A Pair of Terrific Romances, Just Not the Kind Some Filmgoers Long For

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By Donna Britt
Friday, December 30, 2005

This holiday season, the two most heartfelt romances in movie theaters are between a couple of hunky cowpokes and a big ape and a blonde.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Whatever I expected from "King Kong," it wasn't a classic love story. Like most great romances -- "It Happened One Night," "Sayonara," "West Side Story" -- the movie features two beings from separate worlds who become unexpectedly drawn to each other. They're intrigued, then obsessed.

Once he gets past wanting to make a snack of Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts), Kong does everything that a smart suitor can do: He protects her (from a trio of tyrannosauruses), ignores her (a sure-fire attention-getter) and shares with her the most beautiful thing he knows: a sunset from a gorgeous mountaintop.

By the time Kong sacrifices himself for his beloved with the whole world watching, the risks taken by Watts's human love interest -- not to mention his embracing arms -- seem puny.

"Brokeback Mountain" also has everything a great cinematic romance needs: appealing protagonists whose yearning spans decades, immutable forces determined to keep them apart, a knock-your-glasses-off kiss. That the clinched lovers staring at this movie's mountain vistas are male is important -- and frustrating if you're desperate for similarly passionate boy-girl romances.

The love shared by Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) -- both of whom initially deny being "queer" -- is unlike anything mainstream movie audiences have seen. Tender and brutal, exhilarating and excruciating, it's an adoration that the world and the men's circumstances insist makes no sense -- yet no other real option exists for them.

In other words, "Brokeback" is a real romance rather than a morality play or civil rights lesson. Even moviegoers opposed to same-sex unions might wonder whether the pain inflicted by society -- on the lovers as well as their wives, whose love is mysteriously and distressingly unrequited -- is justified. It's powerful and heartbreaking.

So why aren't there more hetero-themed movies like it? Nell Minow -- the Washington-based "Movie Mom," who is Yahoo's film critic -- is a romantic whose Top 10 list for 2005 included exactly one human boy-girl love story: "Pride and Prejudice." Minow sighs when she cites the year's most romantic scene: King Kong's rapturous slide across the frozen pond at Central Park, the entranced Darrow nestled in his hand.

"It's been a long time since 'Moonstruck,' " she muses.

Try 18 years.

Part of the problem is money. The high school boys who flocked to the "American Pie" and the "Lord of the Rings" trilogies are film studios' most coveted audiences. They aren't "Sense and Sensibility" types. What's more, the doubts, insecurity and cynicism that infect real-life male-female relationships appear to have tainted contemporary films.


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© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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