I now look back fondly on the rom-coms of my childhood, but it’s hard to deny their eternal equality. I mean the plots, sort of; the romantic comedy takes a well-trodden path, and that’s part of its charm. But what I mainly mean are the faces. They’re all beautiful career women who are secretly quirky, or a mess, or need a bite, and slightly roguish or maybe clumsy men. Not only are they always conventionally attractive, but they are often exactly the same people.
Which worked well enough for the time. But different times call for different measures. And in this summer’s series of movies about love – not romantic comedies, to be sure, but often something better – new varieties stories break through.
The summer movie season kicked off (early) with a bang: Everything everywhere at once, a maximalist multiverse comedy about a woman named Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh) who desperately wants to reconnect with her daughter (Stephanie Hsu). It’s not just about parents and children – Evelyn’s marriage is falling apart and her adventures in different universes extend to her unhappy but sweet husband (Ke Huy Quan). But while coverage of the film’s charm to audiences also focused on the multiverse aspect (probably thanks to the film’s executive producers, MCU darlings Joe and Anthony Russo), its real appeal had little to do with the situation. where the characters were. It was the story – losing and finding love in your own family, in this case a distinctly Asian one – that made the audience cry and come back for more.
But fortunately, Everything everywhere at once is far from the end of the summer of (films about) love. Looking at the list, it becomes clear that almost all of them have a few things in common. It’s not just movies about romance or even family love. They are about loneliness. And they feature the kind of characters that never had a chance in the rom-com era.
To take Marcel the shell with shoes on, for example. Based on the viral youtube shorts from ten years ago, the feature film is about an inch-tall shell named Marcel (voiced by Jenny Slate) who lives a lonely life with his grandmother, Nana Connie (Isabella Rossellini) in a largely vacant Airbnb. A filmmaker named Dean – usually not limped, but based on and played by writer-director Dean Fleischer-Camp – takes over the house after divorcing his wife and meets Marcel, who is the perfect subject for a documentary. So they start filming together.
Marcel has lost his family and has resigned himself to the fact that he will never find them again. By the time we finally meet them, we realize that Marcel has expanded his definition of “family” far beyond biology. For Marcel, ‘family’ means community, meaning Dean is part of it too. That Fleischer-Camp and Slate teamed up again to tell the story of Marcel, what they… first told in a romantic relationship, but broke up years ago, adds poignancy to the film. Love is love, even if it evolves into something that no one expected.
Other movies are about loneliness as they tell their love stories. There was Brian and Charles (June 17), a kind of warmly comic take on Frankenstein in which an eccentric inventor in a small English village accidentally invents a robot that becomes his best friend and eventually his family. And girl photo (August 12) explores the experience of young, lonely teenage girls who have only each other as they try to navigate their lives with untrustworthy parents and a confusing world.
At the other end of the spectrum, there is Crimes of the future (June 3), David Cronenberg’s deeply strange yet strangely moving look at the ways humans connect in an imagined, post-human, dystopian future, one in which our fascination with the insides of each other’s bodies fuels something deeper. Even Flux Gourmet (June 24), an intensely strange film about an art retreat for ‘culinary performance artists’, delves into the strange ways we connect and find each other as we overcome our loneliness.
Two of the best offers of the summer, Good luck, Leo Grande (June 17) and A love song (July 29) Looking at love through the lens of loneliness and aging, in a way that feels very different from the rom-coms of yesteryear. In the first, actress Emma Thompson plays a widow who hires a hot young sex worker (Daryl McCormack) to… well, to be honest, she’s not sure what she wants him to do, but she knows she can’t keep feeling the way she does it. thompson, 63, has spoken openly about how playing the part meant coming to terms with her own aging body, looking at it and showing it on screen. It is still an unusual and wonderfully refreshing role from a brilliant actress.
And it is reflected in A love song, tonally a very different film, but not that different when it comes to the essence. The incredible (and incredibly underused) actress Dale Dickey plays Faye, a loner, who is a traveler who lives in a neat trailer. She hangs out at a campsite, silently grieving her dead husband and awaiting the possible arrival of her old flame Lito (Wes Studi), who may or may not come to see her. Max Walker-Silverman wrote and directed the film, which plays like a fable or an anthem. It’s wonderful to see how Dickey and Studi—both of whom are among the best of their generation and have the kind of faces you’d never see in romantic lead roles in a Nancy Meyers movie—are able to bring the story to life. Love is difficult and confusing and constantly changing. And telling the stories of love later in life gives us different ways to think about it.
Showing that there is a wealth of stories to tell across the spectrum, two of the best documentaries of the year show love from the past and what the future feels like. The last one is We met in virtual reality (July 27), a vérité documentary shot entirely on the virtual reality platform VRChat. Director Joe Hunting interviews and follows (again, within the platform) various groups of people, many of whom felt deeply connected and isolated (especially in the early months of the pandemic) before finding community on the platform. In addition to lessons and communities that have formed, he talks to friends and romantically involved couples who met on the platform and found that connections made in virtual space can go far beyond pixels.
On the other hand fire of love (July 6), which uses archival footage from the 1960s and 1970s to tell the story of Katia and Maurice Krafft, married volcanologists — a pair of loners — who died in a volcanic eruption in 1991. Knowing this brings a sweet sadness to the film, which director Sara Dosa turns into a love story. However, it’s not just about their relationship; it’s about how deeply they loved volcanoes, and how that love slowly grew into love for humanity.
Is it any wonder that these kinds of movies are coming out in the third summer after an isolating pandemic? It’s been long enough now that pretty much every new movie you could see was shot and maybe written under pandemic conditions. Love, longing, melancholy, isolation, longing – these are all emotions that people have experienced in recent years under new circumstances and in new ways. Artists are often tasked with capturing the zeitgeist (the vibes, if you will) of the culture around them.
Most of these movies are quite funny, but you wouldn’t classify them as romantic comedies; those movies mostly focused on a little bit of love, the part with the butterflies and the meet-cutes and the misunderstandings and the last kiss that says everything will be okay for these two beautiful people. But deeper, broader stories bring greater context to love, in a world where holding each other sometimes feels like all we have. It’s okay to get carried away by the fantasy of love, of course. But the movies that anchor us in what it’s like to be part of a community, to find ourselves in the hearts of others, to learn from love how to turn out – those are the movies I hope last a long time after this moment.
Everything everywhere at once is available to rent and own on digital platforms. Marcel the shell with shoes on plays in theatres. Brian and Charles is available for purchase on digital platforms. girl photo hits theaters on August 12. Crimes of the future is available to own on digital platforms. Flux Gourmet is available to rent and own on digital platforms. Good luck to you Leo Grande is streaming on Hulu. A love song plays in theatres. We met in virtual reality is streaming on HBO Max. fire of love plays in theatres.