8 Alternative Romances in Film

behind the candelabra
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Behind the Candelabra – the HBO movie in America that was released in cinemas elsewhere (including in the UK) earlier this year to critical acclaim – is released on DVD today. Tim Boden gave it a favourable review upon its cinematic release and it also made my Top 7 films of the year so far back in August.

Though the central duo are in the hands of a supremely-talented director in Steven Soderbergh and are supported by some wonderful turns (namely the rather hysterical Rob Lowe), it’s Michael Douglas and Matt Damon, playing Liberace and Scott Thorson respectively, who carry the film with two excellent performances. With that in mind, and to celebrate its DVD release, I thought I’d look at some of my favourite ‘alternative’ romances in film.

Whilst I could write about Once, Mary and Max or The Perks of Being a Wallflower all day long, I’ve gone for films that I haven’t mentioned – at least not often – on Vada before now. There are two additional special mentions – the particularly complex central relationship in The Skin I Live In and the astonishing strength of aging parents David and Kate in devastating documentary Dear Zachary – but they rely on detailed plot explanations and twists, and so instead I simply urge you to watch both (for very different reasons). Let’s instead champion the non-traditional which we can discuss, starting with…

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

Tillie: “Civil rights is one thing. This here is somethin’ else.”

A classic in its own right, this film – released in 1967 – explores the reactions of two sets of parents (and others) when a white girl brings home her black fiance. Despite its status, there is an entire younger generation who won’t have heard of, or at least seen, this socially significant film. What’s perhaps most interesting is that the white parents are self-defined liberals who have no problem with the idea… in theory. Comparisons can easily be made to contemporary LGBT issues, including the gay marriage ‘debate’.

Kill Bill Vol 1. & Vol. 2

Bill: “You know, Kiddo, I’d like to believe that you’re aware enough even now to know that there’s nothing sadistic in my actions.”

Quentin Tarantino knows how to work dialogue, or to slip in cultural references, or deliver an impressive set piece. He also builds characters particularly well, and the complex relationship between The Bride and Bill in his four hour double-bill is a great example of this. It’s got love and death and everything in between, finishing exquisitely with a wonderfully melodic scene.

Leon

Mathilda: “Leon, I think I’m kinda falling in love with you.”

Oh boy, I don’t know how they got away with this one. Leon is a film about a gentle-giant-cum-hitman who takes a very young Natalie Portman under his wing and teaches her the tricks of the trade. We’ve seen lots more of these female protagonist revenge thrillers lately (Hard Candy, Hanna, Haywire, etc.) but, aside from Gary Oldman’s super-fun over-the-top performance, it’s the kinda messed-up relationship between the two protagonists that helps to elevate Leon. Films like Saw (with Jigsaw and Amanda) also have similarly interesting apprentice/master dynamics.

Natural Born Killers

Mallory: “I do. ‘Til you and I die, and die, and die again. ‘Til death do us part.”

Natural Born Killers is Oliver Stone’s violent, excessive, controversial, media-focused quick-cutting frenzy of partners in crime, Mallory and Mickey Knox, and is therefore brilliant. Their unconventional beliefs have been replicated with slight variations in films like Monster and Sightseers, the latter of which is far more overtly comedic in tone.

Ponyo

Sosuke: “Mom! Ponyo came back, and she’s a little girl now!”

What’s interesting about the bond between Sosuke and Ponyo is that we’re unsure of its precise nature, even though it’s suggested as being merely friendship. Oh, and one of them was a fish, mustn’t forget that crucial point either. The energy of the duo is quite infectious, and the different stages of the relationship (i.e. boy-meets-fish, fish-becomes girl…) allows an emotional connection and development, albeit a slightly odd one. The rest of the film’s pretty delightful too.

The Purple Rose of Cairo

Cecilia: “I just met a wonderful new man. He’s fictional but you can’t have everything.”

Woody Allen’s utterly charming portrayal of the romance of the movies, evoking classic Hollywood, features a duo played by Jeff Daniels and Mia Farrow. She’s real whereas he’s a film character who literally walks out of the screen in the 1930s in order to meet her. It’s a blurring of fantasy and reality from Allen, whose recent Midnight in Paris explores a very similar topic, never moreso than through the two characters themselves and their impractical yet idealistic connection.

Rust and Bone

Alain: What are you doing?
Stephanie: At this moment? On life? Or in general?

A contemporary inclusion is last year’s Rust and Bone for the never-simple rapport that takes place, and constantly changes, between its two protagonists. The guy and girl have various other issues to contend with but ultimately begin to spend more time with each other, as boundaries blur between romance, sex and friendship.

South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut

Saddam Hussein: Hey Satan, I got some new luggage for our trip up to Earth. Let’s fuck to celebrate.

Finally, it seems apt to conclude by demonstrating what a task the Behind the Candelabra twosome had by comparing what they were up against. South Park‘s ascension to the big screen allowed the off-screen creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker, who have since put together the equally brilliant Team America and The Book of Mormon, to give us a raucous power-struggle and gay-sex-based relationship between the Prince of Darkness and Iraq’s former leader. Hilarious, astounding and perverse in equal measure, we knew that the film and any subsequent ventures from Matt and Trey were destined for greatness after seeing this idea come to fruition.

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Behind the Candelabra is released on DVD today (Monday 14th October) and is available from all major outlets.