Because everyone could stand to smile a bit more, Orlando (my previous pen name) is suggesting some films that will cheer you, films that are for the most part as amusing as they are entertaining. All are currently available on streaming platforms, with the majority available on Netflix.
First up is a 2012 British flick called “Quartet” that was Dustin Hoffman’s directing debut. It is based on a play by Ronald Harwood that had a brief run in London”s West End at the end of 1999, about the residents of a retirement home for professional musicians.
Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay and Michael Gambon lead a talented cast that has much of the real thing on screen also (watch closing credits). Residents of Beecham House, patterned after the real-life Casa di Riposo per Musicisti founded by Giuseppe Verdi, perform a gala every year on Verdi’s birthday. It helps raise money to keep Beecham House operating.
When residents discover that celebrated soprano Jean Horton (Smith) is joining them, she of the famous “Rigoletto” quartet, plans are made to entice her to sing again — this despite the fact that her ex (Courtenay), the tenor in the quartet, is still bruised. Pauline Collins is outstanding as the senile mezzo of the group.
“Mystic Pizza” (1988) is the film that sealed not only Julia Roberts’ career, but introduced Annabeth Gish and Lili Taylor too. It’s not quite a coming-of-age story, but close enough, about three Portuguese-American girls, two of them sisters, who live and work at a pizza restaurant in Mystic, Connecticut. One of them is headed to Yale, one lands a boyfriend on the moneyed side of the tracks, and one is just trying to get up enough nerve to marry her boyfriend — she’s already bailed at the altar once.
“Private Benjamin” (1980) remains one of my three favorite Goldie Hawn films. The other two are “Foul Play” and “The First Wives Club.” But “Private Benjamin” has a great Nancy Myers/Harvey Miller/Charles Shyer screenplay that is drop dead funny.
In it, Jewish princess Judy Benjamin just wants to get married and be taken care of, and when her husband drops dead on their wedding night, she lets an Army recruiter sell her a bill of goods about condos and 30 days of vacation. The reality is a wake-up call. It doesn’t get any better than Eileen Brennan’s Captain Doreen Lewis.
Nora Ephron wrote and directed “Julie and Julia,” (2009) a delightful confection about Julia Child and Julie Powell, the young New Yorker who quit her job and cooked all 524 recipes in Julia Child’s double volume cookbook in 365 days, blogged about it and then wrote her memoir.
The film cuts back and forth between Child’s experience in Paris, learning French cooking with an elongated (stacked heels and long skirts) Meryl Streep playing the 6-foot-2 Child; and Amy Adams as Powell. Warning: you’ll emerge starving. It was Ephron’s final film before her death in 2012.
“Easy A” (2010) is the film that lit up Emma Stone’s career, a teen comedy directed by William Gluck, with a stellar cast including Stanley Tucci, Patricia Clarkson, Thomas Haden Church, Lisa Kudrow and Amanda Bynes. Writer Bert V. Royal said he based his screenplay partially on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1850 novel, The Scarlet Letter.
It was a surprise hit, both with critics and audiences, making $75 million on an $8 million budget. Olive (Stone) lies to her best friend about having a date with a college boy, so she won’t have to go camping with her family. The following Monday, she has to make the story sound good, and that version is overheard and broadcast around school.
In telling one of her boy friends, he wishes someone would misunderstand him, so kids would quit teasing him about being gay. So when Olive volunteers to say she slept with him, offers start pouring in requesting all kinds of “fake” activities in exchange for gift cards or money. It plays funnier than it sounds.
“Silver Linings Playbook” (2012) was written and directed by David O. Russell, one of the zaniest directors out there (“I (heart) Huckabees,” “Three Kings”), and his “Silver Linings” romantic comedy with Bradley Cooper playing the bi-polar Pat Solitano and Jennifer Lawrence as the widow with a sex addiction only augments that reputation. Just these two characters would be enough entertainment, but Russell had to throw in Jacki Weaver and Robert De Niro as Pat’s parents. Get the popcorn and soft drinks out.