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Cinema’s Time-Spanning Romances

Time: it dictates everything around us, the things we do and how we do them. The same also applies to film. Films often take us on incredible journeys through time and space while maintaining a timely manner about it.

One of the tricks of the trade is skipping certain bits of time to focus on the main action of the narrative. It’s rare that a mainstream film follows the real-time basis of media like television’s 24.

Additionally, the world of film frequently takes liberty with the logic of time. You’re most likely to find such methods in fantasy and science-fiction films, but what about romantic films?

Believe it or not, quite a few tearjerkers have increased the significance of time for dramatic impact; they’ve also tweaked what we know to be true about time to make the stories more interesting and captivating.

Lone Scherfig’s new romantic drama One Day focuses on British college grads Emma (Anne Hathaway) and Dex (Jim Sturgess) as they live their day-to-day lives, dropping in on both on the same day every year for 20 years.

Be it a film where people from different eras become lovers or one that sees a couple’s relationship over a significant period of time, we at Player Affinity have decided to take a look at some of cinema’s other time-spanning romantic ventures.

50 First Dates

Adam Sandler generally draws a crowd for crude and childish antics, but he also boasts some notable films in the rom-com scene like The Wedding Singer, which sees him as the titular crooner who woos bride-to-be Drew Barrymore.

With purposefully cheesy ‘80s-centric humor and style, it remains one of Sandler’s more entertaining comedies. Perhaps it has something to do with his leading lady Barrymore, because the duo’s other team-up picture, 50 First Dates, is another highlight in Sandler’s “spotty” career.

The comedy follows Sandler as he falls in love with an amnesiac played by Barrymore who believes that every day is the day of her father’s birthday. Given that detail, perception of time is the big plot device here as opposed to the actuality of time. It’s what hinders our bumbling leading man Sandler from being able to maintain a stable relationship with the always-enchanting Barrymore.

The joke itself grows a little tired after a while, but Barrymore does a strong enough job of selling it, as it’s always a treat to see her going through the motions of the “same day” time and time again. Plus the resolution is satisfying enough to make 50 First Dates one of Sandler’s few enjoyable mainstream endeavors.

The Lake House

The 1994 action flick Speed established Keanu Reeves as something of an action star and propelled a then-unknown Sandra Bullock to stardom. It also won two Oscars and made more than $100 million domestically.

However, the duo’s romantic collaboration The Lake House didn’t fare quite as well. Unlike Speed, this little charmer faded into nothingness, garnering less than favorable notices from critics and settling in at about $50 million in the States.

In The Lake House, time gets warped through the mailbox at – where else? – the lake house. Bullock and Reeves occupy the residence in 2006 and 2004, respectively, and after a little misunderstanding, the two begin to communicate through each other on a regular basis by writing notes and sending them through the mailbox.

Though the time-altering device here is admittedly ridiculous, The Lake House actually pokes a bit of fun at its own convention with the staging and introduction of the time-traveling mail system. Surprisingly enough, this method also becomes engaging to watch during the moments of greatest dramatic tension.

Reeves works surprisingly well as a romantic lead, and Bullock engages the audience as she always does.

Somewhere in Time

Released just a few months after Superman II, the sappy 1980 romance Somewhere in Time desperately tried to cash in on the popularity of Clark Kent himself, Christopher Reeve. But even with a hot young star on the rise, moviegoers didn’t buy into the tawdry romance, and with a plot as silly as the one here, it’s not hard to imagine why.

The big manipulation of time here is time travel, but it doesn’t come by way of a supernatural force or DeLorean time machine. With Somewhere in Time, time travel is all in the mind and in perception.

It’s a really interesting idea that may have worked if properly executed, but the way that it’s utilized here is laughably awful. Consequently, the big climactic moment in the film sees this time-travel method going awry in a manner that inspires a good chuckle instead of the intended urgency and despair.

But the movie isn’t without some merit. That Oscar nomination for Costume Design certainly didn’t come for no reason, and Christopher Plummer proves once again that he’s one of the silver screen’s most powerful presences (much better here than in the aforementioned “Lake House”).

Last but not least, there’s Jane Seymour, an always underrated talent, who carries her role with grace, curiosity and a certain kind of mystery that lures you into the narrative and actually makes you care about the happenings in the film, even though it’s all a poorly calculated mess.

The Way We Were

College students from opposite sides of the social spectrum falling in love. But isn’t that always the way with young love in cinema? While it sounds like your average, run-of-the-mill romance, The Way We Were is anything but that thanks to its down-to-earth depiction of love and its characters.

It all starts in college, where an easygoing athlete (Robert Redford) and frumpy political activist (Barbra Streisand) become enchanted with one another despite “knowing better” due to their social differences. However, we don’t get a simple, that’s-where-the-story-ends narrative, as The Way We Were follows the two as their relationship progresses through adulthood.

The on-again, off-again roller coaster that is the romance between Redford and Streisand seems like a bit much at times, but the fire between the two never fails to grab for the heartstrings and hit straight in the gut. It’s also a genuine treat to see how they stay the same over the years despite also becoming radically different.

It lacks the feel-good ending of most romances, but The Way We Were is all the better for it.

When Harry Met Sally…

When Harry Met Sally…
is without a doubt one of the greatest romantic comedies ever, and even when singled out as simply a romance, it also stands the test of time. As such, it’s the best film on this list and arguably the greatest screen romance to employ time-related trickery.

The film sees the exuberant Sally (Meg Ryan) and aggravating Harry (Billy Crystal) bumping into each other on and off again, slowly but surely building a powerful friendship that turns in to something more. In other words, it’s not too structurally different from The Way We Were.

When Harry Met Sally…
could have easily had its leads fall head over heels for one another upon first meeting, as plenty of other attempts at on-screen passion have taken such a route. However, what happens here is something much more complex and more enjoyable, not to mention purely hysterical.

Yes, the “I’ll have what she’s having” scene has entered the film history books as one of the great comedic scenes in cinema, but the way that Crystal and Ryan interact with one another is just as adorable and humorous. When it comes to time-spanning romance, all one needs to do is look to the time when Harry met Sally.


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