The Weekly Assignment: First Edition - An Unconventional Romance
by Cate Hahneman
February 14, 2011
In the spirit of dedicated film students - both of the university and of the heart - I welcome you to FS.net's first ever "Weekly Assignment" - a chance to collectively watch films and collect bits of show-and-tell to share together as an assembly of cinephiles and fanboys/fangirls. Once a week I will post an "assignment", essentially a film-related activity (don't think of it as homework) and hopefully it's something that intrigues you enough to find the time to participate. The comments below will be our "class" and the place for us to discuss what we've learned! (Because the goal is to see something new every week.) It should be lots of fun!
So, onto this week's assignment: In honor of today being Valentine's Day, I propose that we do a study of unconventional romantic comedies. Don't groan, it won't be that bad. There is a seemingly endless collection of romantic comedies where boy hates girl, girl hates boys, but in the end they eventually learn to love each other. Boring. We're going to look at movies that approach romance in a more interesting way.
My Suggestion: John Carney's 2006 Oscar winning indie film Once [Amazon/Netflix], which is not only an unconventional romance but an unusual musical as well. This independent picture (with a budget of only about $150,000) follows two musicians in Dublin, a guitar-toting vacuum repairman and a Czech pianist, as they write and perform romantic ballads together. Sure, the soundtrack is incredible but there's quite a bit more to Once than just its melodies.
Glen Hansgard as "Guy" and Marketa Irglova as "Girl" have a natural chemistry on screen. (It might be due to their real-life romance.) The couple meets perchance on the streets of Dublin and immediately connects over their passion for their instruments, but both Guy and Girl are tethered to previous relationships. They tread lightly toward each other, despite being drawn like magnets, as they begin to record a demo tape. The combination of their music creates unavoidable sparks. However the film, like the couple's romance, is bare and bittersweet. Neither Hansgard nor Irglova are actors, instead they're pretending for a fellow musician's film project, and their natural, exposed vulnerabilities immediately draw the audience in. Their melancholic voices and tender instrumentals don't hurt either. Nothing about the film or the romance that it portrays is traditional, but every moment feels genuine. It's as if we are witnessing something intimate and private.
Your assignment is to watch an unconventional romance that you have never seen before and consider what makes it endearing or disastrous. It's all right to actually enjoy a few RomComs (*ahem* I'm talking to you fellas) but if they don't work for you, I want to hear that as well! My final list below should include some bearable and, I think, really enjoyable choices, but if you come up with one on your own let us know on the comments below. Looking forward to hearing from you all!
Other Unconventional Romance Suggestions to Watch: Eternal Sunshine and the Spotless Mind, 500 Days of Summer, Woody Allen's Annie Hall, Serendipity, Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise/Before Sunset, When Harry Met Sally, Garden State, Lost in Translation and/or Pixar's Wall-E. Have fun!