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4 Star-Crossed Epics That'll Kill 2+ Hours Apiece
Oh the longing!
It’s no secret that TBP moonlights as a Sondheim stan blog and that we’ve been in the tank for Steven Spielberg’s remake of West Side Story since it was announced years ago. Well, James and I took 11-year-old L.B. to see it on the big screen Saturday and even walking down the theater corridor felt like an event—like all of the ushers were going to burst into “Let’s Go To The Movies!”(IRL the ushers did not burst into song, though TBP did briefly…until L.B. politely asked us to cool it. Fine!) The movie itself? A tribute, a triumph! An epic and an antidote to the Omicron blues (though wear your mask in there, please)! Riff, played by TBP’s new object of fascination Mike Faist, will break your heart; Tony, played by Ansel Elgort, will make you feel nothing if not short; Maria, played by Rachel Zegler, will make you feel old; Anita, played by Ariana DeBose, will make you feel like you should sign up for a mambo class (and you should!). It’s a lot to take in, in the best way. In celebration of this newly rendered Romeo and Juliet-derived classic, TBP brings you more tales of star-crossed lovers, all of which are also excellent family diversions for the long winter break.
Titanic (1997; Paramount+): “Children, Are you ready for this?” I said to H.B. and L.B. as the camera panned to the depths of the ocean. Suddenly, I was transported back to a Friday night in December; the year was 1997 and my buddy Mollie Hederman and I had settled into our fourth-row seats at Flowood, Mississippi’s Parkway Place theater. We were there to mainline The. Greatest. Love. Story. Ever. Told. Over the next three hours and change, we would gasp at Billy Zane’s eyelinered villainy (“It is unsinkable…It is unsinkab… It is unsin….”); drool over Leonardo DiCaprio’s tan, childish bod; act casual when faced with Kate Winslet’s one massive breast; and weep and weep and weep some more. The injustice of it all! Of course, we were planning our next viewing as the credits rolled. All told, I spent around $50 of my hard-earned dog-sitting money (and as close readers know, I’m not even a dog person) watching and re-watching Leo and Kate Winslet steam up an old-timey car. Flash-forward to the year 2021, when at my urging, our kids reluctantly settled in. But two hours later they were captive to the saga of Jack, Rose, and that evil iceberg like the good red-blooded American children I knew they were. The special effects, though not what they were in ’97—Dunkirk this is not—still held up well enough to prompt some people to cover their eyes while screaming in horror. The scene where the poor mother in steerage tucks her children into bed, knowing that their cabin will soon be besieged by freezing water, made James tear up all over again. By the time Rose and Jack were bobbing in the Atlantic, with Rose using that door (is it a door?) for a raft, H. and L. were fully engrossed—right until the moment we abruptly paused the movie to get to a get-together at the grandparents’. The kids were peeved, and for good reason. The next day, they rewound to about the hour mark to make sure they were good and warmed up by the time they got back to the dramatic finale. Almost a quarter-century old, this movie still floats the boats of kids of all ages. (Though I should warn you that through adult-colored glasses, Titanic is not a great movie—the writing is atrocious, the casting kinda bonkers. In spite of it all, it’s really fun family watch.)
Romeo + Juliet (1996; YouTube): Speaking of Leo! Baz Luhrmann’s Miami-set, guns-as-swords take on the O.G. Shakespearean romance was—and maybe still is!—the coolest thing that ever happened to PG-13 movies and also my English class (thanks for reading, Ms. Spell!). The soundtrack, the chemistry between Leo and Claire Danes, the wild sets, John Leguizamo, it’s all incredibly transportive—though maybe not transportive enough if your group watches tend to include chatty family members (iambic pentameter requires focus). It’s okay to send your teen down to the basement to watch this one solo.
Twilight (2008; Netflix and Amazon Prime): The vampire love story that spawned a zillion sequels and even more copycats is a surprisingly lively choice for family movie night. Kristen Stewart—now an Oscar-nom lock!—and Rob Pattinson’s syrupy yearning between human and vampire will keep young swooners engaged, while the supporting cast, sometimes wackadoo writing, and general campy vibe make it entertaining for the whole crew.
In the Heights (2021; HBO Max): Can you imagine making the other 2021 musical involving star-crossed lovers, a large Puerto Rican cast, and epic dance scenes in el barrio, including at least one fire-escape duet? Director Jon Chu can! While In the Heights isn’t half the movie West Side Story is—and how could it be, really—our kids liked it a whole lot. Back in June, when we were all starved for Hollywood escapism, the grownups thought it was pretty fun, too.
A Walk to Remember (2002; rent from $3.99): This saccharine romance is best reserved for tween and teen audiences. That is unless one of the parents has a long-held yen for high school-aged Shane West and/or Mandy Moore, presaging her turn as a brunette in This Is Us.