By Milan Perera, Arts Critic Columnist
Summer. A time spent basking in cascades of sunlight without a care in the world; university assignments are replaced with swathes of free time to reflect, rejuvenate, and restore the spirit. There is a sultry allure to the air, an atmospheric change to which our senses are acutely aware. It is a hypnotic trance from which you never want to come out of.
And perhaps during this time, you’re fortunate enough to fall in love, be it with someone you’ve just met, a close friend and long-term crush, or with yourself. After all, it’s not without a reason it is said, “Love gives you wings”. Though, as the sweltering summer months come to an end, we may be woken up from this slumber, flung back to the mundane realities of day-to-day life.
As you attempt to cling to this summer bliss, we give you some intense cinematic summer romances that epitomise what it means to fall in love in this season.
Dir. Randal Kleiser
With the passing of Olivia Newton-John this week, there is an added poignancy to the viewing experience of Grease. Based on the 1971 musical of the same name, Grease captured the imagination of a generation. The high-octane dance routines, heartfelt power ballads, and teenage love stories around which it revolves have been seared into the psyche of movie audiences through the years. John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John played the memorable love match between Danny and Sandy: a performance that would propel them into stardom.
It is, however, not without contradictions, as the 1950s story of teenage college students was played out by actors in their 30s! Despite this, it is without argument this is a cinematic masterpiece which basks in all its magnificence without complaint. The songs included in Grease have become anthems, such as ‘Summer Nights’, ‘Hopelessly Devoted to You’ and ‘You are the One That I Want’. The mere mention of these tracks is enough to conjure images now almost synonymous with this film's very name.
Images of the sun, sand, the Malibu sky, and foot-tapping dance numbers.
Dirty Dancing (1987)
Dir. Emile Ardolino
Nobody puts Baby in a corner! The iconic movie starring the late Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey entered global folklore. Following the story of Frances “Baby” Houseman, who is on a summer holiday at an upscale resort with her parents, this movie witnesses her fall in love with the resort’s dance instructor, Johnny Castle.
Yes, the story is predictable and full of cliches, but the on-screen chemistry between Swayze and Grey was electrifying, with the final dance routine at the end, including the famous lift, being nothing less than magical. There are subplots involving pantomime villains, schemings and snobbery, but the age-old cliché “Love conquers all” comes to mind.
Room in Rome (2010)
Dir. Julio Medem
Room in Rome was the first full-length English movie by the Spanish auteur Julio Medem; though it received cult status among audiences, it was given a lukewarm reaction by the press. The story revolves around two women who just got acquainted in Rome during the summer solstice. The introduction remains vague on how they met in the first place, but the older woman, Alba, invites the younger woman, Natasha, into her room.
They exchange stories, which are later proven to be untrue, and their subterfuge stems from a lack of trust, denial and unconscious prejudice. Natasha could not make it any clearer that she is straight and not interested in women. But eventually, the veil of secrecy is lifted, and they reveal their true identities in a long night of exploration and intimacy.
After a long night of passionate lovemaking, both women must return to their loves and ordinary lives. We learn that Natasha is, in fact, a Russian aristocrat who is marrying a man next week, while Alba, juxtaposingly, has a son with an estranged same-sex partner. But do they end up going back?
Accompanied by the luscious score of Jocelyn Pook, which includes the heart-rendering aria Libera Me featuring the soaring vocals of Natacha Atlas, this summer romance is definitely worth a watch.
Call Me by Your Name (2017)
Dir. Luca Guadagnino
Adapted from the novel of the same title by André Aciman, Call Me by Your Name is a cinematic symphony of beguiling visuals. Filled with images of sun-drenched Northern Italy that are woven together into a heartfelt tale of coming of age, love and longing.
Starring Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer in the titular characters, the story revolves around a 17-year-old Jewish Italo-French teen, Elio, who lives with his parents in Northern Italy in 1983. Elio’s father, who is a professor in archaeology, takes in a Jewish American student Oliver, to work with him during the summer vacation.
The friendship between Elio and Oliver slowly blossoms into a romance. Chalamet and Hammer beautifully capture the range of emotions to perfection. The final monologue by Elio’s father regarding the ache of love one must endure is powerful and poignant. A scene executed beautifully by Michael Stuhlbarg. The incidental music includes two original songs by Sufjan Stevens that capture the longing of love and have now become synonymous with the pangs of summer heartbreak.
The Half of It (2020)
Dir. Alice Wu
This coming-of-age Netflix movie features Ellie Chu, a Chinese student who lives with his widower father in the remote town of Squamish. At the outset, it plays into the stereotype of the ‘nerdy Asian student’ with no friends. A stereotype that she uses to her advantage, as she completes the homework for her fellow classmates in exchange for cash payments.
But one day in summer, she reluctantly takes upon the task of writing a one-off love letter for her fellow student Paul Munsky who is besotted with Aster Flores, the daughter of the local church deacon.
Interjected with bite-size quotes of philosophers from Plato to Satre on the nature of love, The Half of It is a jarringly wholesome coming-of-age movie where the proverbial nerd, Ellie Chu reveals that she too has a beating heart under the layers of her polyester-like self-characterisation. Ellie finds herself attracted to Aster, but she also does not want to hurt Paul, who stood up for her against college bullies. This complex love triangle makes the grounds for a rich commentary on the intricacies of love by the acclaimed LGBTQ filmmaker Alice Wu.
“And summer's lease hath all too short a date”, says the bard. Yes, summer must come to an end, and so will the carefree dreamy days. The intimacy and friendships developed through summer romances may be transient, but they so often take us on a necessary path of awakening, growth and self-discovery.
So, enjoy the summer romance movies with their rollercoaster ride of emotions, even when the naysayers slate them as flimsy frolics.
Featured Image: IMDB
What is your go-to summer romance movie?