Date films. Just the two of you, snuggling together, enjoying the blissful haze of young, innocent love.
But wait. Smart daters recognize that these films can be something more: a subtle detection device to determine whether you and your loved one are right for each other.
If the object of your affections can’t stand your taste in films, there’s a risk he or she won’t be able to tolerate your taste in clothes, your level of cleanliness or your general view of the world. Plenty of couples don’t share movie preferences and still claim to be happy. But it’s better to find out cinematic differences sooner than later, when they come out during trying, and expensive, marriage counseling.
Which films are innocuous, which will test your future happiness? A sampling of each:
Innocuous date films
You’d have to be a Vulcan not to enjoy these immensely. They’re safe, fun and romantic.
“It Happened One Night”: The original date film. Claudette Colbert is a spoiled rich girl who runs away to find happiness. Clark Gable is the crusty reporter who chases her. The two quip back and forth for the requisite amount of time before falling head over heels.
When Gable undressed in this film, revealing that he was wearing no undershirt, idol-worshiping fans across the land stopped wearing undershirts, too. Nearly ruined the T-shirt industry.
“The Philadelphia Story”: One of the wittiest love triangle stories ever (it’s actually a love pentagram, but let’s not quibble).
Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn play a divorced couple who find on the eve of her new marriage that they may be right for each other after all. Jimmy Stewart, in an Oscarwinning role, plays a crusty reporter (there apparently were no other kind in those days) who gets dragged into the middle of it. One of the perfect films of all time.
“The Sure Thing”: Part one of the John Cusack Date Film Double Feature. Cusack plays a college freshman who travels from the East Coast to California to get a “Sure Thing”: a curvy blonde.
Along for the ride, and not a sure thing at all, is Daphne Zuniga (currently wasting her days on “Melrose Place”). Will Cusack choose the “Sure Thing” over the prickly charms of Zuniga? It’s a date film, remember.
“Say Anything”: Part 2 of the John Cusack Date Film Double Feature, and probably the best teen romance film of the past 15 years.
This time, Cusack plays a good-hearted average Joe who falls for the smartest, prettiest girl in school, played by Ione Skye. The script, by Cameron Crowe, hits all the right teenage grace notes (if you can call them that). Cusack, king of the date films, is great.
“Sleepless in Seattle”: I took a girl to this film, and we ended up married. So I know this one works.
Tom Hanks is a lonely widower in Seattle whose kid calls a radio show to find a date for him. Meg Ryan is the woman who goes across the country to find him. Goofy, funny and terribly romantic.
Not innocuous date films
These will give you an indication if your special someone is operating on the same cinematic frequency.
“The Tall Guy”: Absolutely hysterical, with Jeff Goldblum as a gawky American actor in London and Emma Thompson the nurse who loves him. This reeks of infantile British humor, about three degrees off Monty Python. Some find this stuff gut-busting, others don’t get it. If they don’t, there’s something very wrong.
“Wild at Heart”: Want to see if your loved one is one of those “normal-looking-on-the-outside but-a-festering-cauldron-of-insanity-on-th e-inside” sorts?
“Wild at Heart” will ferret them out. Nick Cage and Laura Dern play a horny and demented (but lovestruck) couple who tear their way through the American landscape. If your intended watches this and says, “Ha! That was nothing,” head for the other side of the couch.
“The Natural”: Robert Redford as the legendary Roy Hobbs. A test for baseball lovers. If your squeeze doesn’t “get” this one, don’t expect them to be willing to go on that tour of American League stadiums you have planned for next summer.
“Edward Scissorhands”: A test of subtlety. Johnny Depp stars as a Frankensteinish creation with scissors for hands. On the surface, merely another Tim Burton experiment in gentle weirdness. But there’s a love story, between Ed and the character played by Winona Ryder. If all your flame gets out of this is to avoid guys with shearing implements as hands, it’s a sign that you’ll have to settle for obvious gifts on Valentine’s Day.
“The War of the Roses”: Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas play a couple who turn their house into a war zone. Wicked black humor about divorce.
Why is it a date film? To check your partner’s sense of humor about commitment. If he or she giggles nervously and casts sidelong glances at you, it means he or she is wondering what you’re trying to say. But if at the end the only thing your partner wants to know is what you have to eat around the house, things are pretty safe.