BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
The Awful Truth starring Irene Dunne and Cary Grant: two of our favorite film experts, Facets Film Programs Director Charles Coleman and author Dwight Cleveland, both chose this 1937 Leo McCarey movie to recommend to you for Valentine’s Day viewing.
“With Hollywood’s endless ability to subcategorize movie themes, there is a definitive difference between romance stories. Is it a love story, or a romance, or a romantic comedy? Sometimes the subtleties are, of course, in the eyes of the beholder. But my all-time favorite, encompassing all these categories, without any doubt is The Awful Truth. This is a film every hopeless romantic must see!” shares Cleveland.
In Cleveland’s beauty of a book, Cinema on Paper: The Graphic Genius of Movie Posters, he touches on the movie’s lasting impact. But we want to first dive into his own personal story of romance associated with this classic film. “My then-girlfriend, now wife, Gabriela, and I first stumbled on it at Theatre 80-St. Marks in Manhattan’s East Village in a double-header with the genre establishing rom-com, It Happened One Night, from 1934, starring Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable and directed by Frank Capra. That was 1982 and we were young: Broadway #1 Subway southbound, 10 pm, 1st bill. Subway north, followed by dinner at Tom’s. Those were indeed the days! And True Love. . . .”
Coleman, who was recently interviewed on WBEZ about the upcoming Sidney Poitier retrospective next month (he’ll speak about Poitier’s 1950 film No Way Out at its screening on March 6, the first of four films celebrating his legacy), says that he “finds delight in unexpected places” as he thinks about Valentine’s films.
“To me, romantic movies can be either of the French coupe de foudre, where love hits like a bolt of lightening, or it can be based on longing or on misunderstanding,” he explains. “The Awful Truth is about people who are just so stubborn and nurturing of their respective egos that they don’t want to say that they love one another. They finally do so, in spite of themselves.”
I Know Where I’m Going from 1945, written, directed, and produced by Michael Powell of The Red Shoes fame, is another Coleman recommendation: “This is another movie about a fiercely independent woman, and like several of my other favorites, seems to say that letting go of the very things that you think make you happy can be very liberating.”
He also recommends Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious, centering on danger and love, for Valentine viewing: “Sometimes with hardly any dialogue, the most happens.”
Other romantic movies Coleman passes along are In the Mood for Love (2000), directed by Wong Kar-wai, and Sylvie’s Love (2020), directed by Eugene Ash.
Facets Executive Director Karen Cardarelli told us about the theater’s own Valentine’s roundup leading up to the holiday: “We like to offer a different view, so we chose to celebrate Galentine’s Day this weekend with this innovative film series curated by Emma Greenleaf, Nick Edelberg, and the Programming Committee. The day became a made-up Valentine’s Day counter-holiday created by the popular NBC TV show Parks and Recreation back in 2010. It is meant to be a moment for women to celebrate their female friendships and is now getting observed largely by the 20-something and 30-something age groups. I love this celebration of the complexities and contradictions of women’s lives and relationships!”
There’s still time to view Frances Ha, starring Greta Gerwig, in a tenth anniversary screening February 13th at 2 pm and Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, featuring Lisa Kudrow and Mira Sorvino, at 5 pm at Facets.
“My personal favorite in this series is Romy and Michele. It takes place at about the time I was celebrating my tenth high school reunion and reminded me of the awkward high school relationships I was revisiting!” Cardarelli shares. “I also was very involved in the Chicago improv scene at that time, when it was rare to see hilarious women front and center. For that reason, this was the kind of film I had been desperately seeking for hope and role models! It felt groundbreaking!”
We asked other members of the Facets community to name their favorite romantic movies. Board co-chair Randy Adamsik served as executive director of the Minnesota Film Board and co-founder of the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival in addition to his many non-profit leadership roles in Chicago. He offers Before Sunrise, the “walkie and talkie” with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, directed by Richard Linklater, saying it was a film that really “took people by surprise.” Adamsik also recommends Hear My Song, directed by Peter Chelsom, in which Ned Beatty plays the notorious Irish tenor Joseph Locke who returns to Liverpool to save a romance.
And then there’s Grumpy Old Men: “Okay, I’m biased because I was Minnesota film commissioner when Jack Lemmon, Ann-Margret, and Walter Matthau arrived in town to spark a senior romance. I am actually doing a Zoom interview with a local Twin Cities TV station tomorrow on this very subject!”
Facets board member and noted photographer Suzette Bulley says she loves a good rom-com in addition to the classic romantic movie Casablanca. She wonders if this is due to the fact she was born in February, Valentine’s month.
“When I was a teen, my favorite movie was definitely Sixteen Candles, the early John Hughes classic with Molly Ringwald and that cute Michael Schoeffling, who didn’t make many more movies but did appear again as Winona Ryder’s love interest in Cher’s movie Mermaids. Trust me, I looked, and this was before the advent of the internet!” Bulley says. “Looking back, there are some definite cringey moments that don’t hold up today, but at the time, Hughes changed the direction of teen movies from the T&A of the Porkies genre to movies about teen feelings. This movie was a revelation to me because it was about a teen girl and her experiences with the plus of being set in the ’burbs of Chicago.”
John Cusack, the Chicago actor, starred in several of her favorite rom-coms, and got his movie career started in Sixteen Candles. The Sure Thing, Say Anything, and High Fidelity are a few he is most well-known for. “High Fidelity is set in a Chicago record store (I miss record stores) and is based on Nick Hornby’s book. Another book of his, About a Boy, became another fav rom-com of mine with a breakout role by Jack Black,” she adds.
Her new favorite rom-com, though, is The Big Sick set in comedy clubs in Chicago starring Kumail Nanjiani. She describes it as whip smart and funny, while still tugging on the heartstrings. It was written by Nanjiani and his wife, Emily Gordon, loosely based their real-life romance.
Mitchell Cobey, Facets board member, celebrated caterer, and film buff, shares that his three favorite love stories are Wuthering Heights, Waterloo Bridge, and Camille: “But, what about A Man and a Women? Giant foreign film hit when it came out, maybe not a great film, but people loved it. Also, its two stars and director, Claude Lelouche, are still around.”
And if you want to keep the romance going, the Alliance Française will present The Young Girls of Rochefort on February 17th as part of their Chic & You film screenings. Program Director Aimee Laberge describes the film: “With a jazzy, Oscar-nominated score by Michel Legrand, a pastel paradise of costumes, and a divine supporting cast, The Young Girls of Rochefort is an homage to the Hollywood musical and a candy-colored slice of Nouvelle Vague subversion from French cinema’s preeminent dreamer, Jacques Demy.” What could sound more divine or decadent (or tailor-made for a belated Valentine’s dream)?
Visit facets.org to learn more about Facets programming and register for A Tribute to Sidney Poitier: Four Films Celebrating His On-Screen Legacy, running March 6-27 at Facets, 1517 West Fullerton.
For more information on Chic & You at the Alliance Française, 819 North Dearborn, or to sign up, visit af-chicago.org.
To learn more about Dwight Cleveland’s book Cinema on Paper, go to cinemaonpaper.com.