The good news (or bad depending on your tastes) is no romance this holiday season is coming with a hard Christmas angle. My list of five films (no. five is debatably in this category) contains a Shakespearean fantasy, a musical/dance film, an off-beat gay romance mixed with a conman comedy, a rom-com set during the rise of Viagra (maybe pun intended) and a James L. Brooks no-nonsense romance.
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5. The Tempest (Dec. 10, limited)
The Word: Taymor’s work tends to divide audiences. Regardless of your opinion of the Beatles musical “Across the Universe,” Taymor has been celebrated on a global scale (“The Lion King” musical), so she’s big stuff in the artsy community. “The Tempest” marks her return to Shakespeare after her off-beat version of “Titus Andronicus” (titled “Titus”) starring Anthony Hopkins back in 1999 — her feature debut. Of course her story puts a twist on the play, recasting the sorcerer Propsero as a woman. Not too shabby when you consider that woman is Helen Mirren. I know it’s not exactly a romantic comedy, but romance is close enough.
My Thoughts: Mirren, Djimon Honsou, Russell Brand, Chris Cooper and Alfred Molina. Quite a cast and fitting of Taymor’s eccentricities. The film feels like a clash between historical epic and fantasy tale as the setting is rather barren but there are of course some trippy-looking visual effects. The film is an odd choice for the holiday season, so it’s a bit tough to embrace “Tempest” as one of the must-see films. Perhaps it’s simply after some costume design awards.
4. I Love You, Phillip Morris (Dec. 10, limited)
The Word: I think this is the third time this film has been included in one of my movie previews. Well, this time it’s for real — the story of a man who suddenly realizes he’s gay and starts conning people to accommodate his lavish lifestyle, thus landing in the slammer where he meets his true love, Phillip Morris (McGregor) — will be distributed in December by Roadside Attractions. The film was initially schedule for last Feb., then Apr., then indefinitely. At long last we’ll see if this totally outlandish premise from the creators of “Bad Santa” was worth the wait.
My Thoughts: At this point, I would’ve rather the film just come out on DVD. There’s no chance amid the holiday hoopla that I would go out of my way to see this film, as enticing as the premise sounds and as much as I love the more off-beat roles that Carrey plays. Certainly if you’re looking for a change of pace during the drama- and blockbuster-heavy December, here’s your ticket
3. Burlesque (Nov. 24)
The Word: It’s a bit later than you might’ve expected, but Christina Aguilera finally makes the jump to the big screen in this typical “Funny Girl”-type tale of a naive singer/dancer who gets her big break on the burlesque stage thanks to her diva mentor, played by Cher. Writer/director Steve Antin is also getting his big break with this film co-starring Broadway vet Alan Cumming, Stanley Tucci, “Twilight” star Cam Gigandet and “Grey’s Anatomy” star Eric Dane.
My Thoughts: Flashy and glitzy — if you love the dazzling lights of show business and don’t need much in the way of plot (or at least non-recycled plot) to suit your fancy, “Burlesque” offers the only musical entertainment of the holidays, which is a rarity. As much as I hate to admit it, however, these basic plots for these kinds of films usually work in the way of entertainment. Regardless, this film will need to be full of showstoppers to win over Thanksgiving audiences.
2. Love and Other Drugs (Nov. 24)
The Word: What do “Glory,” “The Last Samurai” and “The Blood Diamond” have in common with “Love and Other Drugs”? Director Edward Zwick. I know, talk about a head-scratcher. There’s simply no good explanation for the epic director’s sudden change of gears, but it’s not a surprise that he was also able to rope in some top talents in Gyllenhaal and Hathaway, whose relationship will presumably be better than it was in “Brokeback Mountain.” Gyllenhaal embraces his ladies man charm as a pharmaceutical rep who starts to push a new erectile dysfunction drug called “Viagra.” Meanwhile, a free-spirited Hathaway begins to change his life.
My Thoughts: I like these two a lot. In the trailers they appear to have good chemistry and the general tone and humor of the film indicates that Zwick has kept it out of rom-com shlock territory. How the Viagra and the ladies man stories will intertwine beats me, but I could name a million romantic comedies that have looked worse than this one. Anyway, you’ve got to figure that if Gyllenhaal would finally move to more traditional romantic comedy after a career of thrillers, drama and action, there had to be a compelling reason.
1. How Do You Know (Dec. 17)
The Word: For the first time since 2004′s “Spanglish,” James L. Brooks has re-emerged to give us what will surely be another painfully honest romantic comedy. The “As Good As It Gets” filmmaker calls on big romantic comedy names in Witherspoon, Rudd and Wilson for a film that’s simply about what its title implies: how do you know when you’re in love? Cue Amy Adams and the “Enchanted” soundtrack. Seriously though, Witherspoon plays a woman dating a major league pitcher (Wilson) out of touch with his feelings when she runs into an old friend dealing with his own issues and hits it off. Rudd plays the down-on-his-luck friend who would’ve been played by Albert Brooks had this movie been made in the ’80s.
My Thoughts: If you’re well versed on Brooks’ older stuff, you’ll know this is simply a modern incarnation. I’m most excited for Rudd as his combination of sincerity and comedy might be the best of any rom-com actor out there and thusly a Brooks film will suit him to a T. At the same time, the story doesn’t appear to really exist other than being about people and love and relationships (and of course two men vying for one woman). “How Do You Know” is definitely the adult romantic comedy centerpiece of the Christmas releases.