30 years old:
Murphy’s Romance—The word “romance” is right there in the title. James Garner represents the title’s other half, Murphy, a mildly curmudgeonly widower who runs an old-school drug store in small-town Arizona (the film was shot in Florence). He falls in love with a much younger newcomer to the community, a broke single mother named Emma (Sally Field), who’s struggling to start a horse farm outside of town. Murphy buys a horse and takes up riding just to be close to her, but soon finds himself competing for her with her irresponsible ex (Brian Kerwin).
Based on a Max Schott tale and directed by Martin Ritt, the film is relaxed, charming and believable, and the stars have a lovely rapport. Garner was nominated for an Oscar for his performance, but he is said to have received an even higher honor: Field supposedly claimed that his was the best onscreen kiss she ever received.
20 years old:
French Kiss—Meg Ryan, as an American living in Canada, follows her doctor fiancé Timothy Hutton to Paris, where he’s wandered away from their engagement after a sultry young Frenchwoman. Ryan’s bags are stolen, but she gains the alliance of the unkempt, shady Frenchman, played Kevin Kline, who sat next to her on the plane. He promises to help her regain the doctor’s affections.
You can probably guess what happens, but watch the movie anyway. Ryan gave the best performance to date of her movie career in this one—detailed, delicately witty—and Kline gave one his best, too. Directed by Lawrence Kasdan from a carefully-constructed, mature script by Adam Brooks, this may be the most insufficiently celebrated American love story of the last twenty years.
10 years old:
The 40-Year-Old Virgin—For several years I’ve been telling a female friend that this film isn’t the crude farce she thinks it is, and that she’d enjoy it, and she’s repeatedly seemed unconvinced. And she’s not altogether wrong, perhaps. The film, decidedly not for the kiddies, is full of raunchy gags and language—indeed, it’s one of the most honest depictions I’ve seen in a mainstream movie of the way men talk about sex.
It’s also got a lovely romance at its core, expertly played by Steve Carrell as the fellow who finds himself in the title state and Catherine Keener as the woman for whom he’s very understandably fallen, and to whom he’s ashamed to disclose his shocking secret. The large supporting cast includes Seth Rogen, Paul Rudd and Romany Malco as the coworkers who give Carrell hilarious, atrocious advice. Along with director Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up, from two years later, this is one of the best popular American comedies so far this century, and for all its off-color gags, it casts a surprisingly romantic spell.
Happy Valentine’s Day everybody!