It’s Valentine’s week and romance is in the air. At least a few couples are going to spend their Valentine’s Day curled up with their significant other, and take in a romantic movie.
I love a good romantic story. Not the “lovey-dovey” sort of romances from modern rom-coms, but the hard-scrabble kind – the kind that are believable and compelling. The kind in which the stars have some definite chemistry. Being in a relationship with someone, especially one that is real and lasts, can be difficult at times, and I like it when movies have that approach. Oh sure, I enjoy surface romances, especially fairy tales. But the most compelling to me are the ones that take a more realistic approach.
With that in mind, I thought about my top 5 favorite screen couples. It was difficult, as there are actually quite a few that good ones that fit my parameters. So I have three honorable mentions that I had to talk about before the actual top 5.
Westley and Buttercup (The Princess Bride)
“As you wish.”
I kind of felt compelled to mention this one, if for no other reason than it’s a great movie. As “kissing stories” go, The Princess Bride is one of the best – hilariously self-aware and genuinely sweet at the same time. It seems that the world itself is conspiring to keep the two lovers apart, but it makes the anticipation of their eventual reunion that much better. It is indeed the journey that keeps the audience intrigued.
L.B. Jeffries and Lisa Fremont (Rear Window)
“I’m in love with you. I don’t care what you do for a living. I’d just like to be part of it somehow. It’s deflating to find out the only way I can be part of it is to take out a subscription to your magazine.”
Many men have difficulties committing to one woman, and for a variety of reasons. In the case of L.B. “Jeff” Jeffries, he’s just scared of change. Jeff seems to think that his life would basically end if he married Lisa – a beautiful society girl who is hopelessly devoted to him. One of Alfred Hitchcock’s strong suits was his ability to capture the mid-20th century male/female dynamic, and Rear Window was his commentary on relationship priorities…with the backdrop being a gruesome murder, of course.
Barry Egan and Lena Leonard (Punch-Drunk Love)
“…I have a lot of puddings, and in six to eight weeks it can be redeemed. So if you could just give me that much time, I think I can get enough mileage to go with you wherever you go if you have to travel for your work. Because I don’t ever want to be anywhere without you. So could you just let me redeem the mileage?”
This is one of the most bizarre love stories I have ever seen on film, and yet there is something oddly endearing about it. Barry and Lena are very peculiar people and it’s cute to see them come together. Lena’s presence causes Barry come out of his shell and emerge from his mental repression. Adam Sandler gives a surprisingly compelling performance here – easily his best in his whole career.
And now, the Top 5:
5. Carl and Ellie Fredricksen (Up)
“Thanks for the adventure – now go have a new one!”
One of truest memes to ever emerge from the internet in recent years was this: “Pixar created a better love story in eight minutes than Twilight did in four books.” The montage of Carl and Ellie’s life together is a sweet and heartbreaking masterwork of filmic storytelling. Without saying a word, all the love and affection these two carried for one another is covered beautifully. The rest of the film is about Carl’s grapple with grief, which is something that every longterm relationship must face eventually.
4. Han Solo and Leia Organa (Star Wars Saga)
“I love you.”
Probably the greatest love story in all science-fiction, the relationship between this princess and that charming rogue is so great. Over three films, it blossomed from antagonism to genuine affection. Han and Leia’s love story reminds me of 1940s screwball comedies or Frank Capra films – where the man and woman verbally spar, can’t stand one another at first, but slowly realize that they were meant to be together. The Force Awakens added another layer of drama to this relationship – one that I like less with each viewing. But then again, I would rather have happy endings.
3. Forrest Gump and Jenny Curran (Forrest Gump)
“I may not be a smart man, but I know what love is.”
As my fellow Reel World Theology contributor Alexis Johnson said in a brilliant write-up about this film, what makes Forrest Gump thematically strong is the title character and his seemingly unending supply of love and affection for all the people close to him – especially for Jenny, his “most special friend.” Jenny is a broken person, and Forrest is always there to help put her back together. And it takes Jenny a very long time to realize how important Forrest is in her life. It’s an awesome love story with redemption at its core. Though there is a definite tragic element in the end, the relationship is replete with constant hope and a sense of peace.
2. Rocky and Adrian Balboa (Rocky Series)
“I just wanna say one thing to my wife who’s home: Yo Adrian! I did it!”
The emotional center of the Rocky films was the relationship between the Italian Stallion and his wife. No matter how tough (or narratively ridiculous) things got, as long as Rocky and Adrian were together and strong, the films worked. The sequels simply strengthened their bond, which is one of the reasons why I love them. Rocky and Adrian both needed each other, and changed each other in drastic ways. Adrian started the story as a meek and mousy girl and ended up becoming one of the strongest female characters in the history of film. And she was the only person to whom Rocky could admit he was scared, because he knew that she would provide comfort and support.
1. G.W. and Katie McLintock (McLintock!)
“Half the people in the world are women. Why does it have to be you that stirs me?”
John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara were the screen couple. Never has there been a couple with more chemistry. She was the only woman who could successfully go toe-to-toe with Duke – an American icon. McLintock! is my favorite of their films (though The Quiet Man is a very close second). It’s a fun comedic western, loosely based on William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. Wayne and O’Hara play an estranged couple who are forced to come back together for the sake of their daughter. They stubbornly fight, hiding their true feelings under a veil of alcohol (G.W.) and preening indignation (Katie), manipulating each other over and over. But they slowly come back together at the same time, realizing they make a great team.
What makes McLintock! (and the couple) especially wonderful are the thematic underpinnings. Men and women need each other. Women domesticate men, turning them into responsible adults, husbands and fathers. And a man’s innate desire to protect and provide makes a safe environment for a woman to make a home and a family. It’s a far cry from the tropes of modern militant feminism that seek to pull the sexes away from each other.