Arts and Entertainment

Hits and misses for romantics

“All women keep score... Only the great ones put it in writing.” Bridget Jones’s  Diary — 2001 - courtesy photo
“All women keep score... Only the great ones put it in writing.” Bridget Jones’s Diary — 2001
— image credit: courtesy photo

Romantic comedies have been given the not-so-complimentary, but perhaps deserved, nickname “chick flick.” When men crave cinematic titillation, they’re generally inclined toward speeding cars, gun fights, and various other helpings of machismo, with a requisite dish of buxom young female on the side. Often women want more emotion, they want to identify with the characters, and they want to believe that a single kiss really can lead to a happily ever-after.

This is a broad generalization, I realize. I know at least one man who never misses a Meg Ryan flick and I know women who find a butt-kicking more entertaining than a passionate embrace. Stereotypes, however, always contain a grain of truth and romantic comedies are often fairy tales for big girls. I admit to spiting my cynical nature with the occasional teary-eyed romance movie, particularly when accompanied by a few girlfriends and a bottle of Pinot Grigio.

When it comes to books, I want to make a clear distinction between a romantic novel and romance novels with their heaving bosoms and rippling muscles: I stay far away from any book with a cover that displays Fabio, a Harlequin logo, or a woman in full swoon. The book-to-film adaptations I’m going to talk about here are stories that rely on romance the way reality shows rely on spin.

One of my favorite adaptations is “Bridget Jones’s Diary.” Despite the initial controversy about casting an American actress to play a quintessential English woman, Renee Zellwegger is the embodiment of Bridget Jones. Her insecure, chain smoking, chronic dieting, love seeking 30-something woman hit a note of familiarity that hadn’t been felt since learning that men are from Mars and women are from Venus. What makes this movie really click, though, is the writing. It doesn’t feel like an adaptation. It captures all the humor and heart of the book, yet stands on its own two feet and adds just the right touches that make it satisfying to watch again and again. And the chemistry between the romantic leads is hotter than a Tijuana parking lot in August.

It’s too bad “Bridget Jones and the Edge of Reason” feels like one of those Disney sequels that go straight to video and are only seen by kids whose parents can’t bear to watch “The Lion King” for the four-hundredth time. The magic died faster the Pamela Anderson’s third marriage. Read the sequel, but watch the original.

Jane Austen is probably the most frequently adapted author second only to William Shakespeare. The BBC cranks out a new Austen mini-series every other year. Most of these adaptations I can do without, but I have a deep fondness for 1995’s “Sense and Sensibility.” It’s about two young women robbed of their inheritance and unable to earn a living due to their lack of testosterone.

Emma Thompson wrote the adapted screenplay and managed to make a potentially schmaltzy story witty and real.

Emma’s Elinor and Kate Winslet’s Marianne are sisters who harbor dreams of marriage to men in their lives. But more importantly, it’s about how these sisters, one a realist the other a romantic, teach one another how to cope with love and loss. It’s a story that could have easily become a melodrama, yet it’s a masterpiece of understated acting with each expression conveying a thousand words.

It’s worth noting that Gemma Jones plays the main characters’ mother in both of these movies and this consummate English comedienne plays no small part in each film’s success.

“Cinderella” has been adapted so many times that it wouldn’t surprise me to find a troupe of retired arsonists performing the story through interpretive fire dance. In my opinion, there are only two versions of “Cinderella” worth watching: the Disney classic and “Glass Slipper,” a 1955 version with Leslie Caron.

Despite mostly positive reviews, I’d rather spend two hours plucking my leg hairs one by one than watch 1998’s “Ever After: A Cinderella Story” with Drew Barrymore. It takes a classic fairy tale and exchanges the magic wand for a pointed stick.

The story is set in 16th century France and the fairy godmother has become Leonardo da Vinci spouting romantic prose. Cinderella, or Danielle as she is named in this flick, is a feminist out to save the poor, downtrodden masses and Drew plays her in a contradictory way, biting her lip in coy flirtation in one scene then hauling the prince over her back in the next. Frankly, I take issue with any movie populated by French people speaking poorly accented English. And I doubt da Vinci would be thrilled over his portrayal as an advisor to the lovelorn. The movie’s main flaw is its unevenness. Is it a fairy tale, a spoof, or a romantic comedy? It’s all different times. But, hey, at least it’s not that Hilary Duff monstrosity “A Cinderella Story.” I haven’t actually seen that one, as I’ve heard that an unanesthetized tooth extraction would be less painful.

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