October 6, 2004

Cute Movies

Today I thought I’d rank my favorite cute movies of the past ten years. Before doing this, though, I should describe what a cute movie is. First, let’s look at cute. Cute is one of those qualities that’s easier to describe than define. Your grandma wearing her Easter bonnet is cute; your brother making armpit noises is not. Spin the Bottle is cute; Truth or Dare is not. A hiccup is cute; a week-long bout of diarrhea is not. Family Circus is cute; manga is not. Old Yeller at the beginning of the movie is cute; Old Yeller at the end of the movie is not. You get the idea.

Cute movies can be discussed in all social settings. You wouldn’t be embarrassed to talk about such a film with your mom. They don’t contain graphic sex or violence, rarely use the f-word, and only discuss “objectionable topics” through innuendo. They’re almost always romantic comedies and they always have beautiful, Cosmo and G.Q.-looking characters. And cute movies always end happily, as their protagonists never have shortcomings or obstacles that can’t be overcome in ninety minutes.

Now cute movies are not my favorite genre. In fact, I usually don’t enjoy watching more than two cute movies a month. I see two main weaknesses with such movies. First, in many ways they are dishonest about reality. For example, many people in the real world have acne. But when was the last time you saw a zit on Sandra Bullock’s face? But more importantly, people in the real world are darker, more complicated, more troubled. Life is often filled with disappointment and loneliness—from FADE IN to FADE OUT. By downplaying this side of human nature and life in general, cute movies often fill their viewers with false expectations about reality. My second complaint of cute movies is that they’re usually very formulaic. Within the first five minutes of a cute movie, we know who’s going to fall in love with who and what obstacles will get in their way. Did anyone watching Sleepless in Seattle (save for maybe Brainless in Boise) really doubt that Tom Hanks’ and Meg Ryan’s characters would get together?

Despite these flaws, however, I think much can be said in favor of cute movies, and this is why I like watching them—at least every now and then. First, they are often a nice retreat from what my friends’ mom calls “rough” movies. I love Quentin Tarrantino films, but it’s sometimes nice to escape into a world of innocence, a world devoid of drug deals and murders and f-words. Second, although cute movies are in some ways dishonest, in other ways they are more honest than many dramas. For many modern films convey pessimistic worldviews: life sucks, relationships are always headaches, things never end happily. But reality, while often filled with bad, contains just as much good. Good deeds are sometimes rewarded; people do sometimes change; people often do fall head-over-heels in love and live happily ever after. If nothing else, cute movies remind us that life does have silver linings, at least sometimes.

And now, without any further delay, here they are, my top dozen favorite cute movies of the past ten years. (It was too tough to narrow it down to ten.)

12. You’ve Got Mail. In all honesty, I like My Big Fat Greek Wedding more than this film, but I had to put a Meg Ryan movie on the list—and Sleepless in Seattle is eleven years old.

11. Clueless and 13 Going on 30 (tie). The first movie, starring Alicia Silverstone, sets Jane Austen’s Emma in a most unlikely setting—a 1990s Beverly Hills high school. I haven’t seen it in several years, but remember it at as being both instructive and hilarious. The second movie—I’ll admit it—is basically an inferior, female version of Big. Nevertheless, Jennifer Garner is so good in it—so charming and energetic—that you can’t help but like her and enjoy every second of the film.

10. Maid in Manhattan. I absolutely love this retelling of the Cinderella story, starring Jennifer Lopez and Ralph Fiennes. Lopez is just perfect in this role as a down-to-earth mother and maid in a ritzy Manhattan hotel. It’s also refreshing to see a romantic comedy that features a Hispanic protagonist and an interracial love story.

9. Serendipity. John Cusack has the uncanny ability to shine in cute movies while, at the same time, remaining a man’s man. The script in this film is great; the story is always one step ahead of us, always giving us new surprises as we watch Cusack and Kate Beckinsale put their future in the hands of Fate—of which Beckinsale is a fervent believer and Cusack a resolute skeptic.

8. Legally Blonde. With most actresses, this would have been a decent, above-average film. With Reese Witherspoon, however, it became a classic. All of her mannerisms are so perfect and…cute that we can’t resist falling in love with her ditzy, kind-hearted character, who heads off to law school in hopes of winning back her ex-boyfriend.

7. While You Were Sleeping. The movie that will eternally redeem Sandra Bullock for the atrocious Hope Floats. When the man that she admires from afar falls into a coma, his family mistakenly thinks that she’s his fiancee. She tries, but doesn’t have the heart to correct them and during her many visits to his hospital room ends up falling in love with his brother, played by Bill Pullman.

6. Father of the Bride 2. The only non-romantic comedy on my list. The writing, the cinematography, the acting (mainly Steve Martin and Diane Keaton)—everything is just perfect. Every time I watch, I get in the mood to have kids.

5. Notting Hill. It doesn’t matter what this film is about. It’s written by Richard Curtis (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Bridget Jones’s Diary, and Love Actually) and stars Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts. You can’t lose.

4. Two Weeks Notice. Again, how can you go wrong with Hugh Grant? (I would have put more of his movies on my list, but most of them are a little too “rough” to fall under the cute category—e.g., About a Boy, Bridget Jones’s Diary, and Love Actually.) In this film, Grant plays a free-spirited, self-absorbed millionaire who, against his own will, ends up falling in love with an uptight, selfless liberal activist, who is played flawlessly by Sandra Bullock.

3. Never Been Kissed and The Wedding Singer (tie). Two great Drew Barrymore movies. The first one, which co-stars Michael Vartan, is incredibly corny, but it always makes me smile and the ending always brings tears to my eyes. (Happy tears, of course, for cute movies always end happily.) The second co-stars Adam Sandler, who is surprisingly likable as a romantic lead. It takes place in the 1980s and its numerous jabs at that decade (all done in love) are extremely funny. It’s also sweet and heart-warming—and, again, it’s ending brings tears (of joy, of course) to my eyes every time.

2. Sweet Home Alabama. Reese Witherspoon’s feisty, tomboyish character is one of my favorites of all-time. And, in my opinion, no romantic comedy has had a better ending since When Harry Met Sally.

1. Ever After. Another retelling of the Cinderella story, this one starring Drew Barrymore and Dougray Scott. Barrymore’s character is a true hero—courageous, selfless, passionate. As she goes about trying to convince the prince of the inequalities of medieval society, we, along with him, can’t help but get swept away by her ideals and inner beauty. But, then, of course, the evil stepsisters get in the way and… If you haven’t, you really should see this one. It’s a fun watch and will be encouraging to your soul.

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