FILMS FOR VALENTINES DAY

For those staying at home on this day for lovers the following ten films will lift the spirit and transport the viewer’s mind to realms where love is tested and emerges triumphant. Included are some films for families with children that appeal to all ages. Then, with the little ones tucked into bed, are candidates for a second feature. Such a list, of course, is highly subjective, but I am hoping that several of the following choices might come as a surprise, maybe even introducing you to a gem that you had not seen before.

LADY & THE TRAMP (1955)

NR. Running time: 76 min.

Like Titanic the lovers in Disney’s animated tale are from different classes, even though they are dogs. Lady is a Cocker Spaniel puppy, a Christmas gift to two humans known as Jim Dear and Darling. Tramp is a mixed breed, a creature of the streets. The two pooches first meet when a baby is born into Lady’s family, and then much later when Lady is muzzled and runs away into a rough part of town, Tramp saves her from three vicious attack dogs. The next scene in which Tramp takes her to Tony’s restaurant where they share a spaghetti meal and spend the night in the park contains that iconic moment when a strand of spaghetti joins them closely together. They face difficulties later that threaten to separate them, but as with all such tales, love conquers all.

BEAUTY & THE BEAST (1991)

Rated G. Running time: 84 min.

Virtually an animated Broadway musical, this has everything to enthrall a family—a beautiful spunky heroine, an arrogant jerk due for a downfall, a mysterious castle dweller, funny supporting characters, and tuneful songs. Belle broke the Disney mold of the girl in need of being rescued, fending off not only the unwanted advances of town bully Gaston, but, facing up to the Beast holding her father hostage, offering herself instead for her father’s freedom. As the days of her captivity pass, Belle sees something in her captor that his ugliness had blocked from view. What a role model for our daughters, and a lesson of the power of love to see a person’s true beauty beneath surface appearances, something also taught by Scriptures.

 WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE (2009)

Rated PG. Running time: 141 min.

Within a space of an hour or less children can feel a jumble of conflicting emotions, living as they do in a world that seems beyond their control and their understanding. Maurice Sendak’s picture book depicted an imaginative little boy rebelling against his mother, and, through his wild imagination, sailing off to an island inhabited by giant beasts where he was king and things went his way. Spike Jonze’s adaptation of Sendak’s mostly picture book (only half a dozen lines!) is an amazing visual tour de force that shows the fears and joys of the young mind—and, best of all, at the end a mother’s love that is greater than a child’s resentment, demonstrated by the cookies and milk she has set out when the unruly child returns home.

CASABLANCA (1942)

Unrated. Running time: 142 min.

Return again to a time when filmmakers, under the watchful eye of the censor, showed restraint in their love scenes, yet left no doubt for adult viewers what the lovers were thinking. In this wartime (WW 2) tale set in Vichy-controlled Northern Africa, Rick and Ilsa meet again after Ilsa had abruptly ended their affair in pre-Nazi Paris. Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman have made the characters so much their own that only a fool, a damned one at that, would try to remake this, truly a one of a kind film of love and heartache. As precious as the love between a man and a woman is, there is even a greater love that transcends theirs, a message that people of faith can affirm, believing that there is even a higher love than love of country.

TITANIC (1997)

Rated PG. Running time: 194 min.

Seldom has the Tennyson’s line “Tis better than to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all” been better illustrated than in James Cameron’s film. As in Romeo and Juliet, the lovers, Rose and Jack, are young, she 17, and Jack 20. In status-conscious 1912 any relationship between the upper crust young woman and starving artist is considered impossible. Aboard The Titanic their differing classes are just as apparent as on land, he in steerage and she up in First Class. But they do meet, fall in love, and, during the sinking of the huge ship, Jack’s sacrificial love for Rose becomes enshrined in her heart. The film’s special effects are awesome, but even more so is Jack’s sacrificial love, one so very appropriate for this special day of heart-shaped candies and exchange of cards.

 PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (2005)

Rated PG. Running time: 129 min.

No list of romantic films could leave out a Jane Austen-based film. Of her many tales of love, the expression of which is restrained by good breeding and manners, none, I believe, taxes the patience of American audiences as much as the affair of the heart involving middle class Elizabeth Bennet, one of four unmarried sisters, and the wealthy Mr. Darcy. Their first meetings are typical of what has become a sub-genre of the romance story, the initial bad impression one (future) lover makes on the other. Proud Mr. Darcy at first sees the Bennets as beneath his class, and Elizabeth is so upset over Mr. Darcy’s rude manners and the lie that is told about him that it will take a great deal to overcome her prejudice against him.  True Love must climb a steep hill to bring these two together at last!

 ROMEO & JULIET (1968)

Unrated. Running time: 138 min.

How could we not include the ultimate “star crossed lovers” film? There are many versions available, including Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 film set in an American suburb named Verona, but the one that best captures the spirit of Shakespeare’s teenaged characters is Federico Zefirelli’s magnificently photographed version that deservedly won great acclaim in the Sixties. Shot in villages of Tuscany, the backgrounds and costumes and young actors are photographed in glorious color. The passion of the stars is so believable that their untimely death amidst the hatred of their rival families is truly moving. I also was interested, upon watching it again, to see what a crucial role the priest Friar Lawrence, with his plan to use the marriage of the lovers to stop the deadly feuding between their two families, plays in the story. Note the director’s clever use of an icon of Christ in the scene in which the priest is laying out his plan.

To see my review of a lesser recent version go to Romeo & Juliet.

 WESTSIDE STORY (1961)

Unrated. Running time: 152 min.

Although staging Romeo & Juliet in modern dress while the characters still speak in archaic English seems incongruous to me, adapting the story to modern times while retaining the basic plot and passion of the young lovers makes perfect sense. Especially when you place the adaptation of the Broadway play into the hands of Robert Wise and Jerome Roberts, with music by Leonard Bernstein. The Montagues and the Capulets are replaced by the mutually hostile Italians and Puerto Ricans, with the Italian Tony falling in love with the Puerto Rican Maria. The clever lyrics of such songs as “The Jet Song,” “America,” and “Gee, Officer Krupke!” contain some social commentary (and satire), and the haunting “Some Where,” moving far beyond the mere longing of two lovers, envisions a world in which ethnic and racial differences will no longer matter, a world very similar to what a Galilean carpenter called “the kingdom of God.”

 STILL MINE

Rated PG-13. Running time: 102 min.

“Will you still love me, will you still feed me when I’m 64” the youthful Beatles asked back in 1967. The answer, according to this delightful story about a Canadian couple in their 80s, is a resounding “YES!” Most love stories are about young lovers, but this is one of a growing number of films that depict love between two people near the end of their lives, a love that is tested by a local bureaucrat far too concerned for pointless rules. Craig Morrison, noticing that his wife Irene is slipping into dementia wants to build her a small one level house with a view of the sea, since she is so suseptical to falls in their old two-story home. How he fights the red tape on behalf of his wife, even risking jail, makes for inspiring viewing—and says that “You will always be mine” is more than just Valentine card sentiment.

  GRACE UPLUGGED (2013).

Rated PG. Rated PG. Running time: 104 min.

This faith-based film, boasting better production values than most such productions, is also about love, but it is the love that holds families together even when their deeply held opposing opinions threaten to tear them apart. 18 year-old Grace Trey sings with her music minister father Johnny in their Birmingham, Alabama church band, where they clash over the way she sings her lines. She longs to slip from her father’s controlling presence and sing in her own style, which includes secular as well as church music. When she gets the chance, she goes behind his back, recording a demo of the song that he had written when he had been a one hit singer before his conversion to Christ. When it is well received at a Los Angeles record company, she runs away from home, placing herself into the hands of stylists who cosmetize her appearance and of the manger who tells her what to sing.

Johnny comes after her, but can only use persuasion to woo her back because she is of age. How she barely escapes being led astray by the shallow values of those she meets in the City of Angels makes for an uplifting story. The film does share the weakness of most faith-based films in that there is little subtlety to the way in which its evangelical message is proclaimed. Still, the film is entertaining, with the acting, singing, and songs first rate, and one scene between father and daughter especially touching in the way they express their love by strumming back and forth on their guitars a few bars from the hymn “It Is Well.”

Also, to the film’s credit, it does not demonize the record people, but does show that some of them are too bound to the success ethic. The record company’s star, whom Grace had looked up to back in Birmingham tells her “Your body is the biggest asset you have. It’s your currency. Sometimes you have to spend it.” Those who watch this film might well come to a better understanding of any differences between the generations, as well as appreciating both the human and divine love that hold a family together.

Available on DVD on Tuesday, Feb. 11, my review of the film will be up by the end of the week.

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2 Replies to “FILMS FOR VALENTINES DAY”

  1. The 1961 film version of “West Side Story” is a perfect film for Valentine’s Day! How I wish that it was played on Valentine’s Day at independent movie theatres, or even movie theatres…period.

    1. Sounds like a good idea. It would be a surprize in such context, but would be a great reminder of the sometimes cost of love and of its ability to transcend prejudice and hostility. Thanks for the suggestion. Do write again.

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