The Brattle Theater offers old-school romance for Cupid#039;s day

by Beacon Staff • February 4, 2009

With Valentine's Day and the Academy Awards falling within a week of each other this year, most movie theatres are currently screening the nominated films with fervor and hoping to lure in last-minute audiences before the Oscars are handed out on Feb. 22.

Unfortunately, many of the year's best movies are far from romantic: those expecting a iTitanic-/i-style love story when Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio reunite in iRevolutionary Road/i will be met with a two hour shouting match and, while Frank Langella brings Richard Nixon back to life in full force in iFrost/Nixon/i, the perspiration-prone ex-president is pretty much the antithesis of passion. But have no fear, movie lovers!

The Brattle Theatre in Cambridge will screen seven different romantically themed films in the week before Valentine's Day as a part of the fourth annual Great Romances series, culminating in four opportunities to see the greatest love story ever committed to film on the big screen.

The series kicks off on Friday with three screenings of John Waters' wacky tale of dancing star-crossed lovers, iCry-Baby/i. Johnny Depp is the title character, a poor 1950s greaser who woos the local girls with his music and his ability to shed a single tear. Upon meeting Allison Vernon-Williams, a proper good girl who's ready to be bad, it's love at first sight, much to the dismay of their strict families and bizarre friends that make this musical spoof even stranger.

Also included in the romances are two screwball comedies starring Cary Grant, described on The Brattle's Web Site as "the king of romantic comedy." Leading off on Saturday is iThe Awful Truth/i, the Oscar-winning story of a divorcing couple (Grant and Irene Dunne) who cannot seem to stay out of each other's lives, even as they sabotage each other's relationships throughout the movie by doing everything from assaulting boyfriends to imitating sisters. Nominated for Best Picture at the 1937 Oscars, this iTruth/i proves that it's never too late to give up on love.

Accompanying the king of romantic comedies is a double-feature starring the genre's queen, Audrey Hepburn. iRoman Holiday/i follows Princess Ann (Hepburn, in her first Oscar-winning role), a young royal eager to escape the monotony of her duties and subsequently rescued by an American newspaperman (Gregory Peck) who promises his editor an exclusive interview with his new companion, much to her surprise. Beyond the romantic nature of the plot, Rome itself looks so beautiful that the movie serves as a love story to the city.

iTop Hat/i, starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in their most successful collaboration, is a song and dance extravaganza of comedic sexual tension. Astaire plays (surprise!) a dancer working on a new show who irritates his downstairs neighbor (Rogers) with his incessant tapping. Sparks fly as they dance along to classics like "Cheek to Cheek" and "Top Hat, White Tie and Tails" as Fred chases Ginger across Europe in the hopes of having her fall in love with him.

The most unconventional pick for the series is iBound/i, described as a neo-noir crime story starring Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly. Attempting to escape her violent Mafioso boyfriend, Tilly meets an ex-con-turned-plumber named Corky (Gershon) whom she seduces and then conspires with to steal millions from the mafia. This intense lesbian murder-thriller from the makers of iThe Matrix/i doesn't seem like the most romantic choice but might just be entertaining enough to make you not care.

As they do every year, The Brattle ends the festival with four screenings of iCasablanca/i, the epic story of Rick, an American cafeacute; owner and his lost love Ilsa, a German beauty desperate to escape from the Nazis.

Reunited when she and her husband arrive in Morocco to obtain passage to America, Rick and Ilsa remember the early days of their love in Paris, before being torn apart by the tides of war. Even to this day, the power of this romance in particular resonates with audiences and shows that the best love stories are those that remain unfinished after the credits roll.

Of course, there are too many great romances for every one to be screened, but if the nomination-heavy fare at most theatres drains your romantic fervor this Valentine's Day, head across the Charles River to the Brattle, where any number of romances await.