Friday, February 04, 2011

Five underrated romantic comedies for Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day is fast approaching, and, with the cold and snow often keeping us home, it is the ideal time to cuddle up with some movies. This time of year a lot of familiar and worthy romantic fare gets brought out, but there are also plenty of underrated or forgotten romantic comedies that fit this season of love just right. Here are five such films.

“Night Shift” (1982)
Ron Howard directed his “Happy Days” co-star Henry Winkler in this film about a morgue that is turned into a brothel. Given the scandalous subject matter the film is surprisingly sweet and good natured. Winkler nicely places against his Fonzie-type and Michael Keaton, in his first film role, is hilarious as Winkler's partner. Shelley Long is the hooker with a good heart that Winkler falls in love with. The film is dated, but in its own off-beat way it is a minor gem.

“The Sure Thing” (1985)

Director Rob Reiner made this film between two classics, “This Is Spinal Tap” and “Stand By Me.” The “The Sure Thing” isn't as brilliant as either of those films, but it is still a sweet, honest and funny look at young love. Two exact opposites (John Cusack, in his first lead role, and Daphne Zuniga) are forced to travel cross country together and inevitably fall in love. It is a classic plot dating back to one of the earliest screwball comedies, “It Happened One Night,” but is played sincerely and with plenty of warm humor.

“Defending Your Life” (1991)
This high-concept comedy from writer/director/star Albert Brooks offers up a unique twist on the afterlife. Before getting into heaven you must defend your life choices in a trial. Those unworthy get sent back to Earth to try again. Brooks falls for Meryl Streep, who is definitely on her way to heaven, while his chances don't look so good. Rip Torn is a scene stealer as Brooks' lawyer, but it is the low-key chemistry between Brooks and Streep that anchors this extremely clever and often hilarious comedy.

“Singles” (1992)
Writer/director Cameron Crowe has made two iconic modern love stories with “Say Anything” and “Jerry Maguire” and while “Singles” isn't of the same caliber it is a charming look at love in the early 1990s. The film follows several sets of characters looking for love in Seattle, which allows the film to become a time capsule of the grunge music scene. There are good performance throughout particularly from Kyra Sedgwick, Campbell Scott and Matt Dillion as a would-be rocker.

“Keeping the Faith” (2000)
Few people would've guessed that actor Edward Norton's directorial debut would be a romantic comedy about faith. Norton stars with Ben Stiller as a priest and rabbi who both fall in love with Jenna Elfman, a former childhood friend who re-enters their lives. It sounds like a bad “A priest and rabbi walk into a bar” joke, but the film is thoughtful, sophisticated and funny. The three leads have charm to spare and have strong support from Anne Bancroft, Eli Wallach and a rare bit of acting from director Milos Forman.

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