Paris Blues (1961)
This is a TERRIFIC, though lesser-known, Paul Newman-Joanne Woodward film. (It was made after their marriage and birth of their first child.) Trombone player Ram Bowen (Newman) and saxophonist Eddie Cook (Sidney Poitier) are expatriate American jazz musicians living in Paris. They have a regular gig at a small/artsy/popular club, though Ram has a dream of being a serious composer. Also, Ram is in a (friends w/ benefits) relationship w/ the singer/owner of the club, Marie.
The guys meet two beautiful American tourists- straight-talking jazz lover Lilian (Woodward) and socially-conscious teacher Connie (Diahann Carroll). After Ram meets his old friend “Wild Man” Moore (Louis Armstrong) on a train, he confidantly approaches Connie. This must’ve raised some eyebrows in ’61- a white man hitting on a black woman. Of course, it was no big deal in France. Ram invites her to hear him play at the club. Connie brushes off his come-on and comments that she has a white friend with her. Soon Lilian arrives to meet Connie; we see her keen interest in Ram.
Though Connie is suspicious of guys like Ram (“I know these jazz musicians…”), Lilian convinces her to go to the club that night. When she hears Ram play, Lilian is visibly moved by the music.
Aside from romance, this film deals head-on with serious issues- ambition, racism, and drug abuse (one of the musicians at the club is addicted to cocaine). The costumes, scenery, lighting, music, and dialogue are pitch perfect. Newman and Poitier seem like two old friends; the chemistry between the two couples is almost palpable. (As you may know, Poitier and Carroll were romantically involved at this time.)
Newman, who plays an anti-hero here, has some very good lines. “Look, you don’t want me for what you want,” he tells Lilian directly when she shows interest in going out after a gig. Lilian calmly comments that she’ll decide what she wants. This is a grown-up look at love, not a fairy-tale story. Check it out ASAP!
He Knew He Was Right (2004)
I watched this BBC miniseries for the second time recently. Novelist Anthony Trollope was inspired to write the book by Shakespeare’s tragedy, Othello. The main character, irrationally jealous husband Louis Trevelyan is also based on the author’s (often temperamental) father.
Louis (young Brit Oliver Dimsdale), a posh London gentleman, goes to the Canary Islands and falls quickly in love with Emily (Scotswoman Laura Fraser), the lovely daughter of the governor. Though she is young and has never been in British society, he proposes marriage. “He looks like a man who likes to have his way,” her father comments, though he feels it will be a very good match. “Emily likes to have her way, too,” her concerned mother adds.
Emily and Louis settle in London and have a son. Emily’s gorgeous young sis, Nora (Christina Cole) lives w/ them; she’s much admired by the bachelors in their circle. But she falls for Louis’ best pal- young journalist Hugh Stanbury (Stephen Campbell Moore). They can’t marry right away, as Hugh doesn’t come from money, is just getting started in his career, and has a mom and sisters to support out in the country.
To their friends, the Trevelyans seem to be the perfect marrieds. But things start to go sour when Emily’s father’s old friend, and reputed playa, Colonel Osborne (Bill Nighy) enters the picture. At a party, an older lady comments on his bad boy ways, alerting Louis. Osborne visits Emily at the house; Louis doesn’t like this, as it could expose his wife to rumor and innuendo. Emily, who is innocent/unspoiled like Desdemona, wonders why she shouldn’t see an old family friend. “But I won’t see him if you forbid me to,” she eventually promises.
Osborne is refused entry to the house, but he approaches the couple while they’re out on a stroll in the park. When the older man calls Emily by her first name, Louis gets visibly angry. (In Victorian society, if a man called a woman by her first name, it could be inferred that he had intimate knowledge of her.) Emily pulls Louis away, rushing towards home. Finally, Louis decides to send Emily, his boy, and Nora to live in the country w/ the Stanbury ladies. He rationalizes this decision by saying they’ll be “safe” there from Osborne. Emily is stunned, but goes along w/ the plan. (What other choice does she have?) Her friends and family believe that Louis will soon come to his senses.
Aside from the main (dark/serious) storyline, there are several lighter ones to keep you entertained. Nora and Hugh share a very tender love. The eligible, soon to be titled Mr. Glascock (Raymond Coulthard), is intrigued by a forthwright American woman he meets while traveling in Italy. Hugh’s sister, plain/serious Priscilla Stanbury (Amy Marston) doesn’t expect any beaus to come her way, but wants her kindly younger sis Dorothy (Caroline Martin) to marry. When their rich/elderly aunt (Anna Massey) asks Dottie to become her companion, the world opens up for the good-hearted girl.
The flirtatious Reverend Gibson (Scotsman David Tennant) can’t seem to choose between three women in his town- Dottie and two vain, eager-to-marry sisters (character actresses Claudie Blakely and Fennella Woolgar). Hilarity ensues when he decides on the wrong woman.
Two Lovers (2008)
Leonard Kraditor (Joaquin Phoenix), having survived heartbreak and suicide attempts, lives with his watchful (yet kindly) parents in the predominantly Russian Jewish ‘hood of Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. He also helps out at the family laundromat, though he’s not very interested in his work; photography is his passion. Though Leonard takes medication, we don’t know his exact illness.
One night, Michael Cohen, the man who’s going to buy the Kraditor’s business, comes over for dinner with his family. When they are left alone, the elegant/single daughter, Sandra (Vinessa Shaw), confesses that she wanted to meet Leonard. When she explains that she works for Pfizer, Leonard jokes that he “knows all about that.” Sandra admires his photos; we can also tell that she’s very interested in him. She comes across as a capable woman who could take care of the sensitive Leonard.
Leonard also happens upon his new neighbor Michelle (Gwenyth Paltrow), who ducks into his place to escape the rebuke of her angry father. What was he mad about? It turns out that Michelle has an older, married lover (played by Elias Koteas). Though we (and his observant mom, played by Isabella Rosselini) can see that Leonard has an instant crush on her, Michelle quickly comes to rely upon him. It turns out that Michelle need a good friend- she’s battling tremendous insecurity and a drug habit. When she calls or texts, Leonard goes running.
Leonard, Sandra, and even the troubled/rootless Michelle, will seem quite real to viewers. They are not stereotypical Hollywood versions of people. Often, the demons within us are worse that those found in the outside world. We have to choose to be happy, as my mom says.