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I guess I just like liking things


I did not set out this week to watch two black and white movies, much less write about them both. But here we are. I know, I know – for a guy who professes to not care much for old movies, I sure have been talking about them a lot.

Today’s movie was recommended a long time ago by a friend: The Apartment, from 1960. It won Oscars for

  • Best Picture
  • Best Director
  • Best Writing, Story and Screenplay – Written Directly for the Screen
  • Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White
  • Best Film Editing

and it’s not quite like anything I’ve ever seen. I guess I’d call it a “romantic comedy,” but there’s a suicide attempt right smack in the middle of it, so it’s not all light and fluffy. Oh, and spoiler alert for a 54-year-old movie, I guess.

Jack Lemmon plays C. C. Baxter, a low-level employee at an insurance company in New York. IMDb’s synopsis puts his situation this way: “A man tries to rise in his company by letting its executives use his apartment for trysts, but complications and a romance of his own ensue.” He has had a sorta-crush on Miss Fran Kubelik (played by Shirley MacLaine) for some time and finally asks her to go to a play with him,  but…

I started typing out a run-through of the plot, but I wasn’t doing it justice. It’s available on Netflix streaming, so give it a watch and then come back.

Back? Okay. See what I mean? great movie, right? The interesting thing to me is how it affected my view of modern rom-coms. I don’t tend to like like rom-coms (which is why I’m going to continue using the dismissive term “rom-com”!), but it’d be hard for me to articulate why. I’m just as happy about people falling in love as the next person, so it seems like I should like them, right? For the most part they’re too manufactured, too unrealistic. I can more easily buy science fiction than I can the premises like “she’s a quirky pet tattooist/he’s an architect for water parks: you won’t believe what brings them together!” Fifty years ago we didn’t have tablet computers, but people fell in love back then the same way the do now: usually believably.

And that’s where The Apartment comes in. It’s believable. The characters ring true, and they act like people actually do.  Well, except when they act better than people normally do, but that’s what you want out of your heroes, right? Several times Baxter lets people assume the worst of him as a means of protecting other people. There’s no attention drawn to it, no speech to the viewer about the struggle of doing it and how it’s unfair, no demanding of the other person that they acknowledge his actions and repay him somehow – he just does it.  Of course, he’s not perfect. Letting his married bosses use his apartment for meeting their girlfriends is not behavior one would call “heroic,” especially since he’s doing it to try to advance at work. But flaws make for believable characters, and the movie is full of them.

Fran is no Manic Pixie Dream Girl, and it’s refreshing.  (Normally a person uses “refreshing” when talking about something new that stands out, but in this case I had to go back about 54 years to find it.) I don’t have extensive knowledge of films from the era, so I don’t know if her character is standard or radically different, all I know is the Fran stands in sharp contrast to today’s group of female interests who want to pay for their meal with a song (which is a reference to a particular episode of Community that I can’t seem to find right now).

I’ll never be a film critic, as I’m terrible at finding, dissecting, and articulating themes and whatnot, but I know what I like. The Apartment is sad and sweet and funny, and I highly recommend it.


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