Here’s a quick wrap of the films I watched for the month of July, dedicated for the romance genre. Along with local release The Breakup Playlist, three flicks with talented leads proved to be worthwhile in their own right as they show how love can be: a career and life saver (Beyond the Lights), a provocative teacher (Dirty Dancing) and a broken rebuilder of relationships (Like Crazy). Through their earnest depiction of love, they become a welcome addition to the ever-evolving and already-expansive genre, which is arguably the closest to the viewers’ hearts.
BEYOND THE LIGHTS (2014)
Gugu Mbatha-Raw delivers a star-making performance in this rousing romantic drama about a young diva at crossroads between her commercial success and personal life. BEYOND THE LIGHTS is enlivened by strong performances and sensitive direction, despite a cluttered narrative, that makes this story of a suffering star more alive and surprisingly compelling. A slight glimmer could be the superfluously written character of Kaz, but that’s not to say leading man Nate Parker’s portrayal is not worthwhile. He and Mbatha-Raw radiate an electric chemistry in an against-all-odds setting, sparking an inspired sense of purposefulness for Nooni in getting herself together after a suicide attempt. Director Gina Prince-Bythewood delicately curates scenes that expose Nooni’s vulnerability (most notably her exquisitely soulful rendition of ‘Blackbird’) and the searing demonstration of the unrighteousness she experiences which the audience can only helplessly sympathize (particularly the unwillingly indecent number with her villainous former fling/rapper). Such events deepen the crack on Nooni’s façade but what finally shatters her is the decisive release from her domineering mother-manager (Minnie Driver). In spite of the built-in romance, the emotional resonance is more powerful between Driver and Mbatha-Raw, whose mother-daughter relationship is richly established from their humble London beginnings to Nooni’s Hollywood stardom under Macy’s overbearing control. While the dramatic premise of a distressed superstar might be familiar to the point of cliché execution, BEYOND THE LIGHTS satisfyingly illuminates an earnest representation of its story, mainly by the marvelous Mbatha-Raw whose commitment to the role reveals her remarkable range of talent. As the film’s voice, heart and soul, she captivatingly anchors the romantic drama’s authenticity. BEYOND THE LIGHTS is a fine example of a movie crossing a familiar road that manages to reach its destination with perceivable poise and existential truth, thus producing a self-assured and meaningful entertainment of its kind.
DIRTY DANCING (1987)
One of the 80’s iconic hits, DIRTY DANCING remains to be an indulgent retreat to a pop cultural revolution whose legacy more than transcends to the time of its’
life initial release. Viewers of old and new (me in the latter) are in for a gratifying vacation where a privileged daughter Frances “Baby” Houseman (Jennifer Grey) immerses herself to the underground world of dirty dancing, among the many social barriers she hurdles while striking a romantic relationship with the resort’s dance instructor Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze). Choreographed by Kenny Ortega (High School Musical series), DIRTY DANCING titillates with its sensual dance moves while allowing a spatial recognition in bridging the gap between the narrative’s sociological environment. Some may argue that the themes present in the film is addressed simplistically, leading to a premeditated harmonious gathering of its socially-segregated cast. But it’s better to see DIRTY DANCING through Baby’s eyes as an unusually-set coming-of-age film. More than her passionate awakening with Johnny, she blooms to become an empowered and resolute lady; Baby may be sheltered and pampered but she is not blind to the small injustices and stereotypes she observed and experienced first-hand. By learning how to dance (which she athletically manifests), Baby begins a self-conscious revolution that instigates discernment of the real world, apart from where she’d grown into, with the help of new acquaintances and love. DIRTY DANCING lifts itself as one of the most pleasurable romantic movies ever made; the superlatives rooted from the irresistible sight of Swayze in his prime along with the dreamy premise that invites a quixotic aesthetic. While the modest story lack the gravitas, it compensates with a hook on memorable cinematic elements (including an Academy awarded original song) and resonating entertainment that passes through the ages.
LIKE CRAZY (2011)
A rare kind of infectious and shattering romantic drama, LIKE CRAZY is a sober chronicle of falling in and out of love, albeit in a testing and unnatural circumstance. If only Jacob (Anton Yelchin) and Anna’s (Felicity Jones) future selves warned their younger counterparts of the complications they’ll face if Anna had just followed her foreign visa restriction, the fragmentation of their loving relationship would have been avoided. But such extraordinary situation of these two lovers separated by thousands of miles, only to feel despair and disenchantment in their overdue union, is the backbone of an intimate, bittersweet study of love in its euphoric highs and dismal lows. The radiance and rust in Jacob and Anna’s relationship are palpable and profoundly acted by Yelchin and Jones who are vital in actualizing the somber reality of their characters’ impractical predicament. Guided by director Drake Doremus’ narrative outline, the lead actors’ improvisation through succinct and frank dialogue is shot point-blank to the audience’s emotional investment. Having witness the irresistible attraction between the two protagonists, it hurts to see them be forced to pull apart and push towards each other as the cohesiveness of their love wear down from their physical distance (she lives in the United Kingdom while him in the United States) and dissolution of loyalty with new romantic interests during the grueling visa ordeal. The then starlet Jennifer Lawrence shines with her honest vulnerability as Jacob’s on-and-off girlfriend Samantha, who steals tender moments that counter Jones’ steely persistence. Jacob and Anna may have lost the spark of their relationship but the genuineness of the emotions blazes LIKE CRAZY to become a raw and affecting (un)love story.