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Justin Long's Guide To Rom-Coms

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Justin Long was in town recently for the premiere of his surprisingly man-friendly (and, y’know, good) new rom-com, Going The Distance, and as self-confessed Ed fans (well, one of us is, anyway), we jumped at the chance meet the man. Armed with a long list of potential rom-coms that men might be allowed to love, Justin took us through the 8 best of the best – and they’re not the ones you’re expecting…

Annie Hall is definitely my number one. It sets the standard for all other relationship movies. I still try to watch it every couple of months – it’s like hanging out with an old friend.

I especially love the lobster scenes because, well, it’s the worst. You know it right away. A joke that maybe you had made with your last girlfriend, some shared experience that you enjoyed together, and you try to somehow recreate it with somebody new and… it just falls on such deaf ears. And that moment when Woody’s new girl is smoking in the kitchen and he says, “I haven’t been myself since I quit smoking.” “Oh, when was that?” and he says: “16 years ago.” “Um, I don’t get it; are you joking?” Oh, God, that moment, it’s cringeworthy but it’s also so relatable, and it’s kind of great because it’s a signifier of how rare it is to find somebody like that.

So that’s why I like Annie Hall. It’s well-observed and it has jokes in too. It’s universally relatable, intrinsically relatable. Even that Marshall McLuhan moment, I’ve had that. They start going on about something you don’t know anything about and there’s that temptation to say: “You know what, I happen to have Marshall McLuhan right here.” Completely refutes the guy. “If only life were this easy.”

In fact, that’s one of the very few times I like it when people break the fourth wall and look at the camera. They employ a lot of devices like that that I don’t normally go in for – the great subtitle scene, with all the subtext of what they are talking on screen. And then the movie ends with that same, first person narration. It’s not to camera, sure, but, you know… “we all need the eggs.”

In fact, Annie Hall is the form of romantic comedy and everything else is trying to reach that form. Simple as that, really.

Up? Sure it’s a romantic comedy – it’s one of the most heartbreaking, funny movies I’ve ever seen. I was crying in the first five minutes, and then laughing ten minutes later. I think it speaks to a certain sense of nostalgia everyone has and somehow it just managed to affect me so profoundly.

I think it’s because your first introduction to movies, or to TV, is through cartoons, and I think there was something unique to animation that allows it to affect you that strongly. The other thing is that unlike many rom coms, which end with everything going well, or, say in Annie Hall’s case, not, this has the whole spectrum of this very romantic experience that is inherently bittersweet – because the backdrop throughout is our own mortality. God, I sound so pretentious, but hell, that was definitely my favourite movie from that year. That, and District 9. Which isn’t a romantic comedy, but still, there you go.

Oh God, then there’s Shakespeare In Love. I feel immediately more romantic just thinking about it. After watching that it makes me want to swoop out and seduce someone with a sonnet.

And the score – I think it’s Stephen Warbeck – that soundtrack is so sweeping and so romantic, and you can feel it stir you up inside. You could be listening to that score and doing the most mundane of tasks, washing the dog or doing your filing, and it would work. You could put that score to any shitty romantic comedy and it would make it that much better. You could make a back-to-back comedy work with that kind of music. And I don’t say that lightly.

Ah, The Princess Bride. When she falls in love with Wesley, without really exchanging any words… well, I remember that was something I saw when I was pretty young, and suddenly that was my romantic ideal. That was what my idea of what true romance was: Something chemical, instant. They never speak – it seems the most they ever talk is when she thinks he’s the Dread Pirate Roberts.

I’m proud to admit, as a man, that I love Princess Bride. I think you can. I think you’re allowed to invest in the romance, because there are so many great comedic elements to it too: André the Giant, Mandy Patinkin, even Cary Elwes delivers an unsung comedic performance. And I also think that it was the first time anyone had seen Robin Wright, really… she is just so angelic, there’s something so pure about her, it really does feel like she’s a different species. It feels like she’s been genetically created to be wooed, and to fall in love with. I just worked with her actually and it took everything within my power to not bring up The Princess Bride.

People overlook Forrest Gump now – I think it’s because it’s such a successful movie, people forget how good a romantic comedy it is. But Robin Wright is good in that too. And it’s based around such a simple idea.

A story where despite everything, there’s true love, a love that trumps the greatest psychological damage or dysfunction. And Forrest is so innocent, and so disconnected from who the girl really is, but at the end of the day what beats all of that is this simple idea of love. And you can’t articulate it, you can’t stop him from showing it, you can’t stop him from going back to her. It almost like the way animals love, which is why people love dogs, and I know it seems awful to compare a human character to a dog, but still, that idea of unconditional love, with him constantly batted away and mistreated, still going back to her, and eventually ending up being her salvation.

There’s also that vicarious pleasure to be had in seeing a man do it all, and so modestly too. Everything he ends up doing in the movie, it’s all unsung, with him not letting it affect his ego at all. It’s the absolutely the most noble way to pursue something. And it’s got war in it, and men love war.

Eternal Sunshine, again, I love that movie. That tragic element of love. To love that intensely, and that deeply – that usually carries with it the potential for the opposite, and that can be just as hurtful and painful as it was great in the first place.

In a weird way, that’s romantic on its own. That pain and loss, you know. Then there’s the problem we all have after big relationships – how are we going to shed that person, how are we going to live, day to day? How are you going to be the same? How are you going to be the person you were before them? They’ve affected you that much. For better, and for worse.

And I don’t think I’d ever seen Jim Carrey give that kind of performance before, and it was so good, bringing to life that pain that is unique to a loss that severe. The movie’s beyond painful, it’s beyond tragic, and because it deals with memory, memory loss, and holding onto memories, it’s so creative and so visceral.

For some people, the movie made them not want to fall in love again, but for me, it was the complete opposite, it made me want to invest more in love, and kind of hold onto those moments. And then there’s a whole sci-fi element, and then there’s the philosophical level – how much are we doing this to ourselves, you know? And then your brain explodes, so, maybe not.

The Wedding Singer I think is one of those examples of one of those back-to-back, more broadly conceited comedies where there is some heightened device thrown in, but still it works really well somehow.

It’s a movie that I still really love watching, and though it may be fluff, it’s very entertaining fluff. I love those times when they are definitely winking at the camera, and that shameless ‘80s nostalgia – but it all works because they’re all doing it in the spirit of fun and self-awareness.

And at the end, and this is a testament to Adam and Drew’s performances, you cannot watch that final scene when he’s singing to her on the plane and not watch her smile and not smile along with her. And that’s thanks entirely to the two of them. Completely sweet. And because we’re used to Adam Sandler in Happy Gilmore and other brasher comedies, this turn is even more affecting. If that was his first movie, I don’t think we would have gone with him. In fact, I first watched The Wedding Singer when I was about 18 and I was not in a place where I’d normally invest in romantic comedies, but Adam turned me round.

I think Tootsie, too, that should be on my list. The love that they have, the fact that it comes down to that final scene with Jessica Lange on the street, that the evolution of their journey, that the climax of it, is them just meeting as friends, I just think there’s something that’s really profound to be gleaned in that scene.

It’s that idea that that level of intimacy can only be achieved through the most round-about way, and is the perfect foundation for, and the necessary foundation for, a real love to flourish. And more so than most romantic comedies, I feel like they have more a chance than most couples at the end, because of what they’ve been through. That and men dressing up as women? Well, that’s always funny.