Romantic Drama

Love & Sex

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2000

Lions Gate

Directed and Written by Valerie Breiman

Produced by Martin J. Barab, Darris Hatch and Brad Wyman

Either I’m getting old, soft in the head or just downright developing a conscience. That’s the only thing that can explain my sitting down to actually watch a romantic comedy. And on top of that, liking it a whole lot more than I thought I would. But I’ll be upfront here; the leads are played by Famke Janssen and Jon Favreau. Famke Janssen you’ll know for two outstanding movie characters. She was one of James Bond’s more memorable villains; the beautiful Xenia Onatopp in “GoldenEye” who delighted in squeezing men to death between her thighs while having sex. And she played the telepathic/telekinetic mutant superhero Jean Gray in the “X-Men” movies. Jon Favreau has made quite the reputation for himself as a dependable and extremely talented actor/director. Everybody knows him from his roles in “Swingers” and “Made” and he directed the megahits “Iron Man” and “Iron Man 2.” So it was more my curiosity in seeing just what the two of them were doing in a romantic comedy more than anything else that led me to check out LOVE & SEX.

Kate Welles (Famke Janssen) is a writer for the magazine ‘Monique’ and she’s suffering a creative crisis. She’s supposed to write an article about how to find and fall in love with the right man. A perky, happy article. The best she can come up with is 2500 words comparing romantic relationships to blow jobs. In her words: “It’s only the suckee that benefits. The sucker is left depressed.” Her editor doesn’t want to hear it and says if Kate can’t come up with something a tad more cheerfully readable by 5PM, she’s fired. Kate’s struggle to write the article triggers her memories of her past relationships that we’re allowed to share.

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The relationship that really matters is the one she had with Adam Levy (Jon Favreau) an artist of decidedly bizarre talent. One of his paintings depicts a bleeding woman pulling a severed head out of her ass. And that’s one of his milder pieces. But Kate is attracted to him right off and they begin a truly touching and funny relationship that had me chuckling all throughout the movie and even laughing out loud several times. It’s love at first sight for the both of them but can it last? The movie is told through Kate’s eyes and she’s just as hard on herself as she is on Adam. They’re great together but both of them become too obsessed with wondering if they’ll still be madly in love with each other years from now. It struck me halfway through this movie that Adam and Kate are like a lot of people I know: they worry way too much about if they’re still going to be in love twenty-five years from now instead of enjoying being in love today.

I like Famke Janssen a lot in this movie. She’s not all glamorously gorgeous here. She looks like most women I see during the day walking down the street. Her character is remarkably open and casual about her past sexual experimentation and freely admits to Adam she’s had 13 lovers in the past. Adam only having had two partners naturally feels inadequate. And despite what Adam says she refuses to apologize or made to feel slutty because of her choices. She realizes she uses sex to make herself feel better because she’s so desperately afraid of being alone but that’s her choice and she stands by it. Jon Favreau’s Adam is a character equally as quirky and interesting as Janssen’s. I really liked the scene where he shows he’s a standup guy when Kate tells him she’s pregnant and his actions during a later tragedy are quietly moving.

But eventually the breakup comes. Adam and Kate go their separate ways for a time to try and find out if they’re really in love or not. The funniest part of this sequence comes from Kate’s dating action movie star Joey Santino (Josh Hopkins) who just happens to be one of Adam’s favorite actors. The sex is great with Joey but he’s got about as much brainpower as a head of cabbage. Kate tells him that he “just doesn’t get it.” Joey shrugs and goes one with life. He’s happy that he doesn’t get it. He’s content to live life for today. Kate worries about the fact that everybody today is going to die and nobody is going to remember them because everybody else is going to die.

It’s sequences like that in LOVE & SEX that reminded me a lot of Woody Allen’s work during the 1980’s. Famke Janssen’s character could easily be a female version of the neurotic persona Allen honed and perfected during that period. And both she and Jon Favreau are obviously having a fun time with the sharp dialog. It’s a nice little movie. Unpretentious and it doesn’t try to be the tearjerker of all time. And it’s nowhere near as predictable as other romantic comedies I’ve seen. It’s concerned more with telling a good story about some interesting characters instead being impressed with its own cuteness. LOVE & SEX is a movie I’m pleased to recommend as a more than satisfying Friday or Saturday night rental for you and your significant other. I think you’ll be as charmed by it as I was. It’s intelligent, funny and has its own unique heart. Enjoy.

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82 minutes

Rated R: for language and sexual situations. The f-word is thrown around a lot as well as other sexual slang so be warned.

Same Time, Next Year

Same Time Next Year

 

 

1978                           

Universal Pictures

Directed by Robert Mulligan

Produced by Walter Mirisch and Morton Gottlieb

Written by Bernard Slade based on his play

Romantic comedies are most definitely not my favorite genre of movie when I sit down to be entertained by a movie.  I’d rather go get a tooth pulled than have to sit through anything resembling a romantic comedy because when you talk about predictable story and overwrought acting, that’s the genre that specializes in that kinda stuff.  But even a stone-hearted boor such as myself has to admit that there have been a couple of movies in the genre that I have managed to sit through mainly because they’re somewhat different from the usual romantic comedy in terms of story and acting I submit for your approval SAME TIME, NEXT YEAR

George (Alan Alda) and Doris (Ellen Burstyn) are staying separately at the same California resort inn on the Monterey coast one weekend in 1951.  He’s there on business to do the taxes for a client who owns a winery and she’s there because her husband and her kids are visiting her mother-in-law and the mother-in-law cannot stand Doris who she thinks tricked her son into getting married. So Doris tells her husband she’s going to a Catholic retreat so he won’t worry about her being alone.  One night George and Doris are the only ones having dinner in the inn’s main dining room.  They look up, their eyes meet, they smile and before they know it, they’re having dessert and coffee and they talk.  And talk.  And talk.  And before they know it, it’s the next day, they’re waking up in each other’s arms and they’re in love.

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Neither one of them wants to leave their spouses.  They both have responsibilities to their children and the people they have back home.  So they hit on a novel arraignment: every year on the same weekend they’ll stay at the same inn in the same room and spend a weekend together.  And it’s an arraignment that lasts for 26 years through laughter, tragedy, good times and bad.

Now some might question the morality of this arraignment and see it as an endorsement of adultery.  And certainly George and Doris never even bring up the question of not starting the affair or breaking it up at any time during the movie.  And as we never see their spouses (we get to know them through the stories George and Doris tell) we can’t judge how those relationships are.  George and Doris appear to be happy and secure in their marriages and they don’t have a reason to be cheating.  But I think the movie is trying to show two people who if they had met under the right circumstances could have married and had an extremely happy and satisfying life together.  It’s like that old song says: “It’s sad to belong to someone else when the right one comes along.”

During the course of the movie we see how the couple grow and develop along with the changing attitudes of the country.  Doris goes from being a somewhat naïve suburban housewife to anti-Vietnam War protestor /middle-aged college student to sharp and confident businesswoman.  George starts out as a high strung, neurotic accountant who is comically unsure of himself, goes to 70’s therapy addict and finally ends up as a mature adult man who is able to see himself for what he is, deal with it and be happy.   It’s quite a range for both of the actors as they’re on screen every minute of the movie.  It was based on a play and the movie is virtually like a play since except for a few brief scenes that take place in the inn’s dining room and outside the cabin they stay in, the whole movie takes place indoors with just the two characters talking.

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Alan Alda’s performance at the beginning of the movie is the one thing that might make you want to stop watching the movie.  He really overacts badly during the scenes where Doris is having a baby and (no, it’s not his) and for a brief few minutes turns the movie from light romantic comedy to almost Jerry Lewis style nuttiness.  He’s much better in the later scenes where he’s playing an older, more sedate George, especially during a painful scene where George has to tell Doris why he has changed from a happy-go-lucky liberal democrat to an almost fascist, bitter Republican.

Ellen Burstyn is clearly the better actor of the two and she knows how to play this material for all it’s worth due to her experience in Neil Simon comedies as well as having done this play on Broadway and one of the best things about the movie is watching her character grow and develop.  It’s almost a history lesson on the woman’s movement from the 1950’s to the 1970’s watching Doris change fashions and attitudes.

SAME TIME, NEXT YEAR doesn’t have what I would call a conclusion.  Instead it has a resolution that some might find unbearably corny but I thought fitted the tone of the movie just right and was the only way that these two characters could have ended up.  It’s a sweet little movie that I think is probably closer in realism to how a lot of married people conduct affairs rather than the cutesy-poo convoluted over plotting of most romantic comedies.  The actors are good, the characters are likeable and I have to admit that by the ending credits when the theme song by Johnny Mathis and Jane Oliver swelled into full sentimental mode I found myself pretending I had something in my eye.

Rated PG

119 minutes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Silver Linings Playbook

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2012

The Weinstein Company

Screenplay and Directed by David O. Russell

Executive Producer: Jonathan Gordon

Produced by Bruce Cohen and Donna Gigliotti

Based on the novel “The Silver Linings Playbook” by Matthew Quick

The first twenty minutes or so into SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK I fidgeted, I admit it. But that’s because I couldn’t tell which way this movie was going to go with its characters or their story. I didn’t know much about this movie outside of that it starred Bradley Cooper and Robert DeNiro, who had previously worked together in “Limitless.” But it vaguely looked to me like a romantic comedy and I’m leery of that genre. Which I shouldn’t have been. I’ve watched romantic comedies like SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK that actually are intelligent, character-driven and don’t follow the silly, sappy paint-by-the-numbers plots of most romantic comedies. And this movie isn’t all comedy. There’s just as much drama as comedy here and the story goes in directions that can’t be anticipated because of the unpredictability of the characters. Even the ones who aren’t crazy.

After eight months of treatment for bipolar disorder in a mental health facility, Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) is released into the care of his parents (Robert DeNiro and Jacki Weaver). His intention is to get his life back on track and a large part of that is reconciling with his wife Nikki (Brea Bee) That’s a situation that is going to take a whole lot of work since Pat tried to beat to death the man Nikki was having an affair with and she has a restraining order against him. Pat attends his court mandated therapy sessions with Dr. Patel (Anupam Kher) and tries his best to stay out of trouble. But since he refuses to take his medication that leads him into several situations where it seems as if he may have to go back to the facility.

It’s through his friendship with Tiffany Maxwell (Jennifer Lawrence) whose emotional trauma following the death of her husband caused her to become addicted to sex that Pat sees an opportunity to communicate with Nikki. Tiffany agrees but only under the condition that Pat will be her partner in an upcoming dance competition. I would not dream of telling you how the outcome of a Philadelphia Eagles football game is tied into the dance competition. I’ll only say that it’s a nifty plot twist that I did not see coming and once it did I was grinning like a fool.

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And I guess that’s the main thing I can throw at you to recommend SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK: it’s determination not to be a typical romantic comedy. There is simply no way to predict how the movie will end and to enhance your enjoyment of it, I advise that you don’t even try. Our two main characters have certifiable mental/emotional problems but that doesn’t mean that everybody else in the movie is a model of stability, either. In fact, as I got more of an insight into the history of the relationship between Pat and his father I understood more and more why the father was so patient and understanding of his son’s problems.

The acting in this is top-notch. Bradley Cooper continues to be an interesting actor to watch develop. I enjoyed him in high-octane, big budget franchise movies such as the two “Hangover” movies and “The A-Team” and he’s proven that he can hold his own in character driven dramas such as “The Words.” Here in SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK he mixes comedy an drama and acquits himself well.

Jennifer Lawrence is flat out terrific in this one but so far I’ve loved her performance in everything she’s done. Even though I couldn’t stand “Winter’s Bone” I always recommend the movie based solely on the strength of her performance which is outstanding. Equally outstanding was her performance in “X-Men: First Class” and while I felt that “The Hunger Games” was just a so-so movie, again she gave the performance that made the whole movie worth watching.

Julia Stiles has a small role in this and I always enjoy seeing her work as she’s just plain fun to watch. I was disappointed that Chris Tucker didn’t have more to do as for once he actually gets to play a human being instead of a live-action cartoon as he usually does in movies like the awful “Rush Hour” series. Robert DeNiro can do no wrong in my eyes and I’m embarrassed to say that I went through the entire movie thinking that the wonderful Jacki Weaver was Sally Struthers until I saw her name in the end credits.

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So should you see SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK? If you want to see a romantic comedy-drama that doesn’t waste your time with boring idiot characters or a story you’ve seen played out in a dozen other romantic comedies, absolutely. It’s a great date movie. Enjoy.

Rated R

122 minutes

Chilly Scenes Of Winter

1979

United Artists Films

Directed by Joan Micklin Silver

Produced by Mark Metcalf, Amy Robinson, Griffin Dunne

Screenplay by Joan Micklin Silver

Based on the novel by Ann Beattie

Even though I’ve seen it for the first time ever in the past couple of days, I’ve had a relationship of sorts with CHILLY SCENES OF WINTER that goes back about 30 years or so.  Let me explain.

Way back in the 1980’s I discovered and fell in love with three fascinating and important books: the “Cult Movies” series written by Danny Peary.  In these three books Mr. Peary wrote the most passionate, informative, entertaining and insightful movie reviews I’ve ever read.  Reading his reviews was like talking about these movies with an old friend, that’s how relaxed and intimate his style was.  It’s thanks to Mr. Peary that I’ve seen just about 90% of the movies he reviewed in those three books.  And I will always be indebted to Mr. Peary as well as Roger Ebert for educating and influencing me in my own reviews.  It’s thanks to the two of them that I stopped regarding movies as just passive entertainment and really started to pay attention as to why I liked certain movies, genres, actors and directors and what went into the craft and art of movie making.

And if you’re any kind of movie fan at all you will make it your mission to find and read the three “Cult Movies” books.  Trust me; you’ll never watch movies the same way again after reading them.

So as the years went on, slowly but surely I’ve been able to check off most of the movies in those three books.  With the advent of DVDs and now Netflix, I’ve been able to whack away at that list as a lot of movies were unavailable on DVD and previous to that on VHS.  And one of those movies was CHILLY SCENES OF WINTER.  For some reason, this movie eluded me for years.  I could never find it on VHS.  And as far as I know it was never shown on broadcast TV.  I figured that once I had cable it would show up there, but nope.  Never did.  It never aired on the Independent Film Channel and they showed all kinds of obscure movies.  Hell, it never even aired on Tuner Classic Movies and TCM has aired the full length “Heaven’s Gate”…what am I saying, TCM has aired “The Apple” for cry yi’s sake.  But they’ve never aired CHILLY SCENES OF WINTER which made me want to see it all the more.  What was it about this movie that I couldn’t get to see it noway nohow?

Well, now we have Netflix and thanks to that I was finally able to see what it was all about for myself.  And I understand.  Nobody knew what to make of CHILLY SCENES OF WINTER back when it was released in 1979.  The story goes that the studio thought it was too depressing and hated the title.  It was released as “Head Over Heels” with a brighter, more cheerful ending and flopped.  The movie was re-released with its original title and ending and did much better business.  And having seen the movie for myself I can understand why.  The relationship at the heart of CHILLY SCENES OF WINTER is doomed from the start.  The other characters in the movie know it.  I knew it ten minutes into the movie.  If you elect to watch you, you’ll know it as well.  The only ones who blissfully don’t know it is the man and woman involved.  They don’t deserve a happy ending and they don’t get one.  But what they do get is an honest ending.  And sometimes that’s the only one we can hope for or expect from this life.

Charles (John Heard) works in the Salt Lake City Department of Development where he writes reports all day long.  He has no idea where his reports go after he finishes with them or what purpose they serve but since he’s had two recent promotions, he really doesn’t care.  One day he runs into Laura (Mary Beth Hurt) who works in the filing department.  He’s immediately smitten and asks her out on a date.  She informs him she’s married but separated.  And later that night he ends up at her new apartment.

Now get your minds out of the gutter.  It don’t go down like that.  Charles is a hopeless romantic and doesn’t want a meaningless cheap affair.  He wants to marry Laura and make her happy.  Good luck.  Laura is the type who isn’t happy now, probably wasn’t happy in the past and in fact, there’s a better than average chance she’ll never be happy, period.  Laura has a long list of things she doesn’t want but ask her what she does want and she’ll give you that deer-in-the-headlights look.

It isn’t long before Laura has moved in with Charles.  And things seem to be going fine with the two of them until one day Laura just ups and goes back to her husband.  Charles is not only heartbroken he goes a little bit nuts.  He has conversations in his car with an imaginary Laura.  He builds a model of her house, complete with miniature furniture.  He parks his car on her street and sits there for hours, just looking at her house, chain smoking cigarettes while watching her and her husband through the window.

Yeah, this sounds pretty creepy, right?  And if it was played completely straight, it would be.  But there is a remarkable amount of humor in the movie.  It’s labeled as a ‘romantic comedy’ but it’s so totally unlike the cookie cutter romcoms infesting our theaters today.  The humor comes naturally and unforced from the quirky personalities of the characters.  And Charles is definitely quirky.  I like how it is never once mentioned that he has a drinking problem but in just about every scene that takes place in his house, Charles always has a pint of vodka within reach and he keeps a bottle in his drawer at work.  He has to deal with a suicidal mother (Gloria Grahame) and his jobless best friend Sam (Peter Riegert) who acts as a one-man Greek chorus, commenting on his friend’s obsessive relationship with a wonderful deadpan delivery.  I like how the script doesn’t take the easy way out and makes Laura’s husband a monster or a sadist.  In fact, he’s a pretty nice guy, making a good living and raising his daughter from a previous marriage.  It’s Laura who has the problem because it’s Laura who has no idea what it is she wants from life or from a relationship.

So should you see CHILLY SCENES OF WINTER?  Definitely yes.  It’s nothing like what passes as a romantic comedy these days.  It’s a movie about people who have lives that started before we eavesdropped on this particular winter in their lives and at the end of the movie, I felt as if those lives were continuing on.  Not a feel good date movie and not for those of you who need an explosion or a ninja vs. pirate fight every five minutes.  But it’s most definitely something different and worth watching.

92 minutes

Rated PG

In A Lonely Place

1950
Columbia Pictures

Directed by Nicholas Ray
Produced by Robert Lord
Screenplay by Andrew Solt
Based on the novel by Dorothy B. Hughes

Let’s face it; it’s not easy to make movies about writers. At the end of the day a writer’s job is to sit down at a desk for hours and hours and…well, write. That doesn’t make for a very exciting movie. It’s not like making a movie about a painter or an artist. They at least move around and do grand things when they’re being brilliant. But writers are at their most creative and brilliant when they’re apparently doing nothing or very little at all. Hardly the stuff of exciting motion pictures. Despite that there have been a surprising number of well made movies about writers and they usually focus not only on the writing process but how the writer affects those around him like in “Barton Fink” and “The Whole Wide World.” IN A LONELY PLACE is such a movie. It’s about a writer and it’s about how he affects the lives of people around him. But in a lot of ways it’s unlike any movie about a writer I’ve ever seen.

Dixon Steele (Humphrey Bogart) is a hotshot Hollywood screenwriter struggling to come back after a series of flops. While hanging out with his good pal, the alcoholic has-been film legend Charlie Waterman (Robert Warwick) at his favorite watering hole, Dix is thrown a promising job courtesy of his long suffering agent of 20 years, Mel Lippman (Art Smith) There’s a popular book that a top studio is dying to turn into a movie and they want Dix to write the screenplay. The problem is Dix doesn’t want the job and doesn’t even want to read the book.

However, the hat check girl Mildred (Martha Stewart) has read the book and loves it to death. She begs Dix to read it and write the screenplay. Dix asks her to come over to his place and outline the story for him. He figures that he can get enough from that so he can bullshit his way through the actual writing of the screenplay. Mildred is ecstatic to be part of the moviemaking process and agrees. They spend a sociable enough evening where Mildred does indeed tell Dix enough of the book’s story, plot and characters for his purposes and he sends her home with cab fare.

But the following morning Dix is awakened by an old Army buddy of his, Brub Nicholai (Frank Lovejoy) who is now a police detective. And Brub is investigating a murder in which Dixon Steele is the main suspect: Mildred was horribly and brutally killed the night before.  Brub’s superior Captain Lochner (Carl Benton Reid) wants Brub to use his friendship to get close to Dix and prove he killed Mildred. Brub doesn’t believe Dix did it. But Dix has a long history of violent behavior. Lochner believes Dix killed Mildred due to his odd lack of emotional response upon hearing of her death. Brub has known Dix ever since the war and says that Dix has always been like that. Brub plainly admires Dix, calling him a genius, claiming that Dix has ‘a superior mind’ Brub resents his own wife Sylvia (Jeff Donnell) calling Dix ‘sick’. Sylvia makes no secret of the fact she’s uneasy around Dix and tells Brub; “if that’s what a genius is like I’m glad you’re average”

Dix gets a temporary break due to the testimony of his neighbor Laurel Grey (Gloria Grahame) who swears to Lochner that Mildred left Dix’s house alive and well. But even that is called into doubt when Dix and Laurel begin a torrid love affair that jumpstarts Dix’s creative juices. He works on the new screenplay with an energy he hasn’t had in years, fueled by Laurel’s affectionate help. Everybody sees a change in Dix but Laurel is seeing a side of Dix she doesn’t like. Dix has a paranoid streak a yard wide and no control on his temper at all. This is a guy who goes way past nuclear and into supernova when he gets his mad on. And Laurel comes to gradually realize that even if Dix didn’t kill that hat check girl, he may be totally capable of killing her if he lets his anger and paranoia have its way.

IN A LONELY PLACE is one of those movies that was considered campy melodrama when it was first released but now is regarded as a classic of film noir and I’m one of those who agree. It’s a fascinating movie about a talented man with flaws as large as his talent and the most interesting thing about the movie is how his friends deal with him, his talent and his flaws. Humphrey Bogart is a Film Icon due to his tough guy roles but he’s just as good if not better when he plays against type and his Dixon Steele is a guy who I actually believed was a writer. There were a lot of little touches that Bogart gave the character that I’m convinced he must have gotten from writers he knew because they rang true. Dixon Steele is a man who’s intelligent, charming, charismatic and frightfully insightful. But at the same time, he’s a man capable of sudden psychotic rages and near hysterical paranoid fits that terrify even those who love him best. It’s a totally wonderful performance from Bogart.

Gloria Grahame is just as wonderful as Bogart as she matches him line for line in that delightful Old School Hollywood Dialog that the just don’t write anymore. There’s something about her eyes and the way she looks that leads me to think she’s just as psychologically damaged as Dixon but she at least has an awareness of her flaws that Dix’s ego won’t allow him to acknowledge.

The direction by Nicholas Ray is wonderful and if you’re not familiar with him then IN A LONELY PLACE is a great place to start. Some of his other films include the deranged “Bigger Than Life” where James Mason goes totally apeshit thanks to his addiction to Cortisone and tries to murder his family. There’s the excellent noir detective film “On Dangerous Ground” where Robert Ryan plays a burned out homicide cop. He’s sent to a frozen wasteland north of a nameless crime ridden city to investigate the murder of a young girl and ends up falling in love with the blind sister of the chief suspect.

If you’re a fan of film noir, Humphrey Bogart or Nicholas Ray then you definitely should put IN A LONELY PLACE on your list of movies to Netflix or buy. It’s also a popular movie on Turner Classic Movies as they show it on a pretty regular basis. Watch and enjoy.

94 minutes

The Whole Wide World

1996

Cineville, Inc./Sony Pictures

Directed by Dan Ireland

Screenplay by Michael Scott Myers

Based on “One Who Walked Alone” by Novalyne Price Ellis

Here’s a romance movie that I think is wonderful for a couple to watch but it’s not exactly the first movie that would come to mind when you and your sweetie hit the Netflix for something cuddle up with.  But you really should give THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD a try.  Let’s face it; aren’t you guys tired of seeing “Ghost” over and over and over?

In 1933, Novalyne Price (Renee Zellweger) is an independently minded young woman living in rural West Texas who dreams of going off to college and maybe becoming a teacher.  She really aspires to be a writer.  She has these huge diaries she writes her daily activities in and has been sending off stories to the confession/romance pulp magazines with little success.  She desperately longs for someone to talk to about her ideas and stories and one day while sitting on her porch drinking lemonade, a friend of her drives up and asks her would she like to walk over to his car and meet the greatest pulp writer in the whole wide world: Robert E. Howard (Vincent D’Onofrio)

Robert E. Howard grew up and lived most of his painfully short life in Cross Plains, Texas and created what is probably the most famous pulp adventure character of all: Conan The Barbarian, the hero of short stories, novels, comic books and movies.  But Robert E. Howard created many more characters than that and wrote so prolifically that whole issues of ‘Weird Tales’ magazines were filled with his stories, written under half a dozen pen names.  Even today nobody is sure exactly how many names Robert E. Howard used or how many stories he wrote.  For me, when it comes to writing, Robert E. Howard has few equals when it comes to sheer storytelling power.  He wrote stories about lusty adventurers who spent their days hunting for treasure, fighting demons and roaming uncharted lands and spent their nights wenching, drinking and gambling.  There’s nothing but total testosterone in a Robert E. Howard story and it’s easy for me to understand why they were so popular during The Depression Era when so many men felt impotent and powerless.  After a hard day of trying your best to feed your family and keep a roof over their heads, for a man in the 30’s, picking up a copy of ‘Weird Tales’ and reading a Conan story where he kills a mad god and makes off with his priceless giant diamond is the equivalent to a modern day Joe Punchclock coming home from work and watching ‘24’ to cheer Jack Bauer kick terrorist scum ass and save The President from being blown up by a neutron bomb in his shower.

Novalyne is totally astonished at meeting someone who actually makes a living by writing and they begin a friendship that develops into a rocky romance.  Novalyne has a mind of her own and is ambitious with an independent spirit.  In that respect she’s somewhat more progressive than most of the other young ladies in the town but she’s never met anybody like Robert Howard who is socially inept and extremely close to his mother, who is in poor health.  When they go out on dates, Bob Howard prefers to take Novalyne on long drives where they can talk about the dreams and aspirations they have as writers.  As much as Novalyne grows to love Bob, she soon realizes that he’s not husband material.  Robert E. Howard is a wonderful man but he lives too much inside of his own head.  And while his incredible imaginative power and lust for life draws her to him, his emotional insensitivity and manic depressive moods drive her away.  They maintain their romantic relationship in a sort of on-and-off again basis but the real romance is between their imaginative minds and the love they both have of writing.

I really love THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD for number of reasons: first of all, while it’s not a straightforward biography of Robert E. Howard, we do get to see some very important moments in his life filtered through the eyes of Novalyne.  And there are some moments between Howard and his mother (Ann Wedgeworth) that are really touching.  You may remember Ann Wedgeworth as the sexpot neighbor on ‘Three’s Company’.  She does a really good job of acting here as Howard’s possessive mother who obviously loves her son a little too much.

The acting by Vincent D’Onofrio is first rate and convinced me that I was looking at Robert E. Howard in the scenes where he’s writing a Conan story and he’s speaking the dialog out loud.  There’s another scene where’s he’s walking down the main street of his home town, shadowboxing an imaginary enemy and mumbling descriptions of the fight that’s taking place as he works out a story in his head.  It’s made clear in the movie that Howard’s neighbors and friends think it’s pretty damn odd for a big grown strapping man such as himself to be making a living writing stories and talking to imaginary people in his head but D’Onofrio plays Howard with such an ‘I-Don’t-Give-A Damn-‘ charm he sells the performance.  Renee Zellweger is simply wonderful as Novalyne Price.  She understands Robert Howard.  She loves Robert Howard.  She thinks Robert Howard is the greatest writer in the whole wide world.  She just can’t allow herself to fall enough in love with him to marry him.  She’s smart enough to see that such a marriage would end in tragedy.   Novalyne Price went on to become a teacher and she wrote the book the movie THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD was based on after she grew angry at reading so many articles that she felt distorted the truth about what Robert E. Howard was like.

The relationship between Robert E. Howard and Novalyne Price is handled with a great deal of romanticism and sensitivity.  Robert continually amazes Novalyne with the places he takes her to where they gaze upon beautiful sunrises and sunsets.  These scenes also give D’Onofrio a chance to show off the stare he learned from Stanley Kubrick when we worked on “Full Metal Jacket” as Howard tells Novalyne about his stories and in the background we can faintly hear swords crashing together, the curses and yells of men fighting and the sounds of war which get louder and louder until Novalyne says something to snap him out of it.  The thing that really comes across in the movie is that in a lot of ways, both Howard and Novalyne were born out of place and out of time and even though they were lucky enough to meet, they still could not connect on a lot of levels.  It’s a really classically bittersweet love story.

It’s a great movie for lovers of the work of Robert E. Howard as I think it really gives fans of the man and his work a really good look at what his everyday life was like.  It also works as a movie about writers.  Movies about writers are really hard to do since most of the work takes place between their ears.  Fortunately, Robert E. Howard was as big as life as the heroes he wrote about and his life makes for an interesting movie.  I really enjoyed the movie just on that basis since I identify a lot with Robert E. Howard.  Like him, I have no illusions that my work is great art.  I just like telling a good story and Robert E. Howard was one of the best storytellers ever born.  Vincent D’Onofrio does an excellent job of showing Howard’s sheer exuberance and delight at just being able to tell a hell of a good story and I felt that deeply.

So should you see THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD?  Absolutely.  It’s a movie that works as a biography of one of the most influential and popular writers of all time.  It also works as a movie about writers and their internal lives and how they connect, interact and deal with others who are not in tune with those wavelengths writers are in tune with.  And it most definitely works as a romantic film as the relationship between Robert E. Howard and Novalyne Price is touching, sad, funny, and poignant and I freely admit that the last scene of the movie is one that had my eyes watering.  Netflix THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD and watch it with a writer you love.

111 minutes

Rated PG