I guess like my reading, I am VERY picky about the movies I watch. For most films, I’m happy to read spoilers because I don’t like horrible surprises (says the woman who buys her own Christmas presents and tells her husband, “Honey, I absolutely LOVE what you got me!”). With a strong aversion to violence against women, I also use websites like Kids in Mind to give me a heads up when something horrible is embedded in a film so I can take a potty break or go make popcorn. (And screw you, Downton Abbey, for NOT giving me any inkling about what was going to happen to Anna. You’re dead to me.)
Wanting a feel good movie that reaffirms your faith in humanity or is inspired by the books you love is probably a fairly popular trait, but sometimes finding a recommendation you can trust is difficult. I went to a college known for its film program and while many of my friends studying that discipline didn’t necessarily wear all black and chain smoke, they were universally fascinated by the most obscure and depressing films, bandying about terms like “schadenfreude” and “jingoism”. Even now, when I listen to NPR film critics talk about the latest deep movie that thinking people should go out and see, half the time they are fascinated by the “dark underbelly of humanity” and discuss the lingering despair that follows you out from the theater while you are desperately drying the tears from your face.
Oh my. That’s not what I want.
Enter the queen of category romance, Heidi Rice, who somehow, while pumping out dozens of great romances for Harlequin, has also managed to have a full-time career as a film critic and a mother (how many arms does she have?). Perhaps sharing my sense of despair, she has admirably assembled a host of movies which appeal to the romantic in her recent book, Movie Bliss: A Hopeless Romantic Seeks Movies to Love. While every movie she reviews doesn’t necessarily have a love story as the central theme, each one nevertheless strikes a strong cord in the area of relationships, and that’s really what we armchair psychologists dissecting our heroes and heroines like, don’t we?
Rice, utilizing the snappy British slang that makes her American fans smile while we enjoy her heroine’s witty comebacks, divvies up movies into the following categories (please note that all movie links will take you to the film’s page on the Internet Movie Database for more information):
- Oldies That Are Awesome (i.e., fabulous TNT classics like It Happened One Night, It’s a Wonderful Life, On the Waterfront, The Apartment, etc.)
- Cartoon Capers, But Not Just for Kids (i.e., movies that have you borrowing someone’s pre-teen to take to see Beauty and the Beast, The Princess and the Frog, Up, Toy Story 3)
- Rom-Coms R Us (i.e., gems like When Harry Met Sally, Pretty Woman, It’s Complicated, The Proposal, Silver Linings Playbook)
- Joys For the Boys (and the Girls, Too) (i.e. enough action for him, enough romance for her in films like Public Enemies, Cowboys & Aliens, Skyfall, Rush)
- Offbeat But Right Up My Street (i.e., doesn’t look anything like a romance but you love it anyway such as Julie & Julia, The King’s Speech, The Artist)
- Big Is Beautiful, Bold Is Even Better (i.e. those epic films where you can’t keep popcorn in your mouth because your jaw keeps dropping open, like Gone with the Wind, The Last of the Mohicans, Brokeback Mountain, Australia)
Like everything Heidi Rice writes, I loved this book (it’s nice to know my affinity for her is not limited to fiction). Witty, informative, candid and occasionally self-deprecating, Rice’s prose makes you feel like your knowledgeable best girlfriend is giving you a run down on all the movies you should see to wear your “romance lover” badge proud and loud. I adored her glossary (I had never heard the term “dick-flick” but I guarantee I’m going to use it at least three times this weekend). Explaining the difference between Harlequin KISS heroes and Harlequin Presents heroes, and then applying those terms to various movies, was sheer genius to help me understand the tone of the film. I especially liked that her subject matter ran right up to the end of 2013, so a few of the films are recent releases, giving the book a real currency I appreciated.
Writing a film review actually has some of the elements of the book talks we librarians utilize when doing reader’s advisory. Give the hook, but don’t give away the ending; compare it to a similar more well-known work so people have an idea what it’s about; and convey your enthusiasm for the story since that’s often contagious. Heidi Rice never gives away the farm in terms of the plot, but she tantalizes you with enough detail that you are reading in one hand and queuing your watchlist with the remote in your other hand! I actually found quite a few movies I hadn’t seen that I assure you I will be watching in the upcoming long winter nights.
Did I mention the best part? No? Well, this informative, fun book is only $.99 – no joke! So run out and get personalized recommendations to satisfy the romantic in you.
One area that Rice stays clear of is the sinkhole of book to film adaptation, a particular pet peeve of mine. I firmly believe the motion picture industry exists solely to ruin books for me, so when it comes to my favorite classics, you have one testy woman on your hands if you open with this conversational gambit! Also by Harlequin is the hilarious, yet oh-so-informative, Pride, Prejudice and Popcorn: TV and Film Adaptations of Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre by Carrie Sessarego.
It was startling to find out that the author and I clearly had been separated at birth. I, too, continue to reread Jane Eyre each year and have since I was a pre-teen, getting something different out of it as I’ve grown and matured. I also didn’t understand what the fuss was about with Pride & Prejudice until I realized that it was all in code (and I had read about the constraints of the Regency period) and what people were saying versus what they were feeling were two different things. Finally, I also possess a virulent hate for all things Wuthering Heights and do NOT understand what all the blather is about since Heathcliff is a first-class dick and I want to shove Cathy down a flight of stairs.
Yet, using prose so funny I found myself laughing out loud late into the night, Sessarego accomplishes the impossible – she actually has me thinking about watching some of the adaptations I’ve avoided like the plague due to their lack of faithfulness. Probably this is due to her masterful approach to the material. With each work, she begins by delivering the improv version of Cliff Notes, boiling down the material to it’s essence and helping the reader understand all the plot nuances you’ve might have forgotten if it’s been a while since you read the book. Then she covers the TV and movie adaptations, indicating the year, actors, director, etc. and rating them on a star system with oodles of details about how they stayed true to the book or veered away (and if it worked or not). Extremely helpful was when she made clear that the writing had ruined the script but a particular actor totally embodied the character the way a reader would enjoy. Her “Final Scorecard” at the end of each section highlights a summary of the “best of” the adaptions (i.e. “Best Mr. Darcy” “Best Rochester” etc.) and she even has a terrific “Special Features” section with tantalizing little bios of the original book authors – and trivia and a music playlist!
Since this excellent (and much needed) book is a mere $.99 as well, I’m thinking that fans of these books are fools if they don’t run out and buy this puppy for immediate consumption. Honestly, this book would make a terrific basis for a themed party (or series of them) with English grad students, best girlfriends or even a fun English class (don’t think I won’t be pitching it to my English teachers on Monday) since it still manages to delve into the core of each book in order to determine if the adaptation met the objectives of the original work. Sessarego blew me away with her wit and insight, so much so I’m hoping she has another media criticism book in the pile so I can look forward to visiting with her on a different topic.
Enjoy your romance – the mystery of love and relationships that reminds us why it is good (and sometimes painful) to be human – in book and on film. With guides like Heidi Rice and Carrie Sessarego steering us to good films, we can’t go wrong.