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Million Dollar Movie

Valentine’s Day Edition: Meet Me in Montauk

It’s become something of a cliche to say that the romantic comedy is a dying genre, but I think it might at least be on a ventilator. What was the last really good one? The last romantic comedy as good as Broadcast News, let alone, say, His Girl Friday?

My favorite movie of the modern era that might be called a relationship movie is not really a romantic comedy – although it’s very funny in many places, in that kind of laugh-to-keep-from-crying way – and it is, indeed, set on Valentine’s Day. It’s mostly about a relationship, but it’s also about the human mind and storytelling. And depending on your mood and your general feelings about love at the moment, it can be read as either hopeful or depressing. I think it’s both – or anyway, it’s about as hopeful as a movie can be while still recognizing certain depressing realities. Yep, I’m talking about Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

When I first saw it, at Brooklyn Heights Cinemas, I was not in a good place, romantically speaking, and while I loved it immensely I also thought it was incredibly sad. Now, while I certainly won’t claim it’s an inspiring cupful of cheer, I take a less bleak view. Not so much that love will triumph (the odds are against it, in this film) but that love is worth it. Or, okay, at the very least inevitable. It’s one of those movies that’s a bit of a Rorschach blot. And beyond the central story of Joel (Jim Carry the last time he was good) and Clementine (a fantastic Kate Winslet), there’s a fairly spectacular subplot featuring mind-twisting sci-fi, Mark Ruffalo, Kirstin Dunst, the great Tom Wilkinson, and Elijah Woods in the role he was born to play, a whiny creep. The structure is complex and twisty but always somehow comprehensible in a way that’s pretty much brilliant and explains why I will always have nothing but love for screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, and his darker and more intellectual style bounces perfectly off Michel Gondry’s whimsical and less tightly-wound direction. And did I mention the soundtrack is fantastic too? The trailer really doesn’t do this movie credit:

I’ve never gone out to Montauk on Valentine’s Day. But I bet if you did, you’d find some very cold, lovelorn people with good taste in movies.

Categories:  Bronx Banter  Emma Span  Million Dollar Movie

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1 Alex Belth   ~  Feb 14, 2011 12:17 pm

I never warmed to Spotless Mind. Appreciated the skill but always wanted to get off that train as soon as possible. Still, I know that it spoke to so many people.

Also, I enjoyed Broadcast News when it came out but I saw it a few years ago and found it less enjoyable because Holly Hunter's character is so self-righteous and full of herself and neurotic.. That said, it is nimble and the banter between her and Brooks is great, also the chemistry between her and Hurt.

2 Matt Blankman   ~  Feb 14, 2011 12:26 pm

I liked Spotless Mind very much, and I wasn't expecting to. For me, Winslet and Carrey made it work. Still love Broadcast News.

...but man, they kind of pale next to Howard Hawks and Cary Grant.

3 Jon DeRosa   ~  Feb 14, 2011 12:55 pm

Wholeheartedly w/ Emma on this one. Wishing the memories away in pain and then fighting like hell to hold on them as they go, knowing it will end up badly and still signing up for it all over again. Never seen a better representation of these kinds of feelings in a film before or since.

4 weeping for brunnhilde   ~  Feb 14, 2011 1:11 pm

Happy PItchers and Catchers, everyone!!!!

5 The Hawk   ~  Feb 14, 2011 1:13 pm

I loved Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind ... I had hopes it would be good but it turned out to be great. Definitely more a Charlie Kaufman movie, because I don't think I like one other Gondry film. Ah auteur theory, what happened?

6 weeping for brunnhilde   ~  Feb 14, 2011 1:17 pm

And yes, Eternal Sunshine is one of my favorites.

The picture of poignancy.

Aching, bittersweet, and so fucking real.

I love portraits of disintegrating love and this is one of the best. Right up there with Atom Egoyan's "Calendar."

Superbly acted all around and again, so very real. So much so that the film's gimmick, about erasing memory, really doesn't need to be there, though it's fun. Perhaps it serves as critical comic relief, in some way?

I don't know, but this is the perfect little film.

7 weeping for brunnhilde   ~  Feb 14, 2011 1:18 pm

(Plus, a luscious nymph of a Kirsten Dunst dancing around in her underwear! Can't beat that!)

8 Alex Belth   ~  Feb 14, 2011 1:22 pm

God, "His Girl Friday" is good. "Married to the Mob" isn't really a romantic comedy but more screwball I guess. I always thought Demme had a good touch with that genre as far as modern filmmakers go.

9 lentnej   ~  Feb 14, 2011 1:24 pm

They haven't been as good since the Grant era but I've liked some. I liked "Pretty Woman" and "Four Weddings and a Funeral" though I'm not that big of a Julia Roberts fan. "Stranger than Fiction" has romance and comedy. "Definitely, Maybe" and "You've got Mail" (The Shop Around the Corner remake) are two that I'd watch again. The genre is suffering but it isn't dead.

10 weeping for brunnhilde   ~  Feb 14, 2011 1:28 pm

Ok, people, ok, this must be said: No Fair Comparing ANYONE to Cary Grant. That's just dirty pool.

Carry on.

11 Ben   ~  Feb 14, 2011 1:38 pm

[10.] agreed.

One time I had a really good VCR that let you play at 1/8 speed, 1/6 speed, etc. I watched the lunch scene from His Girl Friday, where Grant is having one conversation with Hildy and another phoney one with her fiance... (name that actor!!!) - all in super slow motion. It was amazing. Nimble, intelligent. Even at that speed I couldn't take my eyes off him.

12 Ben   ~  Feb 14, 2011 1:39 pm

I wanted to like Spotless mind. I really did. I could tell it was interesting but I just thought the characters were annoying so i couldn't get into their respective points of view.

13 lentnej   ~  Feb 14, 2011 1:48 pm

[10] Definitely. A couple weeks ago I was laughing so hard at "The Awful Truth" that my wife came out to check on me. We had to start it from the beginning for her sake and I still found it still hilarious.

14 Alex Belth   ~  Feb 14, 2011 1:50 pm

12) Yeah, I didn't like anyone in that movie. But hey, I have great affection for "McCabe and Mrs Miller" and I know that annoys some people to no end.

15 Matt Blankman   ~  Feb 14, 2011 1:50 pm

[13] The Awful Truth is hilarious. I think in many ways, Cary Grant will always be the ultimate movie star.

16 Matt Blankman   ~  Feb 14, 2011 1:51 pm

[14] Don't get me started on the greatness of McCabe & Mrs. Miller.

17 mark donelson   ~  Feb 14, 2011 1:53 pm

[11.] Ralph Bellamy, of course!

HGF might be my pick for favorite movie ever, so it's indeed a high bar—perhaps my favorite of Grant's many irresistible performances—but Eternal Sunshine is top-five on my list for the past decade as well. (And I'm getting old/tired/worn down by young kids enough that I had to check it was still within the last decade. Yikes.)

And re Broadcast News: I had the same response as Alex to seeing it again recently after many years, at least as far as Holly Hunter's character (and Albert Brooks's as well--he's a lot meaner than I remembered when he's lashing out). But oddly enough, the character's rough edges that I'd missed, or forgotten about, made me like the movie more, somehow.

That "smartest person in the room" sequence is still a testament to both the writing and Hunter's amazing timing, too.

18 weeping for brunnhilde   ~  Feb 14, 2011 1:55 pm

Other excellent to perfect disintegration films: Revolutionary Road (also with Winslet); Polansky's Repulsion; and Godard's one with Brigitte Bardot, forget the title...ah, Contempt, that's it.

Contempt and Repulsion. :)

19 Matt Blankman   ~  Feb 14, 2011 1:57 pm

[18] Polanski's "Repulsion" is so damn good and still disturbing. His "The Tenant" fits the bill, too.

20 Emma Span   ~  Feb 14, 2011 2:00 pm

McCabe and Mrs. Miller is great and I never, ever want to see it again.

I agree that both Holly Hunter and Albert Brooks' characters in Broadcast News are somewhat annoying, but I think they're supposed to be. They're also smart and good at their jobs and generally moral, which I think outweighs the self-centered neuroses. Anyway, it's just such a smart movie about both the industry and their relationships, I've always loved it though I get why not everyone does.

Alex, I'm gonna have to make you watch Eternal Sunshine again...

21 mark donelson   ~  Feb 14, 2011 2:05 pm

[19.] Wow. Brilliant as it is, it's hard to think of a less appropriate movie to see with your valentine than Repulsion. Would send an interesting relationship message...

And as usual, Emma puts it better than I could have/did re Broadcast News. What I find funny about that movie is how much of the dynamics she mentions in #20 I missed the first time around. (In my defense, I was 17!)

22 Alex Belth   ~  Feb 14, 2011 2:10 pm

20) Nah. I feel the same way that you did about "McCabe" although I didn't like it too much. I admired it from a distance but felt, I never wanted to revisit those characters and that world.

"Something Wild" is another good Demme romantic comedy/thriller.

23 Matt Blankman   ~  Feb 14, 2011 2:11 pm

[21] Yes, Repulsion is *not* a date film. Neither is Straw Dogs.

[20] Yes, agreed totally about Hunter and Brooks. And I love his bitterness when he lashes out at her. I think he spoke for a lot of us - it's hard to not get that bile going when you watch an otherwise brilliant person make a questionable relationship choice and you're left home alone on the sofa with Gladys Knight and the Pips.

24 Matt Blankman   ~  Feb 14, 2011 2:12 pm

[20, 22] I can watch McCabe over and over, though its been a few years. Damn, time for a blu-ray release!

25 Ken Arneson   ~  Feb 14, 2011 2:14 pm

My most embarrassing attribute as a consumer of the arts is that I'm a sucker for romantic comedies. I *KNOW* these things are stupid and corny and cliched and all that, but I still end up enjoying darn near every one of them, dammit. Stupid brain of mine falls for the same dumb tricks every time.

26 Emma Span   ~  Feb 14, 2011 2:58 pm

[23] Yep. In college I made a guy friend who I secretly had a big crush on - but he kept going for hot, dumb girls - watch Broadcast News with me. So far as I can tell he never did make the connection...

27 wsporter   ~  Feb 14, 2011 4:19 pm

[25] I don't know why it would be embarrassing Ken. I think along with Noir and Westerns that's the form that Hollywood managed to do best for years.

I have to say that if "His Girl Friday" isn't in the conversation of the great films made in America the conversation really isn't worth having. Sounds like something I wrote here last week so I'll shut up for a while.

28 Matt Blankman   ~  Feb 14, 2011 4:32 pm

[27] Hawks and Grant were a great team - Bringing Up Baby, His Girl Friday, Only Angels Have Wings, Monkey Business....

29 imaginaryrob   ~  Feb 15, 2011 1:34 pm

Al - Did you catch Blue Valentine? Kind of a similar tone. Hope and hopelessness in love. Would love to read your take on it.

30 imaginaryrob   ~  Feb 15, 2011 1:35 pm

Sorry - meant Emma :)

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