Today’s excellent Top 10 comes from the man behind Transbuddha. If you have a list you’d like to contribute, just email Eric at firstname.lastname@example.org. Here’s the list:
Ah, Valentine’s Day! It’s the day when thoughts turn to love, commercials stab at every feeling of loneliness and alienation, and studios unleash even more crap into the cinematic graveyard that is the Jan/Feb/March release cycle. Personally I find it rather telling that an media form that has given us so many phenomenal love stories over the years has such a craptastic batting average when it comes to releasing around Valentine’s Day. Then again, I’ve been accused of having a weird sensibility when it comes to love stories. Well, let’s prove it one way or another with this Transbuddha powered list of my personal favorite Top 10 Weirdo Couples.
To clarify a point: “weirdo” is a bit of a misnomer in this case, and it’s a pretty wide umbrella in my book, hence the inclusion of ‘unlikely’. I’m thinking of couples that are equal parts k-razy as well as couples that all things being equal shouldn’t work (but do nonetheless). Safe and sane may make for stability and consistent tax returns, but I think we all know crazy wins bigger points for style. So without further ado, let’s take a stroll down Lover’s Lane with the odd, the unlikely, and the just plain bat-shit crazy couples we’ve come to love…
10. Harold & Maude (from Harold & Maude, coincidentally enough)
I figured I might as well get this one out of the way. Sure, the fresh-faced and mortality-obsessed Harold (Bud Cort) certainly makes an odd paramour for the feisty octogenarian Maude (Ruth Gordon), but here’s why it doesn’t rank any higher: Hal Ashby’s iconic film tells a story in which the all-too-brief love affair between the two makes perfect sense. There’s some comedic cringe factor moments, to be sure, but there’s never a point when you can’t figure out the attraction.
In some ways it’s a slightly more hopeful bookend to that more famous (and certainly more cynical) May-December screen coupling from “The Graduate.” Where Ben’s bland innocence was destroyed by Mrs. Robinson’s purely carnal motives, Maude’s experiences propel Harold out of the ennui he’s mired in and push him to focus less on death and more on actually living his life. (There’s ample room in that comparison to break down the effect the Vietnam War had on an entire generation’s sense of purpose, but frankly… blah blah blah. Let’s get back to the fun.)
9. Léon & Mathilda (from Léon aka The Professional)
From one end of the May-December spectrum to another! Take one ruthlessly efficient mass-murdering man-child and throw him together with a naive twelve-year-old forced to grow up after the brutal murder of her family and what do you get? A love story for the ages, that’s what! While there’s certainly no shortage of cheap joke fodder to be found in this pairing, let’s leave that aside and look at the setup.
Jean Reno’s Léon is an illiterate, hermetic hit-man whose only companion is a potted plant. Natalie Portman’s Mathilda is a surface tough cookie who has had the entire foundation of her life ripped away, and no amount of guile in the world will make up for the very simple need for her to have a safe, loving home. Who better than Léon to be the anchor of that, even doomed as he is by Mathilda’s equally basic need for revenge? Ick factor aside, it’s a beautiful setup and certainly the largest part of what sets Léon apart from the overly-crowded revenge action film masses. With neither one really capable of conceiving anything other than a very child-like notion of love, you get a love story that manages to skirt around what would otherwise be a notoriously bad idea for an onscreen romance.
8. Cop 663 & Faye (from Chungking Express)
Quite frankly I could pick a couple from just about any Wong Kar-wai film to fill a weirdo couple slot (since the man has made an entire career out of unlikely or damaged couples), but the heartbroken cop (Tony Leung) and the impish counter-girl (Faye Wong) who loves him (and loves rearranging his apartment while he’s out) from the second story of Chungking Express will always be my hands-down favorite.
All the more notable for how little screen time Faye and Cop 663 spend together, it’s a love story about potential and what we do when we can’t yet be together. In Faye’s case it means breaking into 663′s apartment while he’s out, but you know…that’s how love goes. Rather than typical stalker stuff Faye cleans his apartment, replaces dead fish, and swaps out orange flip-flops for blue flip-flops, subtly remaking his apartment in her own image while he pines for an airline hostess that broke his heart. It’s goofy, innocent fun set to Wong’s own cover of the Cranberries’ “Dreams” (which I have graciously included to the right). If you can get to the end of this movie without a big dopey grin on your face, I feel more than a little sad for you.
7. Anthony & Inez (from Bottle Rocket)
Another goofy charmer. Sure, Wes Anderson’s cinematic debut is a heist-comedy, but the sub-plot romance between the bourgeois-burdened Anthony (Luke Wilson) and hotel maid Inez (Lumi Cavazos) is such a charming aside that the courtship montage (set to Love’s “Alone Again Tonight”) remains of my favorite Wes Anderson moments. For those of you who haven’t seen it (shame, shame!) Anthony is holed up in rinkydink roadside hotel with his fellow crooks-in-waiting after knocking over (if you could even call it that) a bookstore. While maniac Dignan and mopey Bob obsess over their burgeoning criminal career, Anthony is completely derailed by shy charms of Spanish-speaking Inez. He’d rather help her on her rounds than get a new incognito haircut, and she is taken by his goofy openness.
I included this couple not because it’s such a charming sub-plot (though it is), but because Wes Anderson hits it exactly right: Even Inez understands that Anthony is for the most part a hapless dope, and that ordinarily his presence in her life would be nothing more than so much litter floating down the highway, but love isn’t exactly rational.
6. Hi & Ed (from Raising Arizona)
In addition to being one of my all-time favorite comedies, Raising Arizona has Hi & Ed, easily the best Coen Brothers couple ever (sorry, Marge & Norm Gunderson). Hi is a mostly harmless, goodhearted career criminal (“It ain’t ‘armed robbery’ if the gun ain’t loaded…”) and Ed’s an uptight booking officer (whose insides are a rocky place, where Ed’s seed can find no purchase) with baby on the brain. Together their corresponding neurosis lead them down the road to kidnapping one of the famous ‘Arizona Quints’ to be their very own, setting up one of the best crime-gone-wrong comedies of all time.
Throw in an other-worldly bounty hunter, two bumbling felons, a wife-swapping tool (and his Marie Osmond-on-crack wife), and you’ve got a series of events that would test even the most mentally stable of couples. They’re not bad people – they just make some seriously dumb decisions, but in the end it’s their unwavering love for one another that gets them through the day.
5. Danny & Freya (from The Year My Voice Broke)
Here’s where I start digging into my little-seen gem box. John Duigan’s 1987 semi-autobiographical film about growing up in 1960′s rural Australia is one of my all-time favorite films, and certainly one of the best coming-of-age films ever made. The straightforwardness with which Danny (Noah Taylor in his film debut) and Freya’s (Loene Carmen) never-to-be had relationship is handled is at times so unblinkingly honest as to be personally hard to watch (Noah seems far too much like myself at that age), but there’s something timeless about two kids from the wrong side of the tracks struggling to navigate the choppy waters between youth and adulthood. Danny is one-part cynic to three parts romantic fool (see below), and even he knows his charms will never compete against the bad boy Trevor who captures Freya’s attention.
I’m including Danny and Freya not just because I’m a long-standing evangelist for the film (and its sequel Flirting), but because for as much as you want Danny to get the girl, you know he won’t. And that’s what makes it work.
4. Clarence & Alabama (from True Romance)
Buried within the train wreck that is “True Romance” lay one sweet gem of a couple: The bumbling comic-book nerd (Christian Slater in what would be his last stab at cultural relevance) and the as-recently-as-this-date ex-hooker (a pre-supernatural Patricia Arquette), who loves him. Tony Scott had little idea how to handle the Tarantino script, but he knew well enough to leave Tarantino’s not-yet-then trademarked dialogue alone. The sheer bone-headedness of their decisions almost elevates them to Coen Bros. territory, but theirs is a love pure Quentin as evidenced by their initial courtship scene (see video).
Ordinarily the pairing would grate on my nerves to no end, but the abandon with which these two commit to one another strikes a resounding note on those ‘everybody has someone who loves them’ strings that Hollywood loves to tangle with. And like most Tarantino characters, Clarence and Alabama are willing to go well past the edge in order to stay together. Originally the script called for Clarence to die in that overblown Mexican stand-off at the finale, but here’s one case where I’m glad the happy ending won out.
3. Lloyd & Diane (from Say Anything…)
Much like Wong Kar-wai, Cameron Crowe has an entire filmography lined with couples who shouldn’t (and mostly likely wouldn’t) work, but there’s one film that deserves extra attention here. A romantic comedy so iconic that an entire generation of women think of Lloyd Dobler is the perfect man, and for which an entire generation of men hate his guts (for setting the bar so damn high). While the amiable, kickboxing Lloyd and high school valedictorian Diane certainly seem a little mismatched, can we really consider their pairing weirdo or unlikely? Well, yes. And here’s why:
There’s no way in hell these two stay together after the movie ends.
I mean, really now… She’s going to Oxford where she’ll be surrounded by no shortage of smart, funny, gents with no shortage of charm and sophistication. He’s uh…gonna do something or another. Can anyone really say they see this romance working out? I’ve got one phrase that sums up why they’re doomed: English accents. In my head Diane’s story is continued via the little-seen Rachel Papers (from the Martin Amis book), wherein Ione Skye plays an American student attending Oxford who has her heart broken by a self-absorbed cad (a phenomenal Dexter Fletcher), but I’ll forgive everyone for not making the same assumption.
But let’s face it: Lloyd and Diane are not gonna make it, and the fact that their courtship is one of my age groups go-to films for screen romance makes them an easy entry on this list.
2. Richie & Margot (from The Royal Tenenbaums)
Yeah, you thought this was going to be Lolita & Humbert Humbert, didn’t you? Ha-ha! In your face, predictability! Well, my Lit-nerd past with Nabakov keeps me from listing that one (that is a discussion for another day), but let’s go with something even more taboo by modern standards: Brother and Sister, by way of Wes Anderson. Granted, Richie (Luke Wilson) and Margot (Gwenyth Paltrow) are adoptive siblings, but that’s close enough to count.
Their unconsummated affair works because quite frankly, we WANT it to work. We want these two broken-down souls to have some degree of happiness in their lives, and they’re such a perfect match for one another that legal status aside, you can’t but help to find their final solution to their attraction painfully bittersweet. It’s none-too-subtly implied that their most self-destructive of choices have been the result of being apart, but when even the none-too-concerned-with-propriety Royal Tenenbaum himself gives pause at the thought of them together, there’s little hope that Richie and Margot will ever be at peace with their decision. And that makes for both a weirdo and unlikely coupling.
1. Sailor & Lulu (from Wild at Heart)
I can already hear the ‘What?’. Bear with me. Barry Gifford’s pulp-novel couple was a train-wreck to start with, but letting David Lynch play in their sandbox ups the ante to a whole other level. Oh yes, we’re firmly in weirdo territory now. Sailor (Nicholas Cage) is an Elvis obsessed ex-con for whom trouble is a constant (and often violent) companion. Lulu (Laura Dern) is the dim bulb party girl who comes by her crazy naturally: via her certifiably, capitol C, crazy mother (Dern’s real-life mom, Diane Ladd), who is bound and determined to keep them apart. Together Sailor and Lulu are less a couple in love than a destructive force of nature, leaving no end of bad times in their wake. Do they love each other? You better believe it. Check out what happens when an innocent night of dancing get interrupted by a barroom lothario with wandering hands:
Gentlemen, there is your romantic standard: Beat a man down, and then serenade your love with “Treat Me Like a Fool”. Of course, if you follow that standard you might soon find yourself on the run from voodoo-obsessed killers. Not to mention embroiled in one hell of a bloody bank robbery with one of David Lynch’s most unsavory casts ever. But in the end love will win out, even if it means belting out “Love Me Tender” through a viciously broken nose on a desolate business loop road.
So there you have it, my Top 10 Weirdo & Unlikely Couples which, despite the Joycean nature of my rambling, arrives well in time for you to update your Netflix queue for a night of snuzzling, fun, and larceny (both grand and petty, depending on your rating from the MPAA). Sure these might not be the ideal date movie, but it’s certainly got to be better than sitting through The Notebook….