In honor of Valentine's Day, I thought I'd review one of the most romantic movies ever - An Affair to Remember. I'm writing this on the assumption that most of you have seen it, or at least are familiar with it, so there will be really serious spoilers.
Here's the thing - I don't usually like romantic movies. Or rather, I like romance, but the sort of overly earnest schmaltz that I associate with the phrase "the most romantic movie of all time!" just sends me running to the hills. A Nicholas Sparks fan I am not.
So I sat down to watch this with rather low expectations. I figured it would be worthwhile for Cary Grant and some great 50s costuming, but I wasn't really invested in the idea of watching some kind of sweeping, cliche-ridden romance.
I could not have been more wrong about this movie. It's not a melodrama, filled with torturous declarations of undying passion and making out in the rain - it's two smart, charming, interesting, and attractive people who, against their own inclinations, fall in love with each other. What's more, falling in love shows them who they could be, and inspires both of them to make the changes their lives need to feel fulfilled. Really, what better love story could there be?
One of the things that makes this movie work so well is all of the time spent getting to know Terry (Deborah Kerr) and Nickie (Cary Grant). You actually get to see all of the stages that their relationship progresses through as they get to know one another - Nickie, the charming playboy, realizing that Terry could be so much more than other other women that he's pursued over the years; Terry, the intelligent and talented singer, discovering that Nickie is a better person than he lets on. The close confines of their ocean liner throw them together again and again, and eventually both of them soften enough to form a friendship. After a visit to Nickie's grandmother, where the old woman senses the spark between the two of them and Terry gets to see Nickie with his guard all the way down, you really feel the love blossom between the two of them. They never lose their crackling wit, though, and there's always a subtle undercurrent of humor to bring things back down to earth.
Of course, everyone knows about their planned meeting at the top of the Empire State Building, since it's been referenced so many times in pop culture - Sleepless in Seattle did a great job reminding a new generation that yes, this was a thing. What surprised me was how they treated what came after. Terry, even paralyzed, is fiercely proud and independent. Although she accepts some emotional support from her ex-fiance, she doesn't let him help her out financially. She doesn't want to be a burden on anyone, most of all Nickie, which is why she doesn't just tell him what happened.
I'm not ashamed to admit that I cried during the final scene. He's there, and he's trying so hard to find out why she didn't come, but he's too proud to ask her outright, and she's too proud to tell him. I think it really is a testament to the actors that the scene is so full of longing, sadness, and hope, but never veers into frustration with the characters. It's actually pretty magical when things finally fall into the place and Nickie realizes just what happened; I think my heart grew three sizes when they kissed, and Terry hopefully murmurs that "anything can happen."
Of course, I don't know what they're going to do if she never recovers, but I'M NOT UNDERCUTTING THIS. No. It's very sweet, emotionally resonant, and lacking in the "rich man/poor but attractive woman" dynamic that I usually find a little icky in movies from this era. Plus, you know, Cary Grant and great 50s costuming.
Who else has seen An Affair to Remember? What did you think of it?