4 Great Love Stories in Movies for Guys
I hate romance movies, but I'm crazy about a good love story. What's the difference? Well, romances are the movies that guys typically don't want to see. Movies like The Notebook or any crap flick that has two young beautiful people on the poster.
And usually is written by Nicholas Sparks.
These are movies where if someone asked you the plot you'd have to say, well, a guy falls in love with a girl and then tragedy strikes and then they try to keep loving each other a lot no matter what! But I find that the best love stories are far more under the radar. They're usually mixed up with plots that have their own lives and momentum. Indeed, some of my all-time favorite love stories are in a variety of genres that no one ever called romance. Which love stories? Glad you asked! Oh, you didn't ask? Wait, you're not even reading this introduction because you jumped right to the first numbered entry? Oh, OK. By the way, that kinda sucks because you never heard me scream, "SPOILERS BELOW!"
Comedy/Horror: Shaun of the Dead
Shaun of the Dead is one of the funniest movies I've ever seen and it's based on a simple premise: When zombies start popping up around England, a 30-something slacker and a group of friends must fight for survival. That's it. Like any zombie movie, people get torn apart and eaten, and like anything Simon Pegg is in, it's really funny. But for me, in addition to all of that, Shaun of the Dead is the best love story in the last 10 years.
Lots of comedies have a love interest in their B stories. They're tacked on so Ben Stiller or Vince Vaughn have someone to kiss after they do something funny, but that's not what Shaun of the Dead does. At the start of the movie, Shaun's long-term girlfriend Liz breaks up with him because he is apathetic about everything in his life, including their relationship. All he wants to do is hang out with Liz and his friends at the pub, whereas Liz craves change and excitement. Their relationship just lumbers on with little energy and direction.
And sometimes it eats brains. Nope, wait, I think I lost the metaphor ...
But when the zombie apocalypse strikes, Shaun risks his life to find Liz and keep her safe. Does he become a super zombie killer of Bruce Campbell Evil Dead proportions? No, but he also doesn't cut his girlfriend's head off with a chainsaw, so there's that.
Seemed like the right thing to do at the time.
Shaun does, however, put his life in jeopardy over and over and does what he thinks is right, all for the purpose of protecting his girlfriend. And when the movie's over, he hasn't become a better man worthy of her love. He's the same man, but Liz knows him better. She sees the difference between Shaun's desire for simple comforts and apathy. He's not apathetic. He loves her completely and would do anything for her, but what he wants to do most is just hang out. It seems real. It feels right. And it's telling that a movie about an unexplained zombie apocalypse still has a love story that makes more sense than Titanic's.
Love is never having to move your fat ass and make a little room for a frozen, drowning bastard.
Sci-Fi: The Twilight Zone -- "The Long Morrow"
If you follow me on Twitter, you probably already know that I've been Netflixing it up on something of an insane Twilight Zone kick. I always tried watching it on WPIX growing up, but it seemed like they played the same 30 episodes over and over in a loop. I'm finally seeing "new" ones, and one of them, "The Long Morrow," is one of the greatest love stories I've ever seen. Call it a depressing sci-fi Gift of the Magi. Or call it something else if you've never read Gift of the Magi, because then that reference would just be confusing to you. Call it a sci-fi Catcher in the Rye. You've read that one, right? Cool, except it's really nothing like Catcher in the Rye. On second thought, you really don't have to call it anything. It's only 25 minutes long. I'll just tell you about it.
Basically, an astronaut has to go on a mission to see if there's life on a faraway planet. Like 20 years in each direction far away. No big deal; they'll just cryogenically freeze him! Thing is, before he takes off he spends a wonderful night with a young woman.
I forget the character's name, so let's just call her Dr. Va-Va-VaVoom! (And/or Professor Hubba Hubba.)
In any event, he promises to find her when he comes back. She says she'll be an old lady, and off he goes. Fast forward 40 years later, and he comes home. Turns out she couldn't bear living without him, so she had herself frozen to wait 40 years. Harsh tokes, though. He couldn't bear not having her upon his return, so he unfroze himself. He came back an old man.
Yes, he decided to spend every day for 40 years waiting and thinking of her just so he could spend the final years of his life with a woman he met once. And then everything gets effed up and he dies alone. OK, in fairness, this one kind of is a love story, but I include it for two very important reasons. One, it's just so fucking cool, but two, and more importantly, it's shamelessly sentimental in a way that should be fatal. It's a mostly insane, spur of the moment, did it all for love story, and it's kind of crazy, but it still works. Why? Because it doesn't take place during the Civil War with a brave Union soldier risking it all for a Southern belle. It works because if you're not paying attention, it's not a love story at all. Your eyes are on space travel and cryogenic freezing and life on other planets. It's a trick, getting you to lower your guard before it drops the love hammer when you least expect it -- kinda like what happened to our main characters Crusty McOldface and Dr. Hotcakes. (I probably should have wikied the names, huh?)
Comedy -- Defending Your Life
For those of you who may know Albert Brooks only as the bad guy in Drive, you might be surprised to learn that he has written and directed some great comedies. You might also be surprised to learn that he's your real dad, but I'm not sure that one's actually true.
Can you see a resemblance?
Defending Your Life takes place in kind of a weigh station on the route to heaven where the recently dead are evaluated. Those who have conquered their fears and led a good life proceed on to heaven; those who are still evolving toward that point are sent back to Earth in a new form to try again.
Albert Brooks plays Daniel Miller, a well-meaning but utterly frightened man who has let fear prevent him from living a better life. As the movie progresses, we see his review panel watch one miserable experience from his life after another. Conversely, Meryl Streep, another recently dead person, watches clips from her life like a montage reel at an awards show. She has conquered the fear that would prevent a lesser person from rushing into a burning building to save a cat. (Which indeed she does.)
If Defending Your Life were like most romances (or CBS sitcoms about wives who are far too hot and smart for their screw-up husbands), Meryl would begrudgingly show him the way, but she doesn't do that. She just starts to fall in love with him for who he is -- just a smart funny guy who's crazy about her. And it's kind of heartbreaking at the end of the movie when one bus takes her away to heaven and another bus transports him back to Earth. In that moment, however, Brooks faces his fear, jumps off a moving bus and earns his right to spend eternity with the woman he loves. By making it a story about personal growth and not a plucky romantic comedy, Brooks created a movie with more laughs and a more compelling love story than every film Jennifer Aniston or Julia Roberts has ever been in.
There's been no shortage of talk about Clint Eastwood's 1992 Oscar-winning Western, Unforgiven, and that's as it should be. It's actually not an exaggeration to say that the film deconstructs and rebuilds the entire genre. For those of you who haven't seen it, kill yourself. Are you dead now? Good. You had that coming. Now go watch Unforgiven and you'll see it's the story of a once-notorious gun-slinging criminal who comes out of retirement to collect the bounty on two men who were responsible for cruelly disfiguring a prostitute.
Most of the movie is designed to debunk the notion of the badass superman cowboy, but ultimately, it's just a long con. In the final scene we learn, despite everything we've just been taught, that outlaw heroes are real.
Early on, Richard Harris' character, English Bob, falsely claims to be such a man. He even travels with his own biographer. But Bob is reduced to nothing by Sheriff "Little Bill," played by Gene Hackman. Little Bill is a no-frills authority figure: smart and tough, but also not a hero. He seems to relish his authority too much. He delights in Bob's beating in a way that only a true bully could, and he exists in a town where guns are banned. He seems to perpetually have the upper hand. More than anyone, Little Bill wants people to know that cowboy legends aren't real.
He also wants to make sure you never watch The Quick and the Dead.
Then there's Eastwood's character, Will Munny -- reformed alcoholic, widower and struggling farmer trying to raise his kids. We hear he was a notorious outlaw, but there's no trace of it in his demeanor. He travels the movie fairly unimpressively, showing no particular talent for killing until his friend Ned is murdered and displayed outside the saloon/brothel where the prostitute was brutalized. Munny enters the hostile room of Little Bill and approximately 20 others with his gun drawn and ... wins. He does everything the movie spent two hours explaining couldn't be done. He kills five men, clears the room and remains unscathed.
"So where's the love story, Gladstone?" you ask, and for a moment I'm confused, because I assume you're my wife. But anyone watching the movie has to notice that despite it being all about Munny and cowboys and killing, it starts and ends with narration about Munny's now deceased wife:
She was a comely young woman and not without prospects. Therefore it was heartbreaking to her mother that she would enter into marriage with William Munny, a known thief and murderer, a man of notoriously vicious and intemperate disposition.
And at the close of the movie:
Some years later, Mrs. Ansonia Feathers made the arduous journey to Hodgeman County, Kansas, to visit the last resting place of her only daughter. William Munny had long since disappeared with the children ... some said to San Francisco where it was rumored he prospered in dry goods. And there was nothing on the marker to explain to Mrs. Feathers why her only daughter had married a known thief and murderer, a man of notoriously vicious and intemperate disposition.
That's the whole love story right there. Nothing more, but it takes Unforgiven from a good movie to a great movie for me. Even in the midst of 21st century instant gratification, those seemingly irrelevant and ambiguous details make us wonder. What did she see in him? And the answer isn't as important as the fact that she did see something. Something made her fall in love, and it was a love so strong that despite other prospects, she had to be with this man and his dark past. And for that, her love was rewarded. He put down his gun, he gave up the drink and he thought only of providing for their children when she passed.
We also know that Munny must have loved her, too. After all, giving up all his evil ways was no big deal when we thought he was just some thug with a gun. By the end of the movie, however, we see that he is the stranger from A Fistful of Dollars. He is the outlaw Josie Wales. He is the living embodiment of every natural born killer cowboy myth we've ever heard, and he put it all away for love.
One of the greatest love stories ever, with not one scene of the couple together, and barely any words explaining their love.
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