Murphy’s Romance 1985 Based on the novella by Max Schott. Directed by Martin Ritt. Divorced, single mother Emma Moriarty (Sally Fields) moves to a small Arizona town to try to make a living training and boarding horses. Emma develops an unexpected friendship with local pharmacist, Murphy Jones (James Garner). Murphy has the sense to help by giving her business and emotional support, rather than offering charity. He’s tender, patient, wry, realistic, and reliable.
When Emma’s irresponsible husband comes waltzing back, she’s tempted to believe his remorse and lets him back into her life and bed. Murphy bristles. Though thirty plus years her senior, he’s in love with Emma. Realization slowly dawns. Touching and wise. Garner is palpably real. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Shadowlands 1985 With Joss Akland and Claire Bloom. Free with Amazon Prime.
Shadowlands 1993 Based on the stage play by William Nicholson. The relationship between British author/academic C.S. Lewis (The Narnia Books) and American poet, Joy Davidman, until her death from Cancer. Directed by Richard Attenborough. With Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger.
Confirmed bachelor C.S. Lewis meets fan, Joy Davidman, surprised at and drawn by her acuity and inhibition. Though they marry partly to help Joy stay in England, the relationship stealthily deepens changing Lewis’ outlook for his remaining years. Intelligent and moving. With Edward Hardwicke, Joseph Mazzelo, James Frain, Julian Fellowes. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Forget Paris 1995 Produced, Co-written, directed and starring Billy Crystal. Friends (all couples) successively arrive at a local tavern to celebrate the impending marriage of Andy (Joe Mantegna) and Liz (Cynthia Stevenson). When Mickey (Crystal) and Ellen (Debra Winger) come up in conversation, Andy begins to tell Liz their complicated story. As others arrive, each picks up the tale and continues.
In the process of Mickey begrudgingly carrying out his father’s wishes to be buried near a French battlefield, the airline misplaces the coffin. Employee Ellen Andrews sympathetically comes to his aid, even showing up at the single-mourner funeral. Mickey is attracted to Ellen, he makes her laugh. They spend time. Kismet.
It turns out she’s separated and may or may not get back together with her husband. Not to mention they live in two different countries. That he’s a National Basketball Association referee (he travels) and she works for the airline proves an almost fatal strain on the marriage even through compromises. They careen back and forth across the ocean. Dialogue is sharp and human. Free with Amazon Prime.
Under the Tuscan Sun 2003 Based on Frances Mayes’ memoir. Written, produced, directed by Audrey Wells. Gorgeous to look at and deeply romantic. Recently divorced writer, Frances Mayes (Diane Lane) buys a fixer-upper Tuscan villa on a whim and manages, with some colorful help, to make it charming and livable.
She helps one of her Polish workmen secure his bride despite prejudice, provides refuge for her best friend giving birth, and makes friends with a beautiful expatriate embodying La Dolce Vita. (Lindsay Duncan is wonderful as Katherine). The perfect stranger seems to offer romance but… In the end, however…Yes, it’s happy. Raoul Bova, Vincent Riotta, Sandra Oh. Sigh. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Nights in Rodanthe 2008 An adaptation of Nicholas Sparks’ novel. Directed by George C. Wolfe. Cuckolded wife Adrienne Willis (Diane Lane) agrees to look after a friend’s bed and breakfast beach house in North Carolina. The only scheduled guest is Dr. Paul Flanner (Richard Gere) who’s there to speak with a family suing him for malpractice. A serious storm throws Adrienne and Paul together. (Crashing waves, anyone?) What starts as need, becomes recognition of soulmates.
Adrienne helps Paul to be honest with the adversarial family and reach out to his estranged son. Paul decides he must visit the boy (working with Doctors Without Borders) in South America. When he returns, they’ll marry. Fate interferes. This may be a soap, but it’s a good one. Tourists to the area can rent portions of the house and stay in specific rooms that have been remodeled to appear as they did in the film. Rent on Amazon Prime, Free with Netflix.
Eat, Pray, Love 2010 Based on Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir. Directed and co-written by Ryan Murphy. Newly divorced, Elizabeth Gilbert (Julia Roberts) abandons her safe, comfy, upper middle class life to find herself. She travels to Italy where food and beauty offer nourishment, India, where she meets an unusual guru and, and Indonesia where compassion blossoms and love unexpectedly comes in the window. Pat but pretty and oh what a fantasy as depicted! With Javier Bardem, James Franco, Richard Jenkins, Viola Davis. Rent on Amazon Prime, free with Netflix.
Letters to Juliet 2010 Inspired by the non-fiction book by Lise Friedman and Ceil Friedman. Directed by Gary Winick. A pre-honeymoon trip to Italy finds Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) and Victor (Gael Garcia Bernal) at cross purposes. She anticipates a romantic sojourn, he intends to research food and wine for his incipient restaurant. Wandering Verona, Sophie discovers a wall in which letters to Shakespeare’s Juliet are left in cubbies/cracks, then answered by a group of volunteer women. She joins the respondents and comes across an unanswered letter from Claire Smith (Vanessa Redgrave) dated 1957.
Sophie answers the missive which, miracle of miracles, Claire receives while visiting that very city with her grandson, Charlie Wyman (Christopher Egan). The women meet warly. Sophie talks Claire into trying to track down her lost love and, left alone by her intended, goes on a roadtrip with her and cynical Charlie.
The young people start at odds and are then drawn. Claire is hopeful, regretful, vulnerable, fatalistic. Both denouement and ending are exactly as one might wish in the best of all possible worlds. Call it corny, but the film is an absolute charmer, especially Redgrave. Wait until you see her and real-life ex-lover Franco Nero together! Showtime Trial through Prime, free with Netflix.
Love Is Strange 2014 Conceivably inspired by Leo McCary’s Make Way for Tomorrow. Directed by Ira Sachs. After 39 years together, George (Alfred Molina), a Catholic school choir director and Ben (John Lithgow), a painter, get married. At the ceremony, George officially comes out and is, because of sexual orientation, subsequently fired.
Without his salary, the two older men can’t afford to live together. They sell their co-op and look for a downsized home in the less than friendly social environment of not too long ago. Ben crashes with his nephew and family, while George moves in with a younger gay couple. Difficulties due to close proximity (particularly salient now) arise on both fronts. Acting and direction are splendid. We believe every minute of this low-key film about love, friendship, and displacement. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Top photo: Bigstock