It’s almost Valentine’s Day and the scent of love and chocolate fills the air! Well, love and chocolate are always in the air anywhere I am, but I always find a way to kick it up a notch in February. In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, I was thinking about my favorite romantic movies. Emphasis on the word MY. I suspect that most normal people will probably think of happy, slightly sappy movies like Love, Actually, Four Weddings and a Funeral and When Harry Met Sally. (Confession--I haven’t seen any of those.) I’m sure they’re all sweet, entertaining films, but they’re not my cup of tea. You see, when I want to celebrate love in all its complicated, gut-wrenching power and glory, I need to cry. Not a “one tear in the in corner of my eye” kind of cry, we’re talking an all-out nose-running, primal sobbing, UGLY cry. I don’t want to just watch the movie, I want to be there, I want to feel the angst first-hand. When I walk out of that theater, I want to look like such a hot mess that people on the street think, “What the hell happened to her?”
In the interest of space, I narrowed my must-watch list to three “bawl your eyes out” films that will leave you drained, wrecked and completely in awe of the many iterations of love. Sidebar: It’s intentional that The Notebook is not on this list because that movie is in a league of its own. So let’s turn the focus on three other not-so-obvious choices. Here they are in no particular order. Get your popcorn, Sno-caps, and a jumbo-sized box of tissues because a hard rain’s gonna fall.
Bridges of Madison County, starring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep. This movie is based on the 1992 novel by Robert James Waller. If my math is correct, Clint was 65 years old when he made this movie, and still able to make the hearts of women everywhere skip a beat – mine included. It wasn’t just that he was strikingly, ruggedly handsome (he was), it was his unmistakable magnetism. Add that patented Clint voice and the power-packed raw emotion that came through in every scene—marvelous. And Meryl? First of all, Italian Meryl? Mind blown. That accent was totally believable and her performance poignant and haunting. The scene when her family returns from the fair shortly after saying goodbye to Robert? Pulverized me. As if that wasn’t enough of a gut-punch, there’s the mother of all tear-jerker scenes – come on, you know the one I’m talking about! It’s been over twenty years since I first saw this movie and that scene in the pouring rain still gets me every single time. This film is how you do tear-jerker.
The Painted Veil, starring Naomi Watts and Edward Norton. This movie is based on the 1925 novel by W. Somerset Maugham. An unlikely choice, I know, but hear me out. Right now anyone who knows me well is yelling at their computer, “Of course she picked that one – she loves Edward Norton.” Well, they’re right, at least partially right. I do love Ed (and not just because he looks incredibly handsome in this film), but his portrayal of the complicated and scorned Walter Fane is magnificent. Only a gifted actor like Ed could take us on a roller coaster of emotions and have every turn be believable and breathtaking. In under two hours Ed managed to have me pity Walter Fane for his unrequited love, cheer when he gets his dream girl, despise him for his cruelness (when he tells Kitty the cholera-infested mattress is hers–ouch!), find his nerdy-biologist’s rumblings about water treatment adorable, and then fall easily and totally for him as he begins to soften and show his tender heart. I ugly cried epically at the end of this movie and I loved every second of it.
Labor Day, starring Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet. The movie is based on unforgettable 2009 book by Joyce Maynard. The plot of a hostage falling for her captor sounds completely implausible, or perhaps like a case of Stockholm syndrome, but it’s neither. The film adaptation is true to the engrossing novel and is brilliantly brought to life by Josh and Kate’s performances. Kate’s character, Adele, is flawed and nervous and beautifully fragile. Josh’s character, Frank is hardened and scarred, but yet, he is capable of being redeemed by love. The tension in their scenes is palpable, and yes, you’ll never look at pie baking the same way! Even though the pie scene is memorable, it’s the heart-squeezing ending that left me a soggy (happy) mess.