There are two kinds of people in the world, those who leave home, and those who don’t.
Layers upon layers to uncover and think about in a book that could just be summarised by its title: yep, it’s about a marriage. Between Americans. But these Americans are Black, one of them is wrongfully incarcerated and what is a marriage if it’s largely between people of one is in prison?
This way, Tayari Jones looks at the prison system, racism, the institution of marriage, the first ones in families to go study and the burden that comes with it. This is a story that creeps under the skin, leaves you staring in the distance afterwards – empty and fulfilled at the same time.
Because what would have happened if Roy wouldn’t have been locked up? The marriage wasn’t perfect, but which one is? What if they would never have married? What if they would have grown up in another state or even another country? In what ways is the USA to blame for this entire situation? How is ancestry to blame (if so)?
It’s a testament to Jones’ writing that none of this adds an essay-like feeling to the novel: it’s a story first. A painful one, with glimmers of hope.
An American Marriage, Tayari Jones, Harper Collins 2018
I have to admit that this was much more fun than expected, but maybe it just hit me at the right spot at the right time. It’s not like the plot was mindblowingly original, but it did give some creative spins to the well-used trope of Unwanted Company becomes Much Wanted Company (good thing I’m not paid to give tropes names, I’ll explain).
Main character suffering of mediocrity and a very early mid-life crisis decides to try an one night stand to help herself out of her funk. Alcohol is involved. The one night stand happens, she tries to escape, she’s snowed in. They try to keep their distance, they get overly honest with each other, the honesty hurts. And still all that snow.
The chemistry between the two helps a lot, but then there’s also the little sign of creativity when it comes to backstories and motivations. It’s also nice that not everything is sickeningly sweet and unbelievably dumb: for a romantic comedy these two main characters are kind of realistic.
So, it’s not all that. Maybe quite little. But what it is, is fun and sweet.
Two Night Stand, Entertainment One 2014
And that’s how you do a coming-of-age, finding-your-way film for teenagers in a way that isn’t bubblegum colours, dubious voice-overs and an aggressive soundtrack.
That might make The Half of It dull for some people. Protagonist Ellie goes through life in the shadows and not in the Everyone Notices The Wallflower-way but really: in the background of everything. Her fellow pupils only notice her because of her essay writing skills, and one of them decides to use those skills for a more romantic endeavour. ‘Romantic’, as this is a teenage story and Cyrano de Bergerac-ing a relationship is never a good idea.
But that’s what happens, and Ellie is confronted with things that hang out with her in those self-chosen shadows. Do I make it sound too much like a horror film like this? I swear it isn’t!
Although looking at the poster.. that’s a bad poster.
Anyway, focus. The Half of It is a film for the children of immigrants, the half-orphans, those who have ever been confused with their identity, and those that didn’t view high school as the highest point of their life’s experience. It’s sweet in a cool way.
Worry it’s all too teenager for you? Watch Saving Face by the same director.
The Half of It, Netflix 2020
Terwijl westerse filmmaatschappijen romcoms en romantische films maar blijven afschuiven op kleine feestdagen (Moedersdag, Valentijnsdag) met een klein budget en D-niveau acteurs, is er een plek waar de liefhebber van zachte, oppervlakkige, (absurd-)grappige romances nog terecht kan: Nigeria.
Want Isoken en The Wedding Party zijn niet de enige films in dit genre: misschien is het zelfs een subgenre: men moet trouwen maar oh jee [x] gebeurt! [x] kan hier vervangen worden door ruziënde families, bittere exen, rampzalige wedding planners of een combinatie van drie.
In het geval van Isoken is het De Liefde. Moet je gaan voor De Liefde of voor zekerheid? En in hoeverre moet je daarbij ook aan je familie denken (die is zéér belangrijk)?
Of het zelfspot van Nigeriaanse filmmakers is, of dit gewoon Nigeriaanse humor is, weet ik niet, maar al de slapstick-achtige situaties en karikaturale personages zorgen voor een lekker melig zooitje tussen de zoete momenten door.
Dus, kijk niet voor de veertiende keer Love Actually of Bridget Jones’ Diary maar zoek het eens zuidelijker.
Isoken, Tribe85 Productions 2017
It’s easy to judge this on many different levels and scoff a bit, but remember the target audience, and try to find some joy in your heart. I did.
This is the sequel to To All The Boys I loved Before. Mild spoilers for that one follow.
How long can a happy ending last? As everyone involved here are teenagers, the question might be a rhetorical one. Another crush shows up, and he seems much more nicer and attentive than Lara Jean’s boyfriend, oh no!
When not dating, worrying about dating and thinking of how to keep her boyfriend happy, Lara Jean has to deal with friendship, family and school as well. Actress Lana Condor makes sure she carries it well, even with those eye-rolling moments in which you just want to shake every teenager involved.
All of it is very cute and bright and sometimes very quirky, and all of it completely fits the bill and the people this has been made for. And – I admit almost with shame – for me as well.
To All The Boys: P.S. I Still Love You, Netflix 2020
Never trust anything you read on the internet.
First romantic comedy of the year! Although both genres are just slightly represented; How to Hack a Heartbreak is mostly about being a woman in the tech world, and about dating online. The comedy is a tad sharper than you might expect, but both these subjects deserve some attention that isn’t just tongue-in-cheek.
That doesn’t mean that How to is a severe novel about the endless sexism both these worlds entail and a detailed deconstruction of it – it’s still a romantic novel after all. Still, the more realistic angle on the subject and of the protagonist’s thinking is pretty refreshing.
It makes the story of Melanie learning something about herself, her abilities and her (lack of) self-confidence easier to swallow. There might have been just one or two situations through which I rolled my eyes, and I’m pretty sure that was an expected reaction. All this, and a well-balanced happy ending, makes this a romance for the ’20s.
How to Hack a Heartbreak, Kirstin Rockaway, Harlequin 2019
Well done, New Zealand Tourism Bureau. I mean, how else did Netflix international come up with a story in which an American woman from San Francisco (plenty of scenery there!) ends up in a small town in New Zealand, where she doesn’t just find a defunct inn but also love (now you understand the title as well!)?
I was ready to be disappointed. Even though romance projects are pretty much allowed to be a collection of clichés, it doesn’t mean that the clichés are used correctly or too often. As a born kiwi I was ready to support the language and surroundings shown and zone out for the rest of it.
Was I pleasantly surprised! Yes, both characters and plot are made of cardboard, and maybe it’s solely the accent that makes things sound more heartfelt and less superficial. But Christina Milan is adorable without going overboard into Manic Pixie Quirky Girl, while her love-interest has enough appeal to make him believable as one (opposed to some romances Netflix tries to sell).
So no, nothing life-saving here, but quite right for your short, dark day-needs without feeling nauseous about saccharine sweetness.
Falling Inn Love, Netflix 2019
Tapton School, Sheffield, 2007
‘You loved me – then what right had you to leave me?
Ah, delicious by-the-numbers contemporary romance with just a few reminders of real life to not make it saccharine sweet. My kind of romance.
Boy meets girl, they fall in love, it’s the end of high school – fade out. Man meets woman, claims he absolutely can not remember her, even though she recognises him straight away. What’s going on? What happened during the fade out? And why is her mother less-than-supportive about pretty much everything she does?
Don’t You Forget About Me hits all the spots in chronological order, has the fun friends/side kicks (pleasantly fleshed out, that doesn’t always happen), and a few laugh-out-loud laughs.
Main Georgina sells it, though. Her frustrations, fears and self-doubt never get navelgazy or woe-is-me, but are (too) recognisable. She’s for the single women in their thirties, with the shitty job and the feeling of being without direction but unable to find the compass either.
I read McFarlane’s Who’s That Girl? before, and think I can conclude that for fun, romantic, quick-to-read time this author is a good fit.
Don’t You Forget About Me, Mhairi McFarlane, HarperCollins 2019
Francis Gleeson, tall and thin in his powder blue policeman’s uniform, stepped out of the sun and into the shadow of the stocky stone building that was the station house of the Forty-First Precinct.
I enjoy family stories. I’m quite the sucker for generational stories that sometimes are big and grand enough to be called family epics. It’s character based, sometimes with time and surroundings being an extra character, but simply about all the people involved (or some of them).
Ask Again, Yes shouldn’t be called epic. Maybe not even a family story. It somehow feels like it has picked the least exciting characters to hang the story up on, and then seems to just shrug about how they can’t carry whatever plot (points) they pass. Why not more information about the previous generation, their immigration, the world they moved into? Instead the reader gets childish stubbornness that never really gives any reason to warm up to it.
So, if you want the story of a family, and all of it, go for The Woo-Woo, or Run, Hide, Repeat or The Locals. They’ll give you something more enticing.
Ask Again, Yes, Mary Beth Keane, Scribner 2019
How much better would this movie have been with a female main character, and are there are well-known singers that have covered The Beatles?
Of course, it’s considerate that they didn’t make the entire cast of this film about one guy bringing The Beatles music to the masses white. The Beatles were white, after all. All this playing out in England, with a large immigrant population – why not have the protagonist be of Indian descent? Is it sad that we have to applaud this happening? Yeah.
Anyway, the plot. After a strange occurrence is Jack the only one that recognises The Beatles and their impact on music and pop culture. Having struggled as an artist before, he decides on bringing their music into the world again, working hard to remember all those lyrics. And getting incredibly famous on the way because wow – what music!
Along the way there are some Life Lessons and sometimes you wonder why Jack makes the decisions he does, but in a world where every other movie is a sequel or a reboot, it’s a slight fresh breath of air in the theatre. Or on any streaming service it will soon hit, no doubt.
Yesterday, Working Title 2019