AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER (1957)

In this special Valentine's Day edition of The Unenthusiastic Critic, my fiancée N. and I sit down for a viewing of one of the classic Hollywood romances. As always, spoilers abound, so if—like N.—you haven't seen An Affair to Remember, and if—unlike N.—you want to, you should do that first.

What We Watched

An Affair to Remember (1957), directed by Leo McCarey, written by McCarey and Delmer Daves. Starring Cary Grant, Deborah Kerr, Richard Denning, Neva Patterson, and Cathleen Nesbitt. (Normally I spring for the DVDs when we do these posts, but this time we watched it on Netflix.)

Why We Watched It

Because it's Valentine's Day! It's the time of year when romantic love is not a dream, or a thrill, but a goddamned obligation. As we've "celebrated" other holidays here at The Unenthusiastic Critic—I use the verb loosely, and my partner would object to it altogether—I thought it was high-time we paid our proper due to this collective annual nightmare of tacky red teddy bears, unwanted chocolates, and overpriced roses.

But which film best distills the true spirit of the holiday onto celluloid? For inspiration I took a look at the redoubtable American Film Institute's definitive ranking of the greatest cinematic love stories of all time, the 2002 "100 Years…100 Passions" list. (Side-gripe: why the ellipses, AFI? Really, the title of this list is quite ridiculous enough without them.) Of the top five movies on this list, my beloved valentine N. had already seen and approved of #1. (A big-screen viewing of Casablanca at Chicago's Music Box Theater is, in fact, how we will actually mark the holiday, though we're planning to skip the preceding "Sweetheart Sing-Along.") She's seen #2 as well, though she's most decidedly not a fan, and strongly objects—as a sane person should—to any attempt to describe it as "romantic." She's even seen #3, West Side Story, and probably enjoys it about as much as it's possible for her to enjoy a musical. Number 4 on the list is Roman Holiday, which N. has not seen—but that's actually a movie I like quite a bit, and I suspect she would enjoy it as well. (Where's the fun in that?)

But the AFI's fifth most romantic movie of all time—and, strangely, the only film in the top five in which the characters actually end up together—is An Affair to Remember. It is, arguably, the quintessential Hollywood romance. Director Leo McCarey liked this story so much he filmed it twice: first in 1939 as Love Affair, with Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne, and then this 1957 version with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. Real-life lovebirds Warren Beatty and Annette Benning then remade it again—reverting to the original title—in a 1994 version directed by Glenn Gordon Caron.

But these days An Affair to Remember is the most beloved telling of this weirdly beloved tale, due in part to a resurgence of popularity that followed its many call-outs in Nora Ephron's Sleepless in Seattle (1993). That Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan vehicle drew most of its thin inspiration from An Affair to Remember, and celebrated it as the ultimate "chick's movie."

"You don't want to be in love, you want to be in love in a movie," Meg Ryan's friend tells her in Sleepless in Seattle, and An Affair to Remember is the movie that defines what that means. And this issue of being in love "in a movie" is exactly what makes N. the perfect—which is to say, worst possible—audience for this sort of thing.

She: I sort of despise romantic movies.
Me: Why?
She: Because they usually involve tropes and not actual people. They're all about ridiculous contrivances to keep two people apart when we know they're just going to get together, and unnecessary non-communication, or miscommunication. It's just a lot of bullshit that's supposed to create this idea of fate, or romance, and I think it's ridiculous. I don't find it at all romantic.
Me: You're very cynical.
She: I'm not cynical. I love love, and I think it can be a beautiful thing. But I think most romantic comedies or films that are based on this idea of two people getting together, it's very rarely true to how it happens in the world. And again, they tend to rely on people being fucking morons. It relies on people not behaving as adults. It relies on people behaving as if the sane part of their brain has been excised, and they have no idea how to operate in the world or communicate with another human being. If you could just say what it is you want with the person, and behave normally…
Me: But then there's no movie. This is the same problem you have watching horror movies…
She: …where I'm just like, "Leave the house!" I understand. So maybe that's why I don't make films, because my film would end very quickly. Like Romeo and Juliet: those suicides did not need to happen! Just fucking communicate! Leave a note! "I'm not really dead." Just chill on the drama. It's just stupid.
Me: So it may not be any particular genre you hate, but the whole idea of dramatic structure itself.
She: But this shit is damaging. It just sets you up for this idea that every day is going to be dramatic, and it's not. That's why we have girls and young women thinking backwards ideas about how love happens, and how relationships are supposed to go, and it's like no, it's actually so much more interesting than that. And most days are like, "What are we getting for dinner? Take out the garbage. Change the fucking water bottle."
Me: By the way, you forgot to change the water bottle again.
She: No, I didn't!
Me: The little light was on: you always ignore the little light.
She: Okay, see, this is what our movie would be like.
Me: So let's approach it from the other direction. What movies do you find genuinely romantic?
She: Umm…The Lion in Winter.
Me: Ha! Okay, now I'm torn. Because on the one hand, that's one of my all-time favorite movies. But on the other hand, I'm not sure I'd call it romantic.
She: I think they have such a lovely relationship!
Me: They literally plot to kill each other. And their children.
She: It feels authentic, it feels lived in. And there's so much love there! You can't hate someone so much unless you love them so much.
Me: I'm super-excited to hear this definition of love six months before our wedding.
She: But it's not because I'm a cynic, or heartless. I like things that feel like they're real people, where it's not always a "meet-cute," and these are genuine relationships, and it's not neat and clean and pretty. I liked High Fidelity. I loved Only Lovers Left Alive. That was a beautifully romantic movie.
Me: Moody-ass vampires are romantic?
She: But they're not bullshit Twilight vampires. This is fucking Tilda Swinton as a vampire. And Tom Hiddleston, with the cheekbones? It's a very deep, eternal love. And the music in it is fucking brilliant. It's perfect. That's a beautiful couple, and a lovely love story.
Me: And you like the Before Sunrise movies…
She: I do, and again, that's just people just having genuine conversations, and actually talking to each other, and the ebbs and flows of a real relationship. I just feel like so many romantic comedies are built around silly contrivances that demean what love actually is, and the work that it takes to be in love. And it demeans the characters, so I can't take them seriously, because what fucking people actually behave this way? So I love love, and I think that if you're gonna do a film about love, then you should give it the respect it deserves.
Me: So you were never that little girl who wanted to be in movie-love?
She: No. And that could also be a result of my mom telling me, very early on, that shit ain't happening. So this may be a by-product of being raised by a very cynical, single black woman, who basically said that there's nothing that a man can bring to a relationship that you can't do with your finger.
Me: That is so romantic. And it explains so much.

How It Went

Romance is dead.

An-Affair-To-Remember-Title-Screen

Par for the course, we're not even out of the credits before N. is complaining.

She: Are we in New York? Of course we're in New York. Because that's the only place love happens. Among white people in ridiculously large apartments they can't possibly afford.

Then Vic Damone starts singing the title theme.

She: Oh god, this isn't a fucking musical, is it?

The song—in all fairness—is not a good song. "Our love affair is a wondrous thing, that we'll rejoice in remembering…"

She: That's just bad writing. And bad rhyming. I'm already pissed off.

An Affair to Remember opens with a montage of news reports from all around the world, announcing that "big dame hunter" Nickie Ferrante is off the market, because he's sailing from Europe to New York to marry heiress Lois Clark and her $600 million. "Not only all that lettuce, but a beautiful tomato too!" the American newscaster enthuses. And then we're on a ship, where the first half—and best half—of An Affair to Remember will take place.

Me: Cruise ships are very romantic, don't you think?
She: Cruise ships are havens for dysentery. And possible piracy.

Nicky-Ferrante-Cary-Grant

We see Nickie Ferrante himself—Grant, of course, resplendent in his tuxedo—receive a shore-to-ship call from a very lovely and very angry French woman named Gabriella, who is not pleased that Nickie never bothered to mention to her that he was getting married. But Gabriella is only important in as far as she: a) establishes that Nickie was formerly a callous hound-dog; and b) sets up the "meet cute" that is about to happen. For Gabriella had given him an engraved cigarette case, and that case has now been picked up by his fellow passenger, Ms. Terry McKay (Kerr). Nicky-Cary-Grant-and-Terry-Deborah-Kerr

From the moment they meet, they banter flirtatiously, and it's pretty good banter: I've never been a huge Kerr fan—I find her fairly insufferable in The King and I—but she had excellent chemistry with Grant, and much of their dialogue was reportedly improvised. Here, the sexual innuendo is fairly strong for 1957, as Terry reads the "frightfully intimate" inscription on the cigarette case, which—Nickie says—was a gift to commemorate "three unforgettable nights aboard La Gabriella." She is scolding but amused, he is flippant but intrigued, and thus does love blossom in the movies.

She: He's met his match.
Me: But he's getting married to what's-her-name and her $600 million.
She: No, he isn't.

Grant-and-Kerr

He follows her, and they banter some more, and they continue their conversation in her cabin. "You saved my life," he tells her. "I was bored to death. I hadn't seen one attractive woman on this ship since we left…I said to myself, 'Don't beautiful women travel anymore?' And then I saw you, and I was saved." There's no real pretense that he's doing anything but flirting, and she's perfectly aware of it, and enjoying it, even as she primly deflects each of his verbal advances. It plays out not as an aggressive attempt at seduction, however, but as a sort of civilized game between adults at which they are evenly matched. This, to me, is the best aspect of the film: most romantic comedies would require the two leads to detest each other at first, or at least establish one as the pursuer and the other as the pursued. But here—though she's primmer than he is on the surface—they are just two mature, intelligent, witty people who are not only attracted to each other, but who actually like each other.

But that means, of course, that—for there to be any of that dramatic structure that N. hates so much—there have to be external obstacles, and we establish some very quickly. He, of course, has a fiancée, of whom Terry is well aware; she, she informs him, also has a boyfriend herself. My own fiancée is contemplating Cary Grant, and is disturbingly unimpressed.

She: So he was a thing, right?
Me: Cary Grant? He was a huge thing.
She: I don't see it.
Me: Think of him as the proto-Clooney.
She: No, I definitely see that, but I'm not a Clooney person either.
Me: Plus, he had that cool accent: he talks like no other human being on the planet has ever talked. I suspect he made it up.

The flirtatious choreography in this scene is nicely done: they begin at opposite sides of the cabin, gradually draw nearer and nearer to each other as they banter, until they end up sitting shoulder-to-shoulder but not quite touching. Then, as he realizes his seduction is failing, he rises with his bruised ego to leave, but she follows, and wrangles an invitation to dinner. Over dinner, she quizzes him playfully, but censoriously, about his many, many conquests. "And women? You've known quite a few, haven't you? Or perhaps few is the wrong word."

Me: She's being kind of judgmental with someone she's just met.
She: Well, I think it's okay that she's judging him for trying to pick her up, despite the fact that he's engaged and she's in a relationship with someone.
Me: It's just playful banter.
She: Mmm hmm. He's a man-whore. He's obviously dripping in STDs and vagina juice, so I would judge him as well. He has a certain sheen to him: that's a vagina sheen.
Me: Is that what keeps his hair slicked back so perfectly in place? I assumed it was hair tonic, or pomade, or something.
She: Nope. Pretty sure it's vagina juice.

Judgmental prude she may be, and vagina-soaked man-whore he most certainly is, but they are clearly infatuated with each other, and more or less agree to spend every waking minute together for the rest of the cruise. And here I'll defend the movie on the very grounds my fiancée attacks such films, because they do have fairly substantial conversations: it's not just banter, they're actually talking, and enjoying the talking. Within the conventions of the form and the time-period, it's really not that far from the walk-and-talk relationship in the Before Sunrise movies. He tells her how he puts women up on pedestals, but they inevitably fall down. She tells him how her boyfriend found her singing in a dingy nightclub, and put her in a penthouse.

She: I want someone to put me in a penthouse.
Me: Sorry. You reject the old Hollywood romance, you don't get the ridiculously spacious penthouse overlooking Central Park.

Cary-Grant-and-Deborah-Kerr

But their conversations keep getting interrupted by nosy onlookers: Nickie is such a celebrity that the entire ship is gossiping about their relationship, and the ship's photographer keeps trying to get shots of them together. Fearing news will get out to one or both of their significant others, they agree to stay away from each other for the sake of appearance—but that doesn't work either as they keep getting drawn back into each other's orbit.  It's when the ship stops somewhere along the French Riviera, however, that this flirtation blossoms into a full-blown love affair. Nickie is going into town to visit his elderly grandmother, and Terry, of course, comes along for the ride.

She: You never took me to meet your grandmother.
Me: Well, that would have been tricky, since they were both dead by the time I met you.
She: And probably super-racist.
Me: No! [Thinking about this.] Well, maybe one of them…

Grant-Nesbitt-and-Kerr

Nickie's grandmother (Cathleen Nesbitt) lives in an enchanting villa with a lovely garden and a private chapel. Terry is clearly taken with the place, to an extent that my fiancée finds suspicious. "I think I could stay here forever," Terry says.

She: Bitch! Get your greedy eyes off my house.

Nickie goes off to visit with the handyman's family, and while he's gone Grandma spills all the deep background on Nickie: he's a talented painter, but too self-critical and too much of a socialite. A man redeemed and reformed by the love of a good woman is a fairly universal theme in these sorts of movies, and here we establish the work Terry will need to do: "There is nothing wrong with Nicolo that a good woman couldn't put right," Grandma says.

Me: Is that what you said when you met me?
She: No. I knew there was plenty wrong with you that no woman could possibly put right.

Nickie and Terry need to be getting back to the ship, but before they go Nickie convinces his grandmother to play the piano for them. What she plays, coincidentally, is the movie's mediocre theme song. Terry stands by the piano and picks up the sheet music, which is a trigger warning for my fiancée:

She: Please no.
Me: Please no, what?
She: Please don't sing. She's not going to sing, is she?

Terry starts humming along with the old woman's playing, and then finally, inevitably, begins singing.

She: Oh, hell no.
Me: They're sharing a beautiful musical moment.
She: It's not about her! This moment is about his grandmother! She already wants to steal the bitch's house, now she's going to steal her song? She's ruining the moment.

[Side-note: people did insist on having Deborah Kerr sing in movies, despite the fact that Deborah Kerr could not sing. Here—as she was in The King and I—Kerr is dubbed by Marni Nixon, Hollywood's Invisible Queen of Dubbers, who also sang for Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady and Natalie Wood in West Side Story, among many other—often uncredited—parts.]

As they are leaving, Terry comments on a lace shawl Grandma is wearing, and Grandma promises to send it to her one day.

She: She's just waiting for that old lady to die so she can have her house and all her stuff.
Me: Let's talk about him, and his priorities. He spent three whole nights with Gabriella, but he only manages to spend a couple of hours with his poor old grandmother?
She: That's all about the vagina juice. He has to stay lubricated!

First-kiss

Back on the ship, it's clear that this little interlude has changed everything: the light and playful banter is gone, and an air of tragedy has entered the proceedings. They have, inconveniently, fallen in love. That night Nickie notices that Terry is crying. "That's what beauty does to me," she says—a line that, predictably, makes my fiancée roll her eyes. They are walking hand in hand into frame, halfway down a staircase, when she pauses and draws her back up to him so they can share their first kiss just off-screen. It's a clever shot, for these two people who have been hounded by onlookers to find this private, intimate moment away even from our prying eyes.

She: Classy. And aw, he's lifting his foot up a little bit, just like the woman usually does. This really is a relationship of equals.

We are just about at the halfway point in An Affair to Remember's running time. It's also the point at which the film becomes, for me, much worse. The sophisticated banter mostly fades away, replaced by increasingly ponderous and maudlin dialogue. "We're heading into rough seas, Nickie," Terry says. "I know," Nickie responds. "We changed our course today." It's also the point in the film where the characters start making those poor, improbable decisions that N. bemoans so much in romantic movies. Two intelligent, mature, attractive people have fallen madly in love with each other, and the logical thing for them to do is end their relationships with their respective significant others and just be together. But that, of course, is not how movies work. Since news of their liaison is already all over the ship, Terry and Nickie spend their last night dancing giddily together cheek-to-cheek. But when the band strikes up its last song, "Auld Lang Syne," it puts them back into an air of tragedy as they contemplate their futures. He confesses how he has never done a day's work in his entire life, and she remarks how they are both very used to penthouses and nice things and pink champagne. "Winter must be cold for those with no warm memories," she says. "We've already missed the Spring."

She: Winter is cold for people who can't afford HEAT, you privileged bitch.
Me: You don't need heat if you have warm memories.

Nickie proposes that he spend six months trying to work hard, earn some money, and turn himself into the sort of person who is worthy of asking her to marry him. She asks him to let her sleep on it, and tell him her answer in the morning. "It's going to be a long night," he says.

Me: "We could boink to pass the time."
She: No, no, that would be wrong.

Lets-meet-at-the-top-of-the-Empire-State-building-like-they-did-in-that-movieThe following morning, as the ship pulls into New York Harbor, Terry unveils her plan: if everything goes well, then in exactly six months, on July the 1st, they will meet. He suggests that they meet on the top of the Empire State building. "Oh yes, that's perfect!" she gushes. "It's the nearest thing to heaven we have in New York."  My fiancée lets out a long, exasperated sigh: I think there's a mild danger she might throw up.

Me: What's the problem?
She: Are you fucking kidding me?
Me: See, this is why I don't make romantic gestures.
She: You can make them, but let them be imaginative! That's the nearest thing to Heaven they have? A tourist-trap? A clichéd, bullshit spot?
Me: But this is the movie that established the cliché.
She: And I'm sorry, but what's supposed to happen in six months? He's supposed to get a damn job?
Me: Yes. Because he doesn't have any money himself; he was planning to marry money.
She: And she can't just be with someone who isn't rich?
Me: She likes nice things.

Patterson-and-Grant

On the docks, both of their official paramours are waiting for them: Ken (Richard Denning) and Lois (Neva Patterson). It's to the movie's credit that neither of them seem like terrible people—in fact, considering the way things play out, they're practically saints. In fact, my fashion-minded fiancee—who has not been impressed with any of Terry's outfits—is instantly taken with the exquisitely dressed Lois.

She: She's fabulous.
Me: Well, she has $600 million, so she can afford to be fabulous.

Lois has ambushed Nickie with a live television interview about their engagement. The interviewer (Robert Q. Lewis) checks Nickie out for camera-readiness, and deems that his face is "shiny."

Me: Go ahead: say it.
She: His face is shiny because he's been soaking in vagina juice!

Across town, Terry is watching the interview when her boyfriend enters and kisses her. "Remind me to ask you later why your kisses aren't quite the same," he says.

She: "Because I'm a cheating whore!"

Nickie has the good taste not to actually break up with his fiancée on live television, but he does announce his intention to begin painting again so he can support the woman he intends to marry. Across town, Ken has taken notice of the rapt attention Terry is giving the television, and figures out pretty quickly what's going on. "Can't you see I'm in love?" he says, meaning with her. "So am I," she says, meaning with Nickie.

Me: Ouch!
She: Slap that bitch!
Me: He doesn't look like a slapper.

And indeed he's not: a classic "Baxter," Ken is endlessly kind, and polite, and understanding, and—in the fashion of romantic comedies everywhere—doomed. Three months later, Nickie has ditched his tuxedo for work clothes, and has been painting his little heart out. His art dealer is not terribly optimistic about the commercial value of his paintings of weird-looking women and fruit bowls, however, and neither is N.

She: [whispering] He doesn't seem like a very good painter.

And indeed, he is eventually reduced to painting billboards. Meanwhile, Terry has taken a job as a nightclub singer in Boston; later, she will also take a job teaching music to school children. All of this seems designed simply to add unnecessary musical numbers to the second half of An Affair to Remember, and the more it turns into a stealth musical, the more N. turns against it. (The mediocre title track gets yet another warbling Marni Nixon rendition, unconvincingly lip-synced by Kerr.) Then it's July 1st. Nickie has sold a few paintings, and Terry has returned to New York. Ever-faithful Ken has been stalking her by proxy—he has apparently instructed every store clerk in Manhattan to notify him the minute Terry is in town—and so arranges to run into her while she's shopping for a dress. She's pleased to see him, but gives him the brush: she's rushing off to the Empire State building to meet Nickie. (Why she has left herself, at this point, four minutes to reach this appointment to which she's been looking forward for months is a mystery.) She hops in a cab, and when she hops out and rushes towards the Empire State, we hear a scream and the squeal of brakes.

She: [sarcastically] Oh, no.
Me: Yeah, she's dead.

Meanwhile, Nickie is waiting anxiously atop the Empire State Building, but of course, Terry never shows. (She's busy being delirious in a hospital bed, calling out for Nickie the whole time.)

She: I'm sorry, the accident made her crazy?
Me: Brain damage.

Grant

Back at the Empire State, it's midnight, and there's a thunderstorm, and Nickie is still waiting, heartbroken and forlorn.

Me: Just so you know, I don't wait more than twenty minutes for anyone.
She: Oh, Mr. Romantic! This is why you'd be bad at grand gestures.
Me: I got shit to do, lady. Be there when you're supposed to be!

The second half of An Affair to Remember is a completely different movie from the first half—and a much, much lesser one. Smart, sophisticated, witty Terry McKay does seem like she was brain-damaged in the accident. Upon learning she may never walk again, she decides not to tell Nickie anything about the accident at all: unless she can walk, he will never know what happened. It's not romantic: it's ridiculous. She never even articulates a good reason for this bizarre decision. Presumably she doesn't want to be a burden to him, and I suppose there could be an argument that theirs was a relationship of equals, and it's important to her that it stays that way. But really, it's just that thing N. hates: contrived Hollywood bullshit. So now time is passing, which is another way of saying the film gets padded. We see Nickie back in Europe, visiting the now empty house of his grandmother. And we see Terry working in a lower-class school, teaching horrible songs to the children of terrible caricatures of working class New Yorkers. ("Now he won't grow up to be a mug like me!" one barely-evolved Neanderthal of a lower-class stereotype says, thanking her for educating his worthless offspring. "I'm so stoopid I'm barely even ignorant!") During yet another shoe-horned musical number—with a bunch of horribly untalented children—N. notices that Terry is teaching at a multi-racial school: integration came early to this particular district, apparently.

She: Are those black kids? That's how you know she's really sunk to the bottom, where only memories keep you warm.
Me: The black kids don't have any lines or solos, however.
She: Of course not: they'd blow the white kids out of the water.

But we spoke too soon: towards the end of the song, the black kids get a dance solo. (They are, of course, the only kids who dance.)

Black-kids-dancing

She: Oh for fuck's sake! You got them bojangling in the movie? That's some fucking racist bullshit.
Me: Yeah, that was unfortunate.
She: Shuckin' and jivin'. You know, it's Black History Month: I don't need this shit in my life.

Meanwhile, Nickie has been painting some more, and his art dealer informs him that he has become a true artist with one painting in particular: it's a portrait of Terry, of course, dressed in his grandmother's shawl. Nickie and Terry cross paths again on a night out at the ballet: he's out with Lois, and she's out with Ken. Personally, I think it might be insensitive to take a woman to the ballet for her first excursion after having her legs paralyzed, but mostly I'm just impressed with how civil Ken and Lois are about being kicked to the curb.

Me: These are some very understanding dumpees.

When the ballet is over, Nickie and Lois pass Terry and Ken—still seated, of course—and all either of them can say is "hello." After Nickie sulks off, Ken begs Terry to tell Nickie the truth, but she adamantly refuses. "Unless I can walk to him—and when I say 'walk' I mean run—he will never know."

Me: It makes perfect sense.
She: No, it doesn't.
Me: It's honorable.
She: It's so fucking dumb.

The not-very-adorable kids get another not-very-good musical number—which serves absolutely no purpose—and then, finally, we are at the final scene of the movie, when Nickie shows up at Terry's apartment at Christmas. She is laying on the couch, as he paces the apartment nervously around her and never notices she doesn't get up. They do a bantering, bitterness-tinged conversational dance about the fact that she never showed up for their appointment: he pretends he was the one who didn't show up, and she pretends she was the one who was angry.

She: THIS IS STUPID. All she needs to say is, "I got hit by a cab and my legs don't work."

"I remember we said that if we could make we'd be there," Terry reminds him. "And if one of us didn't show up, it would be for a darn good reason."

She: Like, I GOT HIT BY A CAB AND MY FUCKING LEGS DON'T WORK.

He announces he's sailing back to Europe—presumably forever, this time. And he comes to the real reason he's there: to give her his grandmother's shawl. They say their tragic goodbyes, and he turns to leave—but at the door he begins talking about the painting he did of her in that shawl, and how he let the art dealer give it away to a young woman… …he is about to say in a wheelchair, when suddenly the truth dawns on him: he rushes into her bedroom, and sees the painting on the wall above her bed. My fiancee—so far from being swept up in the schmaltz—takes a moment for a little art criticism:

She: That is not a good painting.

Nickie goes to his crippled love on the couch. "Why didn't you tell me?" he asks her.

She: GOOD QUESTION.

And as the music swells, the dialogue gets schmaltzier and schmaltzier. "If it had to happen to one of us, why did it have to be you?" "It was nobody's fault but my own," Terry says, crying, as he embraces her. "I was looking up! It was the nearest thing to heaven! You were there!"

Me: Are you going to throw up?

She: That's what beauty does to me.

"Don't worry, darling," Terry sobs, as she wipes his tears away. "If you can paint, I can walk!"

She: That's not how that works. AND HE CAN'T PAINT.

If-you-can-paint-I-can-walk

The theme song swells, the snow falls in central park, and the movie is over.

The Verdict

She: That was fucking stupid. That was horrible. I did not enjoy that.
Me: What was the problem?
She: The whole thing. All of their conversations were too clever by half, and the ending is ridiculous. That was exactly what I'm talking about with these movies: just a lot of unnecessary bullshit and people being stupid. "I can't walk." That's all she had to say to him.
Me: She didn't want him to know.
She: Why?
Me: She wanted to go to him whole.
She: She is whole, she just can't walk.
Me: The same way he wanted to go to her gainfully employed…
She: …as a shitty painter. These were not good plans. If you love someone, be with them. That's it.
Me: It's romantic.
She: No, it actually isn't. It really isn't. I didn't find that romantic at all. They both wasted a lot of time being stupid.
Me: I will say, in your defense—
She: I don't need defending!
Me: I will say, in your defense, that if, on the day of our wedding, you should happen to get hit by a taxi—
She: I'm just not going to show up.
Me: I would prefer to know. I would prefer that you just maybe give me a heads-up, shoot me a text, something. "FYI, can't make it, due to crushed legs."
She: No, if this is what you find romantic, I know now that I just shouldn't say anything. Because it's romantic. I'll just disappear, and not tell you, and go to the projects and teach shitty music to poor kids. And you can maybe come find me a year later.
Me: I'd probably be pretty pissed off.
She: Yeah, I can imagine!
Me: In fact, to be honest, I'll probably have moved on to my rebound relationship by then.
She: He should have! With the fabulous chick with the $600 million! She was obviously very forgiving and understanding.
Me: Sigh. You don't react to things like women are supposed to react. In Sleepless in Seattle they say that men never get this movie.
She: What the fuck is that supposed to mean? Anyone who finds that ending romantic has serious problems. This is why people can't communicate! Because you think it's cute not to actually say what is going on. It's not cute. It's a waste of time. It's dumb. It would have been more emotional, and more sweet, if she was just honest about what happened!
Me: But then we wouldn't have had that moving ending.
She: Good! That ending was fucked up. "If you can paint, I can walk." He can't paint. He's painting fucking fruit bowls.
Me: I don't think the quality of his painting is the point…
She: It is! She's basing her entire ability to walk on his ability to paint, and he's a shitty painter! "If you can paint I can walk." Well, he can't paint. And, by the way, that's not how science works, bitch! If you'd told him the truth about your accident, maybe he could have gone and become an orthopedic surgeon! Then, maybe, you could walk! And that would have been actually romantic!
Me: I don't understand why you get so worked up about these things.
She: Because it's dumb. It's so dumb. It's horrible.
Me: In Before Sunrise, they make the plan to meet six months later, just like they do here. And you like that movie.
She: Yeah, and that's dumb too! And in the second movie they admit how dumb that was. Get some basic contact information! Check in! Facebook it! See, it's the fault of movies that they did that, because it sounded romantic. Stupid fucking movies like this just make people stupid.

 

The Unaffiliated Critic

Michael G. McDunnah is a freelance writer, a recovering lit major, a pop-culture junkie, and an unaffiliated critic. He lives in Chicago.

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