Like a lot of film journalists, Mark Kermode has spent a fair chunk of his professional life in hotel rooms. So it came as a welcome relief when he was asked to visit The Dixon in Tower Bridge not to wait for a movie star but instead to be shot for Marriott Bonvoy alongside his wife Linda Ruth Williams, by legendary snapper Rankin.
“One of the reasons I think the photos are good is that I’m laughing in them,” says Kermode. “Linda and I have been married 30 years basically so we’re not acting. We’re in love, it’s fine. But it’s quite hard to capture that in a picture. Well how do you do it? You make them laugh, because that’s what it looks like.”
This theme of love and laughter is one Kermode has a particular affection for in his day job as a movie watcher.
“There was a period in which romcoms were the meat and potatoes of cinema production,” he explains.
“The whole idea that cinema needs to be geared to teenage boys is a very modern phenomenon. Women used to outnumber men in terms of audience and romcoms were an absolute staple. They were smartly written, they were a really good opportunity for performers to shine and they had universal appeal.”
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So what are some of his favourites? We asked Kermode, Chief Film Critic for the Observer and on the BBC News Channel Film Review, to choose an oldie, a semi-oldie and something comparatively new.
“It Happened One Night is an absolutely brilliant movie that you can watch now and it still looks just as edgy and funny and sharp and smart as it did then,” says Kermode. “I want all modern romcoms to live up to that.”
Directed by Frank Capra, the 1934 smash stars Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert as a reporter and heiress who fall in love during a road trip. It’s one of only three movies which has performed the so-called Oscar grand slam, winning Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay (the others are One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and The Silence of the Lambs).
“If you look at what Sight and Sound called the best movie of this year, Joanna Hogg’s movie The Souvenir, there is a scene which is very specifically referencing It Happened One Night. The Souvenir is very modern and serious. [But] I think what that tells you is It Happened One Night endures through the ages.”
“Splash is one of the most enduring romcoms of all time, not least because it demonstrates the romcom isn’t one thing,” he explains. “When The Shape of Water won the Oscar for Best Picture, it was called The Creature from the Black Lagoon meets Splash. Well, Splash is The Creature from the Black Lagoon meets It Happened One Night.”
Directed by Ron Howard, the 1984 movie tells the story of a man (Tom Hanks) who falls in love with a mermaid (Daryl Hannah) after she rescues him from drowning, while nefarious sorts seek to expose her when she follows him to New York (her fin turns into legs when it’s dry).
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“It’s got a brilliant performance by Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah and John Candy’s never been funnier. I could quote you the whole of the film. People were very surprised going back to it that there is as much raunchiness as there is, but what’s lovely about it is it’s raunchy, but it’s never crude. People forget there are great comic set pieces in it, like when Tom Hanks is passed out on the bar and John Candy is saying it’s not because he’s drunk too much, it’s because he’s too skinny.”
“I’d make an argument that alongside When Harry Met Sally, Punch-Drunk Love is probably my favourite romcom,” reveals Kermode. “Punch-Drunk Love is a really cracked love story about two people who are vying with madness. When you watch the movie again, when he’s in the supermarket, there’s a character stalking him and that character is clearly her. The fact that she’s actually in pursuit of him is done really well.”
Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (Phantom Thread), the 2002 film stars Adam Sandler and Emily Watson, the former a novelty trinkets supplier whose goal is to buy enough chocolate pudding to get him the air miles he needs to travel around the world for free.
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“They’re telling each other how much they love each other and he says, ‘your face is so beautiful I want to smash it with a hammer’ and she says, ‘I want to scoop out your eyeballs and eat them’,” laughs Kermode. “And this is somehow romantic!”
“People are always saying the romcoms have gone away and then they’re coming back. They never went away, it’s just there are golden ages where you notice there are really good romcoms.
“Romcoms are rarely just romcoms. They’re romcoms and fantasies or they’re romcoms and coming-of-age movies. They rarely exist in isolation. [Kermode’s Secrets of Cinema co-writer] Kim Newman was telling me The Fly was a romcom… boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy accidentally splices himself genetically with a fly in a teleporter, boy gets girl back again but gets his head blown off!”
Mark Kermode and Linda Ruth Williams captured by Rankin for Loyalty & Love, a collaboration with Marriott Bonvoy, the travel programme from Marriott International. For more stories of Loyalty & Love visit MarriottLoyaltyandLove.com