Valentine's Day seems as good a time as any to consider the sorry state of romantic movies. The main complaint these days is that there aren't enough good ones, which explains why even a half-decent love story can rock the box office. Tear-jerker Dear John, which opened last weekend, will forever be known as the film that finally bumped Avatar from its seven-week stranglehold on the box office's top spot.
But just when it appeared that Judd Apatow might have irrevocably altered the rom-com with all his hit bromance films, along came some hope: In The Proposal, Sandra Bullock plays a pushy boss in a romance that revives the snappy dialogue and screwball antics of 1930s' and 1940s' classics. And that film's refreshing role-reversal story isn't the only alternative formula for fanning the flames on-screen.
Herewith, seven new rules for date-night flicks:
1. If one ensemble romcom works, spin it into a franchise.
Even before the cast-of-thousands Valentine's Day proves itself at the box office, director Gary Marshall has attached himself to a sequel featuring some of the same characters, this time set on New Year's Eve. And there's talk of sequels to come (St. Patrick's Day anyone?). For artier fare there's also the Cities of Love series: they feature multiple narratives about urban love and include New York, I Love You, Paris Je T'aime and upcoming films set in Rio, Shanghai, Jerusalem and Mumbai.
2. Try a "happily never after" ending.
Bride Wars? 27 Dresses? C'mon, who says a good romance requires a trip down the aisle, or even common-law love? Last year's (500) Days of Summer (which landed on many year-end Top 10 lists) is a smartly written narrative about a failed romance; Ruba Nadda's Cairo Time (TIFF '09's best-Canadian-feature winner) weaves a delicate story of unexpected romance in which the lovers barely touch; and the writing is on the wall in the Oscar-nominated An Education, a sparkling coming-of-age film about a schoolgirl's affair with a conman.
3. Keep mining that Nicholas Sparks library.
Directed by sentimentalist Lasse Hallstrom, Dear John tells the story of a solider who falls for a college student. But it's only the latest in a string of sappy dramas adapted from Sparks novels. There have been five so far - the best received being The Notebook. Another, The Last Song, is set for release in March, and more are in development.
4. "Bite me" is the new "I love you."
The Twilight series - based on Stephenie Meyer's popular books about a human teenager's romance with a vampire dude - may not please most critics, but no one can deny the charisma of Kirsten Stewart or Robert Pattinson. Watch for the third film in the series, Eclipse, this June.
5. True love happens in 3-D.
Who knew the most moving romantic scene last year would be viewed through 3D glasses? No, we're not talking about the nuzzling of blue-skinned Navi on Pandora. Think the opening sequence of Up, which charts a relationship from childhood to old age with barely a word. It confirms that 3-D has the potential to deliver more than action and animated comedy.
6. Over 50 is hot.
Meryl Streep in It's Complicated. Need we say more? Clearly audiences are keen to see more mature romantic entanglements.
7. When in doubt, go the indie route.
Phillips Seymour Hoffman's directorial debut Jack Goes Boating, the Duplass brothers' Cyrus, and Blue Valentine, starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, were among the most raved-about films at last month's Sundance festival, and all revolve around facets of love and romance. If Hollywood isn't delivering what you want to see, look to the indies.
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