I recently forced my husband to watch He’s Just Not That into You and afterwards he was speechless, not because the film was amazing but because it simply got too real. The story centers around Bradley Cooper’s character and his rocky marriage, examining how the pressures of building a family can lead even the best relationships to end. Bradley Cooper’s character has a moment of weakness with a busty blonde portrayed by Scarlett Johansson, and his wife struggles to accept this reality and save her marriage. Shaken by the film’s message, my husband and I sat for the next hour apologizing for any way we might have neglected each other (like not taking out the trash) and saying “I love you” over and over.
In addition to the way-too-emotional breakdown of a marriage, the secondary story revolves around other young-ish people searching for love and intertwines them in a gut-wrenching romantic torment only Shakespeare could find humorous. Basically, the film starts out with the promise of being a romantic comedy, but takes a sharp left into reality that few people are prepared for. There are no feel-good moments as all of the relationships are torn apart not by fictional hardships but by actual events we have all faced at one point or another.
He’s Just Not Into You is a quintessential example of a film with a solid premise that ultimately is just too real to enjoy. The following list takes a look at other cinematic gut-punches that are not afraid to get in your face and bring you back to reality.
Where do I begin? I watched Kids for the first time when I was ten-years-old, thanks to late-night HBO and a confusing title. Under the guise of a skateboard flick, Kids takes an unflinching look at the struggles of being a teen in the modern age, including the parts that other films skip over or sanitize, including gritty takes on sex, violence, and even death. (I’m sure I don’t have to mention that this film was way beyond my years and I was extremely confused through most of it.) Kids scared me into believing my teenage years would be a dark place and I would contract AIDS by the time I was 16. The film forces you to feel the extremes of adolescent (and human) anger, hurt, and sadness all in the span of 91 minutes.
Boyz N’ the Hood
Boyz N’ the Hood is almost too real for me to watch. I have seen the film a handful of times and I still cry uncontrollably when Ricky dies. One of the first mainstream films to depict a more realistic account of what it’s like growing up poor, the natural flow of this film allows you to immerse yourself in the pressures and emotions of each character. Unfortunately, with its themes of violence, class struggles, and people just trying to make it through the everyday, it’s a film that is still completely relevant today and a must watch for anyone struggling with the peer pressures from a brutal society.
Thirteen, yet another film with a confusing title. I watched this movie with my mother, expecting a coming-of-age tale that ended with a heartwarming mother-daughter epiphany like Freaky Friday. NOT THE CASE! Holly Hunter plays a single mother struggling to handle a busy professional life while tending to the dramas and challenges of raising a teenage girl. Tracy (Evan Rachel Wood) is a 13-year-old lost-girl, who feels left behind and in that confusing between independence and dependence, between maturity and immaturity. (Or as Britney Spears put it, “…not a girl, not yet a woman.”) After meeting the mercurial and magnetic Evie (Nikki Reed), Tracy’s world turns completely upside down. Tracy and Evie enter a world of sex, drugs, alcohol, and theft—you know, the normal teenage stuff that you look back on with a fair amount of shame or at least cringing. This film takes you to that place you never wanted to go again, where you were uncomfortable or wore an ugly dress or you had acne and someone made you feel terrible about it.
Ever drive past a gated neighborhood and dream about what life must be like inside those walls? The lovely neighbors, the backyard barbecues, and the secrets? Lawn Dogs gives a glimpse of what life is like inside those hallowed spaces but proves you never really know your neighbors, even (and especially) in the most idyllic of places. This film tackles sexual abuse, class divides, extra-marital affairs, (and all kinds of “on the DL” behaviors) before ultimately convincing you that your neighborhood isn’t so bad after all.
When you see Sandra Bullock you automatically think romantic comedy! 28 Days is far from romantic or a comedy. For those approximately 20-million people in America who struggle with addiction, this film is a much-needed real look at the daily struggles they face. Addiction can and does ruin lives, strains relationships and brings on depression. Sandra Bullock’s character is an alcoholic and a writer who is forced into rehab when she ruins her sister’s wedding by crashing a limo into a house. She arrives at rehab unaware she has problem, as most addicts are wont to do. She soon encounters a teen heroin addict that will change her life forever. Unfortunately, there is no happy ending to this film. We are left with a glimmer of hope for the character but no real resolution—which is the case for most addicts coming back to their lives after a stint in rehab.
The last spot on my list goes to Gran Torino. Before I continue, I must mention that it took me four viewings to get through the entire film without covering my eyes and ears. Gran Torino forces me to ugly-cry and feel emotions that I did not even know I had. Clint Eastwood’s portrayal of a widowed, working-class Korean War veteran and retiree is phenomenal, forcing an unexpected internal conflict for the audience. Who do you root for in a place where everyone is losing? The depiction of a once-budding Detroit neighborhood that has become overrun with gangs and violence is matched up against Eastwood’s character, whose interactions with an Asian immigrant family soften his cold heart and makes him rethink his position. Gran Torino comes to a heart-breaking end as Eastwood’s character wakes up and takes a stand, only to pay the ultimate price, death by gang violence.