It's mid July, the corn's already knee high, and if you're anything like me the long nights really make you want to rewatch "The Notebook." That's ok, that's grand, there are wonderful storms and barns and pictures of Ryan Gosling, but here's a few other romantic modern classics you also love, and film's like them you may not have met yet.
1. Dirty Dancing / Strictly Ballroom.
If it's not "The Notebook," a stormy July night makes we want, it's "Dirty Dancing." Swayze, Grey, the time of your life. Maybe even a very pre-Star Wars Diego Luna if you stayed for "Havana Nights." A bonafide cinema classic. One that, if you liked, could probably lead you to Baz Lurhman's first picture "Strictly Ballroom."
Based on his play, this is the odd Aussie picture that launched one of my favorite filmmakers. It might not have the glory of "Moulin Rouge," or the Jay-Z of "The Great Gatsby," but this dive into copetitive Austrailian ballroom dance has got love and music, bedazzled dresses and one mad hot ballroom. The beginning of the "Red Curtain Trilogy," it's probably necessary viewing for any fans of dance, romance, Luhrman, 90's indie, or giant coca-cola signs.
2. Grease / Cry-Baby
I've never liked "Grease". A lot of it's fun as hell and that opening scene on the beach seems like one of the top 3 ways to spend a summer. But that drag race is just playing into the darkest parts of that youth culture and bedazzling it like one of those ballroom gowns, I've never quite been able to say the music's either truly catchy or fun, and even my 12 year old self was off-put by whatever version of 2nd wave feminism that wasn't.
"Cry-Baby" is the "Grease" we deserved. John Water's 1990 follow up to "Hairspray's" got leather and tattoos and camp and Johnny Depp galore. Depp plays a badass, possibly ex-con, high schooler with the panty-dropping ability to shed a single tear on command. Travolta's got nothing on it. Taking the characterizations in "Grease" to their extremes and feeding off of the cartoonish images 50's created for itself, Water's film is funnier, smarter, more summery, more fun, and less known than "Grease," but you've got to check it. We talked through some of this in our interview with Lee Grant recently, who happens to be the mother of Dinah Manoff, Pink Lady Marty Maraschino.
3. The Holiday / La Collectionneuse
Ok, so "The Holiday's" not a summer romance. But it is certainly one of the most beloved seasonally relevant romantic films of this century. And it's great, Jack Black's in it (and Eli Wallach). Though La Collectionneuse doesn't share "The Holiday's" anthologized structure, it does share a premise.
Two friends go to a house in the French countryside to spend a quite month, but to their surprise, their host has allowed one other person to stay with them. At first one of the friends falls for the mysterious young woman, then the other. Betrayals and seductions and art collections abound in this Eric Rohmer classic that contains one of the most succinct and haunting portrayals of a would-be idyllic summer I've ever seen in the movies. Granted, Rohmer has an amazing talent for creating total assholes of his men, but god that estate's beautiful. From the the way he segments the young woman's bikini-clad body to the pace he lends the protagonists pretentious indecision around her, it's one of my favorite indictments of male romantic fantasy, cause it totally let's me have my summer fantasy. Mostly.
4. Lolita / Claire's Knee
Speaking of male fantasies, Lolita was dope. The Kubrick classic's the oldest "you've probably seen it" movie on this list and even if you haven't I'm sure you know what it's about.
"Claire's Knee's" pretty similar. Male gaze towards adolescent girls, the questions around that, you know. It's not quite Kubrick satirical and there's no Peter Sellers. But there are gorgeous mountains, deep bays, fragrant summer nights and a whole lotta of color in the Rohmer piece shot by Néstor Almendros. It's much easier to handle than Lolita, and a bit more summery.
(Even the Hats! LOLOL)
5. (500) Days of Summer / A Summer's Tale.
"(500) Days" is a modern classic. I can still remember trying (successfully) to sneak a chicken flatbread into the theatre inside my yellow duckling umbrella one July at an NYU summer camp. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zoey Deschanel, most if not all of the feels. The film famously pulls from and plays on the French New Wave that Eric Rohmer helped to start. From the splitscreen staircase scene to the Carla Bruni needle drop Mark Webb's pulling all kinds of things from the young men of the Cahiers du Cinema. Sidenote, Mark Webb directed the Andrew Garfield Spidermen. Did he only get the job because of his name? Who am I to say. Homecoming was very enjoyable though.
"A Summer's Tale," was also made by Eric Rohmer, though it's from the 90s and is not part of his "Moral Tales" series like the other two. Now that I've written that I see there's a lot of Rohmer here. But he's a master of summer romance, and questionable young men.
A kid on school holiday waits for his girlfriend at the beach. He's just killing time but of course meets another girl, and another. Where "(500) Days" is about the romance of "True Love," "A Summer's Tale" is more interested in making the decision to believe in that at all. In many ways, they summon similar responses by playing on opposite ideals. Morality, sea-side sexuality, and sea shanities swirl in this oddly lovely, small, film. It's really a movie for anyone whose ever dreamed of falling in love on the beach, and then writing folk songs about it.