Okay, chill the hell out Meg Ryan.
My only real knowledge of the legendary “An Affair to Remember” came from the plot of “Sleepless in Seattle” (apparently when the Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan flick was released in 1993, VHS sales of “An Affair to Remember” skyrocketed) and the iconic meeting on the top of the Empire State Building. I expected it to be pretty schmaltzy, but I don’t mind a bit of schmaltz, not when some of my favourite movies include “The Sound of Music”, “My Fair Lady” and the Richard Curtis rom-coms of the 90s. Schmaltz isn’t the issue here, its more that I didn’t expect one of the most famous romantic comedies of all time to be so dull, unfunny, cynical, unromantic and starring two lead characters who are, amongst other things, genuine assholes.
The film stars Cary Grant as Nicolò (Nickie) Ferrante, an internationally notorious and devilishly handsome playboy and Deborah Kerr as Terry McKay, an elegant and sharply tongued jazz singer who meet aboard a luxury cruise liner on a journey from Europe to New York. After some brief and heated flirtation on the boat and a bizarre meeting with Nickie’s grandmother in which the two women bond and Terry literally melts into Nickie’s arms, the couple (both of whom are engaged to comparatively wonderful people) decide to meet at the top of the Empire State Building in six months if they are able to leave their current relationships and are prepared to throw aside the prejudices and sneers of society in the name of love. Unfortunately, Terry is hit by a car on her way to reunite with Nickie and rushed to hospital while Nickie assumes that he’s been stood up and that she doesn’t love him anymore. Both are too proud and stubborn to confront the other until they inevitably melt into each other’s arms once he discovers the truth.
Admittedly, the initial meeting on the boat and the sneaky rendezvous’ trying to court while hiding from the prying eyes and snooty laughter of the upper class passengers is quite fun. There is some nicely choreographed slapstick comedy and some nicely barbed back and forths between Grant and Kerr, not as much as I would have expected but there are definitely some moments. Then as soon as they go and visit Nickie’s grandmother at Villefranche-sur-Mer off the Mediterranean coast, any sense of empathy I may have been developing for the couple flew right out the window. Terry’s feelings for Nickie are somehow solidified by the fact that his grandmother (who strangely is literally only about 15 years older than he is) says that he’s a good boy and that he’s a gifted painter. It just seemed so tacky and shallow; all of a sudden this guy is sensitive and sweet because his Gran says so, despite the whole world knowing he’s a womaniser and kind of a creep.
Once Nickie and Terry get to New York, things just became too ridiculous for me to suspend my disbelief even for the sake of romantic whimsy. Nickie breaks it off with his wealthy fiance, and for some reason is then is so poor that he has to start painting for a living since its the only thing he’s truly good at, but that’s alright because its honest work and he’s shaken off the shackles of the rat race. Meanwhile he’s still going to the opera with New York’s high society and his grandmother is sitting up on her French mansion complete with its own chapel, somehow I don’t think this is a destitute family and I found it hard to believe that he’s so poor now that he has to scrounge for money by painting canvases. Terry meanwhile has taken to teaching music to primary school children since her accident, and there are two genuinely unbearable and completely unnecessary scenes with her conducting a school choir filled with freckle faced misfits who I’m sure are supposed to be cute but I couldn’t help but hope that a disgruntled neighbour would come round and douse them all with a fire hose.
The whole schtick in the second act is that Terry is too proud to tell Nickie that she’s now crippled, while he of course doesn’t bother calling her to check if she’s alright because he’s been stood up. None of it made any sense! If their love was so strong that she was willing to break it off with her adoring and saintly fiance (to be honest he was probably better off, I was shocked at how poorly she treats the guy) for a man she met on a cruise liner, then surely she would trust him with the knowledge that she can’t walk anymore. Did they really not keep in touch for the six months after they had arrived back in New York? Not even for dinner or for her to sing him a jazzy tune while he paints a portrait of himself? And when he found out that it was her who had bought his painting in the final scene, I can remember actually laughing out loud at how stupid the whole thing was.
After a while I just gave in to the fact that “An Affair to Remember” wasn’t even that romantic or funny anymore, it was just stupid. The two leads are both narcissistic dickheads and I just didn’t care what happened to them, at one point I was actively hoping that they both ended up miserable and received some sort of comeuppance for screwing over everyone in their lives. For a film that has so much nostalgia and esteem surrounding it, this was a massive disappointment and I feel bad that Meg Ryan couldn’t find a movie with a better romance story for her Saturday night. Like “Ghostbusters”.
By Jock Lehman
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