Canadian filmmakers have long maintained an uneasy relationship with romantic films – comedy or drama – at least in their classical form. If the Hollywood version ends by finding stability in couples (and the famous last kiss), the typical Canadian romantic comedy leaves its lovers alone and somehow unfulfilled. They tend to be off-kilter, with only a few actually telling a romantic tale straight up. In a country more famous for producing seriously deranged love stories such as Lynne Stopkewich’s Kissed and David Cronenberg’s Crash, notable Canadian romantic movies have been few and far between. Here’s a sampling of the best half-dozen for your Valentine’s Day viewing – and some even have a happy ending.
Barney’s Version (2010)
Barney Panofsky (Paul Giamatti) is the type of ladies man you only find in novels and the movies. He’s charming and likeable enough on the surface, but underneath a self-absorbed jerk who appears to be catnip to women. He beds and leaves the beautiful Clara (Rachelle Lefevre), who ends up committing suicide. He marries an equally beautiful Jewish Princess, only referred to as the second Mrs. P. (Minnie Driver), but on the day of his wedding he falls for the stunning Miriam (Rosamund Pike) whom he pursues relentlessly until she finally gives in. It’s the Barney-Miriam relationship that provides the most sparks in this rambling romance/satire, with the British actress offering up the sizzle that makes Barney so appealing. Their scenes together, especially their walk through Central Park where Barney purposes marriage, are the highlight of this Oscar-nominated film.
Boy Meets Girl (1998)
By far the atypical film of this group is Boy Meets Girl. More than any other film included here, it’s a true romantic comedy, complete with an unabashed happy ending. Set in Toronto’s Little Italy, Mike (Sean Astin) is a cynical copywriter for romance comics. Angelina (Emily Hampshire) lives with her aunt and spends her days terrified of the moment her intended, child sweetheart Paolo, will come to claim her hand. The cast also includes a neighbourhood love poet, Il Magnifico (Joe Mategna), and the widow Mrs. Jones (Kate Nelligan). They are in the throes of a torrid affair while Il Magnifico composes his love poems on the back of the wallpaper in her apartment. During one particularly steamy encounter, a section of wallpaper drifts out the window and into the hands of Mike. Not reading Italian, Mike just tosses it aside but Angelina, who now assumes that Mike is in love with her, picks it up. Boy Meets Girl achieves the same kind of lighter-than-air feel of an old musical. The neighbourhood the film takes place in feels magical, and Mike and Angelina’s romance is more convincing because it so cut off from reality. Just like an old-fashioned Hollywood romantic comedy.
This offbeat romantic comedy is set in the fading prairie town of Conquest, Saskatchewan. Daisy (Tara FtizGerald), a pretty lady from the north of England, arrives one sunny day in a bright red Alfa Romeo that promptly breaks down, forcing her to stay for repairs. Pincer (Lothaire Bluteau), an idealistic banker who has moved back to the town of his birth to run the bank that the farmers depend upon, sets out to seduce Daisy with the town as he imagines it. Her very presence begins to perk things up and, as if by magic, colours begin to return. The film is rarity in Canadian movies – a love story told straight up with a charming touch of magic realism.
Highway 61 (1991)
The set-up for this movie screams romantic comedy, but it quickly turns into a road movie of self-discovery. Mildly catatonic, slightly stuck-up, trumpet-playing small-town barber Pokey (Don McKellar) is conned by an exuberant, immoral roadie (Valerie Buhagiar) into helping her transport a suspicious corpse across the border and down the fabled Highway 61 to New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz. After being separated, threatened and tracked by a mysterious stranger who thinks he’s the Devil (Earl Pasko), the pair reunites in New Orleans, both wiser and less selfish. Director Bruce McDonald gives his female star glorious close-ups and the quirky energy between the leads makes this one fun, loopy ride.
Last Night (1998)
With wit and poignancy, Don McKellar depicts the final hours in the lives of a group of Torontonians as they await the end of the world. In scenarios that are alternately hilarious, tragic and absurd, they struggle to find some semblance of meaning in what’s left of their lives. The central relationship is between a nerdy McKellar, planning to spend the last night by himself with his wine and classical music, and Sandra Oh, a career woman desperately trying to get across town to spend the time remaining with her husband (David Cronenberg). Their paths cross when Oh becomes stranded without a hope of making it home. Facing the final moments together, they are determined to commit suicide, but instead end on a heartfelt kiss. It would be hard to find another Canadian movie that packs such a final emotional punch.
When Night Is Falling (1995)
Patricia Rozema’s third feature is a modern fable about a young Calvinist theology student (played by the radiant Quebec star, Pascale Bussières) who finds that she is falling in love with another woman, a beautiful flamboyant circus performer (Rachel Crawford), a situation that makes her question her faith and relationship with her boyfriend. Henry Czerny rounds out the fine cast as Bussières’s puzzled amour who is left behind by her new tryst. When Night Is Falling features some of the most erotic lesbian love scenes ever captured on Canadian celluloid.