We aren't falling for romance gimmicks

THE GRIPE

The Gripe

June 16, 2006|By MICHAEL SRAGOW | MICHAEL SRAGOW,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

In the future, let's hope we can leave the word "trick" out of love stories or sex comedies unless it refers to a prostitute's client.

The Lake House, in which a mailbox serves as a time portal for two lovers (Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock) is the latest in a series of gimmick-ridden romances. The increasing absurdity of the trick dashes any genuine emotion as the movie goes on.

At the screening I went to, the gentleman in front of me turned around to me and my friends and asked whether we'd noticed that the film ended in a way that made its opening action, even on its own terms, impossible. The rule in gimmicky romances is that either the gimmick self-destructs, as it does here and in 2001's Kate and Leopold (with Meg Ryan and Hugh Jackman), in which a century separates the lovers (not just two years as in The Lake House), or it gets in the way of an authentic amour, as in last year's Just Like Heaven (with Reese Witherspoon and Mark Ruffalo), in which one lover lies near death, in a coma.

The Lake House doesn't even go all the way with its cutesiness the way the beloved Sleepless in Seattle did. Popular though Seattle was, I'd hope fans of Nora Ephron's 1993 smash with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, which borrowed from Leo McCarey's 1957 Cary Grant-Deborah Kerr hit, An Affair to Remember, would buck-jump all the way back to McCarey's 1939 Love Affair, the original original, with Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne, to see how fresh inspiration can transform kitsch into art. Let's pass quietly over the horrible 1994 remake, again called Love Affair, with Warren Beatty and Annette Bening.

The big complaint of romantic moviemakers after the Sexual Revolution was that, without elaborate gimmicks, they couldn't think of ways to keep lovers apart. But the much-maligned One Fine Day (1996), with sensational star chemistry between George Clooney and Michelle Pfeiffer, showed that the everyday life of busy professionals, especially single parents, could provide complications enough.

And my three favorite modern romances demonstrate different ways of revitalizing love on the big screen. Philip Kaufman's The Unbearable Lightness of Being gives us love as inspiration, stimulant and lost cause in a politically charged atmosphere (the Prague Spring of 1968), with three stars who galvanized international attention in their first flush of passion: Daniel Day-Lewis, Juliette Binoche and Lena Olin. Bull Durham, with its delayed but robust affair between a grizzled catcher and an unofficial female coach -- the never-better Kevin Costner and Susan Sarandon -- shows what shared interests can do for you: not just baseball but poetry and literary prose, and a full experience of life. And Fred Schepisi's Roxanne, starring Steve Martin in his own adaptation of Cyrano de Bergerac as a big-nosed, loose-limbed, nimble-tongued fire chief enthralled by an airy beauty (Daryl Hannah), demonstrates that you can revive classic Romance with a capital R -- as long as, like Martin's verbal virtuoso C.D. Bales, you make use of every other letter of the alphabet.

Imagination, not trickery, is the key: because, as we all know, the sexiest organ is the brain.

michael.sragow@baltsun.com

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