have been together happily for two years, but it's not until a trip to her home in Paris that the relationship is truly tested. Jack becomes jealous and paranoid about Marion's friendship with her ex-lovers while struggling to relate culturally. His neurosis is compounded by his inability to speak French and his misfortune in some disastrously uncomfortable situations. Channeling both Woody Allen's ranting comedies and the freeform New Wave cinema of her national pedigree, 2 Days in Paris sees Delpy deconstruct the drama of a modern romance within the guise of an acerbic, off-the-cuff comedy.
You want offbeat? Plenty of the magic behind the enduring love for this movie can be put down to the eccentricities of its lead characters. Consider that style icon Audrey Hepburn, playing the free-spirited Holly Golightly, is a young runaway living in Manhattan where she gets drunk, goes to strip clubs, stays out all night and lives an independent life completely devoid of responsibility. "We belong to nobody, and nobody belongs to us," she says. Oh, and she's also a call girl; lest we forget. Holly sparks up a friendship with her mysterious neighbour (George Peppard) -- who also turns out to be a prostitute -- and together they tumble into a rocky relationship, in which two commitment-phobes are slowly forced to admit they might have feelings for each other.