It often seems like you can’t go 24 hours without hearing about injustice in some part of the world. Social media has made the endless, depressing news cycle even more endless and depressing. Every day, a new hashtag created on social media brings attention to another victim of a senseless murder, marginalized people are being targeted every day, and the U.S. president is under federal investigation. It’s tiring, and it’s hard to not let it overwhelm you and control your mental state.
While music is often my go-to remedy to recharge my energy and mood during these times, movies transport me to another place; they’re an open invitation to escape reality and be taken on a wild thrill ride, a funny trip, or a romantic tryst. Luckily, I have a stash of my all-time favorites at my ready that pick me up every time. Here they are:
Fools Rush In: A slight departure from the typical romantic comedy about two people (usually white, monolithic prototypes) who meet and fall in love in a most dramatic, serendipitous way, this movie actually starts with a one night stand yet still ends with marriage. Realistic as it may or may not be, women in the modern dating world of hookups and Netflix and Chill can more easily relate to a film that presents the idea of a happy ending despite the unconventional way in which the romance was initiated. Even more progressive, it’s an interracial romance between a white guy (Matthew Perry) and a Latina woman (Salma Hayek) that also reflects the modern look of the dating world. Despite the fact that it was released 20 years ago in 1997, the political statements it makes about feminism, culture, and romance remain relevant. It draws me in every single time.
Bad Boys: Say what you want about Michael Bay films, but I maintain that this movie is exceptional. And no, not exceptional in a bad way— it’s actually fantastic. It’s got explosions, Will Smith and Martin Lawrence in a buddy cop bromance at the height of their big screen careers, the beautiful Miami backdrop, and witty one-liners galore. You can shut your mind off, sink into the sofa, and just enjoy the ride—as empty as it may be.
Pretty Woman: Another untraditional entry in the romcom genre, this classic is simply unmissable. Every time it comes on TV, I must watch it (even if it comes on again right after it goes off). True, there’s something really wrong with the very nature of its premise—a privileged white guy (Richard Gere) who buys a woman off the street (Julia Roberts) who’s holding together her miniskirt with a safety pin for a one-week only transaction that includes sex and escorting—but it still has a happy ending! And it includes diamonds, an epic clapback scene with snooty upscale retail clerks on Rodeo Drive (who hasn’t felt the urge to tell them off one day if given the chance?), and an absolutely amazing soundtrack featuring the late great Natalie Cole. This lifts my spirits every time.
Jersey Girl: No, not the one with JLo. This entry in the romantic comedy genre is steeped in early 90s fashion, lingo, and hair, with exponentially silly New Jersey accents and stereotypes— so much so that it unintentionally makes me laugh at times as it tells the story of a young woman (the criminally underrated Jami Gertz) who lives in the Garden State overlooking a bridge to Manhattan, emblematic of the life that she can only dream of.
I first saw this movie when I was still living in Boston, similarly fantasizing about moving away to the big city, so it holds a particular space in my heart. Like many other films in the genre during this era (including Pretty Woman), Toby (Gertz) meets and falls for a man outside her class (Dylan McDermott), when that kind of thing was considered taboo. She’s headstrong yet naïve and he’s arrogant and preppy, but they ultimately find a path toward each other that concludes with Sal (McDermott) proposing his undying love for Toby while soaking wet, his clothes clinging to his bulging… er, muscles. I literally stand up and cheer at the end.
Wedding Crashers: Who knew that a movie about two adult white men who run around to random wedding after wedding to hook up with female guests would make me laugh out loud like legitimate comedies should? Fratboy humor has never been my thing (I still can’t get through Old School), but this movie right here? Hilarious. And utterly mindless. Vince Vaughan and Owen Wilson play the ultimate idiots, who somehow become successful misogynists and even manage to land real relationships by the end of the film—with women they meet at one of the weddings. While the last act of the movie is somewhat off tone, the rest of the film plays off the great chemistry between Vaughan and Wilson, whose quick banter actually overshadows the great Christopher Walken, who also appears.
The Hangover: This is one of those movies that is as problematic as it is irresistible. A bunch of guys escape their lives— in which they’re forced to be behave like grown-ups— to go buck wild in Vegas for one of their bachelor parties. Things get a little wilder than they planned, their drinks are spiked, and the rest remains a blur that they spend the entire movie piecing together. When the contents of their fractured night come bumbling to the forefront, what’s revealed is a series of poor life decisions, kidnapping, car theft, drugs, and more debauchery. It’s enough to make you consider your sobriety, and maybe even plan your own getaway.
Dirty Dancing: “I carried a watermelon” will forever be the line I use when I, too, have nothing to say in front of the guy I like—and I have Jennifer Grey in this movie to thank for that. In addition to its fantastic soundtrack, epic dance lift in the water (which I think is even better than the final one onstage), and the fact that it stars the late great Patrick Swayze, this ‘50s set romantic drama released in the ‘80s features a seldom discussed abortion—that was and remains a hot button topic among so-called morality arbiters. Oh, but the dancing! Each twirl and suspect grind makes me want to grab a partner immediately, hit the dance floor, and make everyone else uncomfortable-yet-turned-on at the same time. Also, this movie has the witty insult, “Go back to your playpen, Baby,” and that just seals its perfection.
Clueless: I remember when this movie was released in theaters back in 1995. My friend told me that it’s just like the title says— “It’s clueless.” But she said she actually liked it! So, of course I had to check it out. OMG. Why is this movie so dumb yet so smart at the same time? I wanted to run to the nearest store to find as many thigh highs and box hats as I can find, and try to somehow turn my closet into the one in the movie with the special remote control. At its core, the movie is about the fragility and importance of female friendships, and also about self-love. Writer/Director Amy Heckerling pokes fun at the superficiality of her two main characters, played by Alicia Silverstone and Stacey Dash, while also revealing their vulnerability and insecurities amid the often minefield nature of high school. Yes, it’s dumb, but it’s also sweet and harmless. I have lost count how many times I’ve watched this (I can recite every line).
Something New: Great dialogue, especially between women characters of color, resonates with me in a real way. While this film is mostly about the unlikely romance between a black woman (Sanaa Lathan) and a white man (Simon Baker), it is the dialogue between them that is most profound because it’s so genuine. The typical nervousness around telling your girlfriends about your new boyfriend is sometimes amplified when you’re afraid of what they might say, and in this case if they’ll accept the fact that he’s white and you’re black. What’s great about this movie is that it doesn’t shy away from that conversation, and it highlights Kenya’s (Lathan) own insecurities about it. It also highlights those moments when you’re in an interracial relationship and your cultural differences— and how they define how you are perceived and how you perceive the world— come into play. These nuanced touches add gravitas and an importance to the portrayal of this romance.