Now that it’s officially springtime, I’m sure we’re all in the mood for a little whimsy on our teles. Trouble is, this is a lot trickier to find in quality film form than one would think. In search of free-hearted, magical fare for the cinephile soul, I watched a couple dreadful attempts at magical-realism this week that were way too light and fluffy, lacking solid story to boot. I’ve thought about these films more throughout the week and have come up with the hypothesis that in order for a whimsical, slightly magical, film to work it needs a dark side. For your springy viewing pleasure, here are some of my whimsical favorites that strike the right balance between light-hearted elements and real emotion…
- “Amelie” (2001) – This film made me want to move to Montreal and learn French, and is what later inspired me to go to film school. It’s about a waitress whose hopeless romanticism turns her into a do-gooder, and the vibrant cinematography coupled with the film’s realist elements make it infinitely watchable.
- “Pushing Daisies” (2007-9) – I have a love/hate relationship with this TV series, with a premise of a young man who’s capable of bringing people back from the dead yet incapable of ever physically touching those he brings back. He works as a pie maker and detective’s assistant, giving this story of unrequited love a film-noir feel and imbuing it with word play you’d expect to find on AP tests. In spite of this witty reparté, I still think this show could have benefited from exploring its dark side and genuine emotion more often. Perhaps this is what drove it off the air after less than two seasons.
- “500 Days of Summer” (2009) – This romantic comedy from the male point of view centers on a greeting-card writer and mocks its genre with an alternative narrative structure. It has just the dose of romanticism (and animation) coupled with realism to make any viewer fall in love.
- “Edward Scissorhands” (1990) – This Tim Burton Classic features Johnny Depp and topiaries in a way you’ve never seen them before. Walking the fine line between sci-fi, fairy tale, and downright awesomeness, this fable of a feature film about a man with razor-sharp-fingers is a modern classic of romance that teaches pretty young thangs it’s okay to be different.
- “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events” (2004) – On the surface, this is a children’s movie based on a young-adult series, but it does an excellent job of balancing dark- and- light-hearted subject matter. As a bonus, it is one of the rare Jim Carrey movies that does not let him run rampant with his comedic talent, focusing on story above fanaticism.
- “Down With Love” (2003) – This Renee Zellweger movie is whimsical via metaphor and ontimontoepia. It is a romantic comedy that toys with improprieties and impossibilities of love while chronicling the love affair of a cynical self-help novelist-turned-Harlequin heroine.
- “Big Fish” (2003) – This is another Tim Burton movie that has caught flack for all its voice-overs, but the fantastical spirit and memoir feel make for a much deeper ride than one might first expect.
Psst: Do you have any whimsical film favorites that I missed? Do tell.