Straight, gay or somewhere in betweenthere really is nothing to compare to the exhilaration and ultimate heartbreak of that first love, is there? This human rite of passage has, naturally, always been a favorite subject matter at the movies, and for fans of the first-love/teenage-romance genre there's a plethora of choices arriving around Valentine's Day. Or hanging on in theatersas would be the case for Warm Bodies, the living-dead rom-com with Nicholas Hoult as a lovesick zombie, which is a critical and box-office hit, and is a no-brainer recommendation for the love holiday.
Beautiful Creatures, which had its opening date bumped right to Valentine's Day to make sure its lovestruck central theme is right up front, centers on a Southern teen who is bored with his life until a gorgeous young thing moves into town. Before you can say, "Romeo and Juliet," pulses start rising. Said beautiful creature, however, is a witch (or "caster") who has to decide by her impending 16th birthday whether she's going to be a force for good or evil (the tag line might have read, "Are you a good witch or a bad witch? Make up your damn mind!"), a fact that's sure to throw a wand in the works. If this sounds like a reversal of a certain tween literary/movie juggernaut about high school vampires in love, well, it's supposed to (and it's from the same company that wrought the Twilight pictures as well).
Whether our young up-and-coming, raven-haired beauty errs on the side of the Glindas or the Elphabas amidst the swirl of special effects and entreatments from Jeremy Irons on Team Goodie; Emma Thompson on Team Baddie; and their various abettors and onlookers (Viola Davis, Emmy Rossum, Margo Martindale) taking sides, you'll have to decide for yourself.
Although the splashy advertisements for Beautiful Creatures and its comely cast certainly do appear fetching and I have on occasion fallen hard for this pulpy kind of stuff, my attention was drawn instead to what looks to be a nice bit of counter-programming from the Music Boxa gay teen romance called North Sea Texas from first time writer-director Bavo Defurne.
The film is a gentle, coming-of-age tale set on the Belgian coast of Finland. Freckle-faced 14-year-old blonde Pim (Jelle Florizoone) lives alone with his mother, Yvette (Eva van der Gucht), a plump party girl who plays accordion professionally and has dated most of the men in town. At night, she hangs out at Texas, the village's neon-lit taverndrinking, carousing and ignoring the introverted Pim, who makes repeated drawings of the object of his fantasy. That would be the 16-year-old brunette beauty Gino (Mathias Vergels), who lives with his single, rather patient mother Marcella (Katelijne Damen) and his little sister Sabrina (Nina Marie Kortekass), who nurses her own crushon Pim. When Yvette takes off for one of her frequent gigs, Pim heads to Gino's house.
During one of his visits, Gino announces that he and Pim will be spending the night on the beach in a tent. For Pim, who has kept a pair of Gino's semen-stained shorts in a memory boxretrieved after an impromptu circle jerk between the two, (not unlike Monica Lewinsky with that infamous dress)this is like winning the lottery. Later that night, in a rather tender and sensual sequence, his ardent wish comes true when the duo makes love for the first time. "Don't tell anyone," Gino commands and Pim remains quietanticipating the carnal delights ahead and, for a while, his wish comes true. (The lust between the two is palpable.) Then one day Pim, who seemingly has no other friends and mostly lives in a dream world, is shattered to find out that Gino has been dating a girl in the nearby big city, Dunkirk, and is heartbroken when Gino abruptly moves away to be with her. Pim is inconsolable until Yvette invites Zoltan, a good-looking carnival worker, to move in; slowly, the now 17-year-old transfers his desires to mother's tattooed love boy. Naturally, a host of complications ensue.
Florizoone does an admirable job in portraying the cautious, nearly silent Pim. It doesn't hurt that the camera loves his marvelous eyes, which often telescope his inner desires (and heartaches). The elegant camerawork is by Anton Mertens, who captures the gorgeous, sun-drenched but lonely, windswept coastal terrain that contrasts with the cramped, rather plain interiors the characters inhabit. Throughout, Defurne uses color to add psychological depth to the storyPim in a key, early sequence wears a buttercup yellow shirt, a brighter shade of the tawdry gold costume/dress his mother dons for one of her shows, for example.
Not surprisingly, there's a chilly, wistful and rather matter-of-fact tone to the proceedings (this being Finnish cinema after all), and this helps separate the rather run-of-the-mill aspects of the plot from the herd of teenager-in-love movies. Unlike the melodramatics usually associated with this genre, North Sea Texas is soft-focused and rather muted in its approach to this often difficult rite of passagean odd but ultimately endearing choice. Subtitled in Dutch.
Of related interest: There's more teenage love angst on display in the winning and criminally underlooked The Perks of Being a Wallflower, just out on DVD. Director Stephen Chbosky made his feature debut with the film, adapting his own bestselling novel about a freshman high school geek who is taken up by a defiantly unique brother and sister, two high school seniors cutting their own unconventional, uncompromising paths through life. The movie, which includes out actor Ezra Miller as the gay brother, was one of my top 10 LGBT picks for 2012 and is funny, charming and not nearly as twee as it sounds.
Real-life heartbreak for teenagers is profiled in Lee Hirsch's emotionally compelling documentary Bully, also just out on DVD. The film portrays a batch of perceived "outsiders" who have had to deal with untold emotional pummeling day in and day outand never mind any thought of teen romance for these kids. Hirsch's film has helped fuel the national dialogue on bullying and the movie, no surprise here, includes a young lesbian whose bravery in dealing with her circumstances is indeed heroic. Tough going and not offering easy solutions, Bully is nevertheless a must see.
Adults in love: The critically acclaimed The Sessions was criminally overlooked by the Oscars. True, Helen Hunt's rousing performance as a sex therapist who falls for a paralyzed poet who wants to experience physical love before he dies did get a supporting nod but the lack of a nomination for John Hawkes, as the poet, is a genuine head-scratcher. Judge for yourself as the movie is now out on DVD (and OnDemand) and features a funny, edgy cameo for Chicago-based actress Rusty Schwimmer, who was last seen in Scrooge & Marley.
Finally, for those love traditionalists (and we know who we are), the Music Box, 3733 N. Southport Ave., is also hosting its annual Casablanca screening (preceded by a sweetheart sing-a-long at the organ) on Valentine's Day, Feb. 14, at 7:30 p.m. The theater has partnered with a couple of nearby restaurants, offering a perfect romantic dinner-movie combo as well. Details and advance tickets at www.musicboxtheatre.com
Check out my archived reviews at www.windycitymediagroup.com or www.knightatthemovies.com . Readers can leave feedback at the latter website.