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Five of my Favorite Life Affirming Movies
What a Life Affirming Movie is to me
I love movies. And, I am in good company as it's a billion dollar industry that is not soon to go out of business.
I tend to be drawn mostly to quiet, independent films that are more about being character driven than about big plot twists or action/adventure. For me, I love a movie that speaks to the human condition and one where there is significant character development throughout the course of the film. There are many, many movies I could list and even more genre's and topics I could address. For this article I've chosen five films from the past 20 years or so that have stood out in my memory as being very uplifting and very life affirming. I will share them with you here.
The Station Agent
The Station Agent was made in 2003 and stars Peter Dinklage, Patricia Clarkson and Bobby Canavale. It is set in rural NJ in present time and the story is told from the main character's perspective; that of Fin, a reclusive Dwarf. Fin has inherited a defunct Train Station after a dear friend dies and wills it to him.
Being a fan of all things related to trains, Fin gladly relocates and takes up residence in the funky little train station in a tiny town. He is determined to keep to himself and not make friends, but the movie construct would have his wishes not met! First, he finds that a food truck being run by Joe (played beautifully by Bobby Canavale) sets up right outside his home every day from 8 am until about 500 pm. Joe is a very talkative, affable guy of thirty who wants nothing more than to befriend the reclusive Fin. Then, there is Olivia, a wounded middle aged woman who comes to buy her coffee from Joe and coincidentally meets Fin at the same time.
What ensues is a film about three vastly different people who become the unlikeliest of friends. And, I love that this movie really let's us know the characters and how they have come to be who they are. Fin has experienced significant ridicule for being a dwarf and Olivia is suffering from heartbreak. Joe is the most carefree of the three, though he's running the food cart because his father is recovering from heart surgery.
The story unfolds over a period of perhaps a few weeks and it's simply lovely to see these three very diverse characters find some commonality and become real friends. I absolutely love the realistic dialogue of the characters and how they navigate personal drama's to come full circle to real friendship.
I think if you like character driven movies this one will be sure to please.
The Fisher King
This movie is one of the more obscure films Robin Williams made. It was released in 1991 and stars Robin Williams, Jeff Bridges and had a good supporting cast including Mercedes Ruehl and Amanda Plummer.
The movie is set in the present time. Jeff Bridges character is Jack who was a prominent, successful radio disc jockey in NYC. He has become nearly homeless following a tragedy that occurred several years prior to the movie's start. He is now living with Anne, (played fabulously by Mercedes Ruehl) who runs a Video Store.
Robin Williams character is Perry, who is homeless and seemingly insane. As the movie unfolds we learn that Perry is not insane at all, but the victim of a horrible crime that has left him ruined from the once successful ad executive he had been. He has become homeless because he is unable to function any longer in regular society.
Through interesting circumstances these two meet and become linked. Jack feels he needs to help Perry in order to redeem himself, and Perry is living in a fantasy world and can't remember the trauma that has led him to be homeless.
The movie unfolds amid a backdrop of the King Arthur legend as Jack set's out to help Perry win the woman of his dreams, Lydia (played by Amanda Plummer) and to help him with his quest for the Holy Grail (literally)!
At turns poignant, dramatic, tragic and humorous, this movie has all the elements to keep you engrossed.
For me, it was the beauty of seeing a friendship blossom between two disparate characters and for the character of Jack to find his humanity as he allows himself to actually like Perry. He does indeed find redemption along the way, and it is truly beautiful to witness the machinations he goes through thinking he's redeeming himself when he is actually helping another person.
This is not a laugh fest, in spite of Robin Williams being the star. There are true moments of humor, but much more pathos. I absolutely love this film and count it among Robin Williams best work.
Million Dollar Baby
This movie came out in 2004 and stars Clint Eastwood and Hilary Swank. It is one of the more popular releases among my selections so many more of you have likely seen it. It was also directed beautifully by Eastwood and has the wonderful supporting work of Morgan Freeman.
Set in modern times, Hilary Swank is a woman in her early thirties who is from a very poor background and not very well educated but who has a dream of being a professional boxer. She finds herself at the Gym that is being run by Clint Eastwood's character Frankie and Morgan Freeman. They teach boxers and work with them. Hilary Swanks character Maggie comes in determined to get Frankie to be her manager. He wants nothing to do with her. He doesn't want to coach a woman boxer, and he really doesn't want to coach her! He is very adamant, but he is not prepared for how determined Maggie is.
Maggie works hard and eventually wears Frankie down and he becomes her manager. For the first half of the film you get to see the amazing physical transformation of Maggie as she becomes physically fit and develops real boxing chops. And, very gradually you can also appreciate the budding friendship between Maggie and Frankie. Over the course of the film Frankie begins to become paternal toward Maggie and it's a beautiful thing to see the character who had so little warmth showing some true affection for his budding protégé!
For those who don't know the whole story, I won't spoil it. But, I've rarely been more moved that I was in the last 30 minutes of the film by the love of the characters for each other. It was one of the most heart wrenching movie endings I've seen and very powerful. Never maudlin or sentimental, but with heart and truth this movie evokes tremendous emotion. I heartily recommend it.
I wouldn't be surprised if many of my readers have never heard of this film. But, after you read my review I hope that you are inspired to view it.
The movie came out in 1994 and is set in the late 1950's. It stars Ray Liotta (in an early roll before his name became synonymous with Gangsters and sociopaths) Whoopy Goldberg and Tina Majorino. The set up is that Manny (played nicely by Liotta) is a jingle writer for an Ad company and is recently widowed. His young daughter Molly (Majorino does a nice job here) is suffering the loss of her mother and Manny is unable to reach her through her grief. He hires Corinna (deft, subtle performance by Goldberg) as a housekeeper for Molly.
Now, Manny is Jewish and Corinna is black and it's the late fifties. There is a lot of talk and whispers about the black housekeeper for the nice Jewish family. But, the real focus is on the love of Corinna for Molly and how through her love Molly starts to heal from the loss of her mother and to love Corinna.
Over time, the principle characters realize that while they've been taking care of Molly, they are falling in love with each other. This is wonderful news to Corinna, but not so wonderful to folks like Manny's parents. In one of my favorite scenes, the Grandmother (Manny's mother) is talking to Molly about Corinna. Molly doesn't understand why her Dad and Corinna can't just get married and be her parents! The grandmother tells her "A bird and a fish may fall in love, but where will they build their nest?"
The movie is sweet and has a few chuckles and is definitely not overly focused on the interracial element as it is on how people come together in all kinds of ways; sometimes unlikely. I hope you enjoy this movie as much as I did.
As Good as it Gets
This is probably the most popular of the movies on my list. It came out in 1997 and stars Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt and features Greg Kinnear.
Set in modern day NYC it is about Melvin Udall, an OCD writer and his neighbor Simon and Helen Hunt's character Carol, a single mother caring for a chronically ill child who is a waitress where Melvin frequents.
What I love about this movie is seeing the character's really change as they interact with one another. There lives intersect and they all undergo tremendous change within and outside of themselves.
To see Melvin (played slyly by Jack Nicholson) develop from a very neurotic, nasty, curmudgeon to a man who actually wants to help another person is cinematic greatness! I loved also seeing the character Carol (beautifully portrayed by Helen Hunt) go from being very brittle, bitter and tired to finding happiness outside of being a Mother. To see her experience a bit of hope for a better life for her son, or to finding herself to be a sexually attractive person as she poses for Simon is a thing of beauty.
One of the best lines of the movie is when Melvin has taken Carol out to a lovely restaurant, and before he can spoil the mood by being too much himself, he tells Carol "You make me want to be a better man." What a beautiful line! Of course, it is a long time coming until this magical line is spoken, but the movie is lively, fast paced and full of wit and pathos.
Seeing the character of Melvin fall in love with a little dog and eventually come to love the little dogs gay owner is also one of the more beautiful aspects of this film. If you've seen it, see it again!
I think movies are good entertainment because they reach us in different ways. I chose to list a few of my favorite character driven movies to discuss how I find them to be Life Affirming.
I love to watch and see characters unfold before my eyes and see them as three dimensional beings who undergo change and transformation. It is this transformation that fills me with awe and touches my heart. I love to be moved by a film; to experience a sense of how precious life is! These are but five films that have moved me and made me know that life is a beautiful thing.
I hope that you have found a new movie, or learned something about a movie favorite!