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Guest Post: My Top 6 Rock & Metal Love Songs

By: Maggie Hackett

To celebrate the month of love, I’m welcoming my first guest blogger. She is a multi-threat: an incredible vocalist, gifted musician, intuitive artist, deep writer, and the list goes on. Not only that, but she is a close friend of nearly eight years. For her guest blog post, she’s elected to write about one of her (and my) great passions: love songs. Please check out her out at the links at the end of this post and give her some love. Read ahead for Intosky songwriter/vocalist Maggie Hackett’s picks for her favorite rock and metal love songs.- Mary Fran

Everyone has different interpretations of songs, and for me, these are songs that I’ve associated with love in some way. I could be wrong, as I believe the artist’s interpretation is always right because they wrote it. However, these songs are amazing, and I can only hope I’ve done justice in reminiscing over them in this guest writer post! Forgive me if I messed up the lineup for the time the songs were written. I tried to be as accurate as possible. 

Without further ado, here are my top six love songs:

6. “Halo” by STARSET:

Rather than romantic love, this song could be seen as a powerful friendship or familial relationship kind of love. To me, this song represents the kind of love that is the strongest of all. It’s the love where one person would die to save the other. The lyrics suggest the person the character loves is struggling with some kind of trauma referred to as the “same darkness.” He assures this person that they aren’t alone and that he will always be there for them. It is about how someone is willing to take on someone else’s demons alongside them and help them through their worst tragedies. This is the most beautiful thing someone can do for another.

The bridge leading into the chorus is truly a breathtaking build with a swell of the instruments. Its like reaching inside your chest and ripping out your heart for someone else and proving your love. The guitar by Brock Richards (guitars, backing vocals) and bass by Ron DeChant (bass, keyboards, backing vocals) supports and leads the instrumental without overpowering the other instruments. Part of what makes this song so great is the cohesiveness and how all the instruments come together so seamlessly to create one beautiful symphony. Whoever mixed and mastered this song polished it really beautifully.

The progression of the second chorus is marvelous and the synth melody is powerful. As the violin and cello swell into the bridge again, the listener is swept into this heroic sonic embrace. It feels like something out of an action film where the hero/heroine swoops in and saves someone from what could have been sudden death. The drums in the breakdown by Adam Gilbert (drums, percussion) are goosebump-inducing in the most titillating way. I also love the way Dustin Bates (lead vocals, keyboards, soundboard) alternates his falsetto with belting on the word “halo.” This gives it such a beautiful effect. He is one of my favorite vocalists and his voice really soars on this musical masterpiece. Overall, this song is just the embodiment of the purest heart on fire and nothing will stop him from being there for his loved one. This cinematic rock band is also amazing live, too, so when concerts are allowed again, I would highly recommend seeing them! I saw them in back in 2015 when they were on tour with Breaking Benjamin and they were amazing, but the band has really evolved since then with the inclusion of Siobhán Cronin (violin and keyboards), Mariko Muranaka Friend (violin, cello) and Zuzana Engererova (cello) in their live performances. Having these other instrumentalists live adds an extra layer of beauty and drama to STARSET’s larger-than-life, explosive, cinematic sound. Nneka Lyn (cello) and Jonathan Kampfe (cello) have also made amazing contributions in STARSET’s sound.

5. “Manchester” by Prospect Hill:

Right off the bat, this song was meant to sweep you up in a cloud of hopeful energy with drums, guitar, synth, and bass swelling into an emotional, musical crescendo. The bass riff by Edgar Troncoso sounds so rich and helps give the song a nice luster. The drums performed by  Mark Roberge give the song that added drama and plays off the synth nicely. This is followed by an energetic guitar and vocal melody for the verse and pre-chorus leading into a beautiful, heart-shattering crescendo of a chorus. This song definitely has a twinge of sadness to it, not only in the music, but the lyrics as well.

My interpretation of this song is that it’s about someone who cannot be with the one he loves due to distance and perhaps also busy lives. The lyrics have a longing to them and Adam Fithian does a remarkable job of conveying this emotion. His rich, dark tone has a lovely quality to it, especially when he builds up to a higher resonance.

In the second verse, the guitars have an angelic quality to them that sounds like the word “starlight” to me with a gentle ringing in a faster pattern. This band has three guitarists, so I’m not sure who did what part, but it’s so beautiful all together so all these guys need to be recognized for it! Derek Rousseau, Johnny Roberge, and Andrew Bochart, fantastic job!

I love how the end of the song just rings out with vocals (some echo and reverb) and a guitar chord. It makes you feel like you can hang in that moment a little longer. And that’s all anyone ever wants with someone they love is to have (or have had) more time, so you have to find beauty in those glorious little moments spent together.

4. “3 Libras” by A Perfect Circle:

“3 Libras” is another song that gets me every time. It’s definitely one of my favorite songs (if not my favorite) by A Perfect Circle. Yes, I shed tears over this song of romance and tragedy because it’s heartbreaking. Maynard James Keenan and Billy Howerdel never cease to amaze me with their lyrical eloquence. Keenan’s warm vocal tone and powerful belts really make the song so special. His style is so intricate with unique runs and drawn out word endings, and he is a huge inspiration to me personally as a vocalist myself. 

My interpretation of this song is that it is about someone who has tried to do everything “right” in a romantic relationship, but no matter what he does, his partner is so emotionally and probably traumatically wounded that they are only half “present” in the relationship, if at all. This is disheartening for him because, as much as he understands and “sees” this person for who they are and wants to help them, they don’t “see” him in return. More eloquently, Keenan states what this song means to him in the liner notes of their album Mer De Noms, honing in on the unease and fear of exposing one’s deepest vulnerabilities, instead having an open mind and heart.

Now that’s a gorgeous meaning to a gorgeous song! Howerdel’s gentle guitar combined with the violin (Paz Lenchantin) and viola (Luciano Lenchantin) makes for a soothing introduction leading into the perfectly timed drums of Josh Freese that spark this lovely feeling of emotional power behind the sadness that is conveyed vocally. I absolutely love the build at the outro as well. The guitar picks up and drum rolls crash, adding another level of complexity and interest, with Keenan’s vocals shaking the very core of my soul. This masterpiece deserves more ears to enjoy it, so give it a listen!

3. “In This Embrace” by Divine Ascension:

“In This Embrace” is my favorite Divine Ascension song of all time! It’s off their 2015 album, Liberator, and everything about it is just perfect. The soaring, powerful and emotional vocals by Jennifer Borg, combined with the epic instrumentation and melodic structure of the song launches the listener into an amazing tale of love, sorrow, and tragedy that captivates me in every way. The intro to the song builds into an enchanting melody that sweeps the listener up into a glorious, otherworldly headspace. 

I love the pronounced, pounding bass from Jason Meracis in the verses leading into a complex, heavy guitar riff by Karl Szulik for the pre-chorus. This is followed by a squeal of the guitar right before the chorus for that note of added drama. This band has a unique style in progressive metal and all these magnificent, talented people combined make this song remarkable. Borg’s vocals are incredible and I am in love with her ringing, powerful vibrato and strong runs in this song. I also particularly love the rapid drumming from Luke Wenczel during the chorus which adds to the urgency of the lyrics and continues that feeling of overwhelming love and tragedy. 

My interpretation of this song is that it is about someone who cannot save a person she cares about with her love, although she has tried. This person probably suffers from addiction and cannot give it up. In the chorus, she pleads with her love that she will do anything to help them.

This song shatters my heart, as I’ve also had people I’ve loved suffer from crippling addiction. This song is very relatable. “In This Embrace” is truly an experience, so you have to listen to this song. I am not ashamed I have shed tears over this beautiful sonic tale. You won’t be disappointed!

2. “Love” by Cellar Darling

I have so much love for this special band. They describe themselves as storytellers and they do a fantastic job of it! This song is featured on the album, The Spell, which according to the artists:

“… tells the tale of a girl who is birthed into a world full of pain, damaged and debilitated by the human beings that inhabit it. We follow her as she meets Death and falls in love with him, trying desperately to join him – concluding with an ambiguous ending that leaves the listener wondering.”

It begins with a soothing hurdy-gurdy intro bursting into the sweeping vocals of Anna Murphy (vocals, hurdy-gurdy, multi-instrumentalist) and a driving guitar riff by Ivo Henzi (guitars, bass). This, in turn, leads into this incredibly romantic instrumental with a kind of string instrument (I’m not sure which one) preceding the strong, belted chorus. This dance of instrumentals before the chorus is probably my favorite aspect of this song, as it’s just so breathtakingly emotional, my heart and my eyes melt for it every time. It makes Murphy’s vocals hit much harder once they come in, and the music tugs at your heartstrings. Her proclaiming, powerful vocals are emotionally bleeding the meaning behind the song. Her voice is this crescendo of the epitome of love and deep longing.

The idea of escaping the horrors of humanity with someone sounds so romantic. You can truly feel the expressions of the heroine of the story through Murphy’s vocals as well as the instrumental arrangement.

I love the drums by Merlin Sutter towards about 3:09 into the song. They swell with Murphy’s vocals and just create these magical little suspenseful rolls and crashes. This leads into a gorgeous piano part with soloed vocals. 

The vocal melody on the last part with lyrics is one of my other favorite parts in this masterpiece. It is fast-paced, but not rushed. To me, it has the essence of a strong wind carrying you away. The guitar solo proceeding this by Henzi is incredible as well. It reminds me of a culmination like the actual “waltz of death” as described in the lyrics. 

I also enjoy the progressive arrangements of this song because the structure is so creative. The instrumentals and vocals are ordered perfectly so as not to be overwhelming or minimize other elements. If you decide to check out this song and enjoy it, listen to both of their albums. They are just fantastic! Cellar Darling’s style is so beautiful and harmonious. They also have stunning artwork on the album cover for The Spell and in their videos if you would like to see Cellar Darling’s visual side, which is a major part of this band.

1. “Sextape” by Deftones:

This song is so rich, beautiful and intense. It is a song best enjoyed in good headphones with your eyes closed in a dark room because it’s just so hypnotic. With floaty vocals by Chino Moreno (Lead Vocals and Rhythm Guitar) and atmospheric echoey guitars by Moreno and Stephen Carpenter (Lead Guitar), I can’t help but feel the romantic ambiance of this genius song. Its like you are literally in paradise with someone you love. It captures an energy you get when you care deeply for someone and just want to live in the moment with them. For me, the reason I love this song so much is the feeling it gives me. Rather than just talking about being in love, you are shown what that feels like. It’s like diving into someone’s heart and catching a glimpse of the world through their eyes. 

The echo and reverb, especially in the intro, captures the essence of this state of elation. It’s that silky, hypnotic space that is like when you are laying down but it feels like the world is spinning around you. I’ve always loved the way Moreno’s voice ends a word with a little nuance that is so iconic to his style. It’s kind of like expressing a thought and just letting it dwindle off into a sigh which goes perfectly with the feeling of this song. 

As “Sextape” progresses, it unfolds into this gentle drumming by Abe Cunningham that swells into a crescendo for the chorus. I love the way the symbols crash as it matches the lyrics “The sound of the waves collide.” The guitars seem to dance together with this progression as well. Sergio Vega (Bass, Backing Vocals) holds down the whole song with the bass and further enhances that vibration that follows the floating sensation. What Frank Delgado (Turntables, Keyboards, Samples) added to this song brought it all together and made it even more magical as well. All these aspects add to the sensuality of the song which Deftones are so good at conveying.

I highly recommend watching the music video for “Sextape” as well. It’s one of the most beautifully directed music videos I’ve ever seen. If you enjoyed this song, check out “Cherry Waves” too. It’s another favorite song of mine by Deftones that has a similar style to “Sextape.”

All of these songs are probably more about a feeling rather than simply how they sound. Yet, it was fun to break down how all the instruments came together to create something truly magical. I hope other listeners will enjoy and appreciate these beautiful songs as much as I have. 

Honorable Mentions (no particular order):

– “If I Close My Eyes Forever”- Lita Ford feat. Ozzy Ozbourne

– “Stars”- Sixx: A.M.

-“Kingdom”- Devin Townsend

-“Angel”- Angels Fall

-“Lost in You”- Three Days Grace

– “Spellbound”- Lacuna Coil

– “Not Strong Enough”- Apocalyptica feat. Doug Robb

– “Stars”- Silent Season

Meet the Guest Blogger- Maggie Hackett of Intosky

Maggie Hackett is a multi-talented creative. Her biggest passion is being the vocalist for Intosky, a Chicago-based progressive metal band where she and her brother create mind-bending and thought-provoking music. Her other creative endeavors include creative writing, poetry, photography, and especially art. Primarily a digital artist, she has also experimented with traditional art mediums, occasionally adding digital elements to them. Through all these aforementioned artistic endeavors, she hopes to raise awareness about world issues and express her personal experiences as well.

Connect with Maggie on social media at the following:

Bandcamp

YouTube

Spotify

Intosky Instagram

Maggie Hackett Art Instagram

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Why “Fleabag’s” Hot Priest is More Than a Social Media Sex Symbol

NOTE: This is the second post I’ve written focused on the BBC/Amazon Prime series Fleabag. If you have not read the first, click here to check it out! To say this series’ impact on me over the past several months has been profound would be a massive understatement, and subsequent rewatches of the series have allowed me to develop further points of analysis, hence this second blog post. This post will contain spoilers and will not include a recap of the series, so please read with caution if you have not yet viewed or finished the series.

A big thank you to all who contributed their thoughts on the importance of the Priest and his appeal. I am, as always, blown away by the incredible intelligence and deep thought of Fleabag fans.

As always, much love to you all, and thank you for reading!

Andrew Scott as The Priest in a promo shot for Fleabag (2019)

Undoubtedly one of the most massive and inexplicable television phenomenons of 2019 was Fleabag‘s Hot Priest. The show, whose first series aired in 2016, centered on a young, woman simply dubbed Fleabag, living with London and struggling with the ups and downs of family, sex, and loss. The second series debuted in the spring of 2019, complete with a new, intriguing character (and love interest) in the form of The Priest, portrayed by acclaimed television, film, and stage actor Andrew Scott. Series two proved a smash, widely acclaimed by critics and fans alike, and within moments of Fleabag’s sister Claire uttering the words “The priest is quite hot” at the conclusion of episode one of the second series, social media ran afire about the “Hot Priest,” and to quote series creator, writer, and star Phoebe Waller Bridge’s Saturday Night Live monologue describing the sensation the character created, a “hornstorm” was born. Religious pornography view rates surged, comparisons to The Thorn Birds evoked a reminder that priests could be written as fallible, and the word “kneel” took on an entirely new context.

Press surrounding the character quickly adopted the social media moniker “Hot Priest” to identify not only the character, but also star Andrew Scott. Nearly every interview he partook in over the course of the year attached the title to his name, which perhaps unfairly accounts for the appalling lack of recognition in awards circles for his work on the series despite the widespread acclaim from critics and fans alike. When asked about the reaction, Scott reminded interviewers that the character is called “The Priest” and that the “hot” portion is simply a freak of social media nature, though pointing out the character’s true title has done little to decrease the use of “Hot Priest” to identify the character.

What much of this press failed to recognize was that while for many, television characters come and go due to the astronomical amount of content cycling through streaming services, some of them will leave an indelible impact on our lives. The Priest may be hot, but it isn’t entirely about the looks, as Fleabag herself discovers in her journey to get to know him. In an effort to capture the essence of why many’s love for this character won’t pass (see what I did there?), I asked some fellow Fleabag and Priest fans what makes the character appealing to them.

Review of the requested input regarding the press-dubbed “Hot Priest” revealed some incredible insight into the appeal of this beloved character and what truly made audiences fall in love with him. Below are some of the most common answers among those who offered response, and the results are equal parts moving, funny, and incredibly insightful into the mind of the Fleabag fandom.

Attentive/Listens: This sentiment was echoed across the responses received, mentioned by nearly every person, making it unquestionably the most common answer. Perhaps it is the nature of the Priest’s profession, but why his listening skills stand out is quite simply because where most of the characters in the series ignore Fleabag or entirely disregard her and her perspective, he offers direct contrast. The difference is evident in the first moments of interaction at the dinner table in the first episode, when he clearly shows interest with numerous stolen glances captured and asking her questions when no one else has bothered. He is eager to get to know her when she is often forgotten or ignored among the masses, most particularly in her family circle. Even knowing her lack of faith, he pursues their conversations, never dismissing her opinion, merely challenging her position and allowing her to question his in productive, playful conversations. Perhaps the most touching (and even unsettling) example of this is when he takes notice of the fourth wall breaks she’s made to the audience since the first episode of the series, catching her (and us) completely off-guard. It’s the true testament of the Priest “seeing” her rather than looking through her. The moment is landmark to the series as well as the first sign to Fleabag that she is perhaps not completely alone and that there may be someone else who gets her, even though he may not know her full story.

A modern, vulnerable (and non-toxic) take on masculinity: The past decade spawned many conversations about portrayals of masculinity in the media, much of it in a negative light. The Priest embraces a softer side of masculinity, emotion never fraught in his interactions with Fleabag. He gives her space, encourages their interactions but lets her lead the way in them, and offers support in the ways he knows best, even if it’s a hand on the shoulder or a kind smile. He is frank and unapologetic about his feelings but also corrects people in a gentle, respectful matter rather than taking on an obnoxious complex about being right. His vulnerability is almost instant, and his sweet sentimentality reveals that men want love as much as women do, and that gender has nothing to do with it. Despite remaining elusive about the details of his past, enough hints are offered to know that he and Fleabag are kindred spirits in past heartaches and present love. He is tender and strong simultaneously, adding a sense of modernity to him as well as a touch of classic rom-com hero (without any creepy stalking or patronizing), which makes him instantly lovable. Also, who doesn’t smile watching him cuddle that guinea pig?

Does not conform to preconceived notions- Everyone has their own idea of how a priest “should be,” entailing items such as how he might dress, present himself, speak; the list goes on. The Priest serves to defy any of these expectations, swearing within moments of the audience meeting him and unafraid of a shot of tequila or can of G & T. Even his initial presentation in street clothes does not initially indicate viewers as to his profession. As mentioned above, he shuns judgement, even in moments where it seems like most people might have been upset or even felt betrayed. He listens with a completely open heart, such as in the confessional scene where Fleabag reveals that she lied to him about the miscarriage and that it was not hers but in fact Claire’s. He simply says “okay,” never hurling even a “why” at her like most might have. The Priest manages to surprise the audience each time he appears on screen, from sporting a well-worn Buffalo Bill T-shirt to bed to jamming Jenny from the Block in a drunken stupor. Oh, and let’s not forget that he’s been there “many” times.

Andrew Scott– Actors can make all the difference in a role; there are no doubt some television series and films where altering the actor would forever change the character themselves. The final resounding conclusion amongst those spoken to was that many of the traits brought to the character of the Priest are idiosyncrasies of his portrayer, Andrew Scott. Phoebe Waller Bridge wrote the role for Scott, and he signed on without reading a script. Despite the character being a complete individual, watching even one interview with the actor himself will reveal that there are certain physical gestures and personality quirks that trickle in. For every adorably awkward moment there is a cheekily flirty one to match, a reminder that sexiness doesn’t have to come in the most conventional package. From a goofy smile or quirk of the lips to general physical movement and even the element of romanticism, Andrew Scott embodies the Priest in all facets, injecting the perfect dose of himself into this already well-crafted character.

The recyclability of media only continues to increase with the lightning speed of productions and sheer amount of visual media in production. Love stories are thrown at us constantly, and often, they provide little depth and can be dismissed as disposable and amuck with tropes. The Priest in Fleabag may be one of thousands of male television characters, but for many, he is one for whom there may be no replacement. As an individual character and a love interest for Fleabag, he stands apart as a damaged man truly torn between love and faith, forced to make a decision between two passions. The tears flowing, from both the audience and himself, when he resigns to that conclusion, is equal parts heartbreaking and satisfying. This is a man passionate about his profession, and yet, that same calling him forces him to choose between his heart’s desire and spiritual peace. To make a choice like that takes strength, and though he may believe he lacks it, he exhibits it here in spades.

In many of our lives, there are books, films, and series that mark a turning point in our lives and force us to see things differently, or perhaps even just resonate with us in the space we’re in at the moment. The Priest evokes both our most seasoned and innocent parts, reminding us of our scars as well as the simplicity of wanting love and stability in our lives. Perhaps it is gained through love. Maybe it’s through a career. It could be through fostering a child or a pet. No matter the path, it is valid and it yours, and though Fleabag and its characters may be fiction, the messages are universal. The Priest is a man torn, which likely represents all of us at some point, torn between commitments, relationships, perhaps even careers. To reduce him to a hashtag honing in on only sex appeal is to undermine the incredible emotional impact made by Phoebe Waller Bridge’s creation in the character of the Priest and Andrew Scott’s subsequent molding of the character into a multi-faceted, conflicted man struggling with his own demons as well as the choice between love of God and for a woman. To really boil it down, what’s really hot about “Hot Priest?” He’s real.

Thanks for reading, and let me know your thoughts down below!

What do you find “hot” about the Hot Priest, and what’s your favorite Priest scene in the series?

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The Hopeful Romantic Picks…Her Top 5 Gay Film Pairings

June marks Pride Month, which simultaneously commemorates the landmark Stonewall Uprising of late June and early July 1969 as well as a celebration of the LGBTQ+ community.  In the years since Stonewall, the LGBTQ+ community experienced its share of celebrations and tragedies, from the elation of the sexual liberation in the 1970s to the heartbreaking tragedies and unwarranted prejudice of the AIDS pandemic and into today where a continued fight for equality rages despite the ability to more freely express sexuality in many parts of the world.  While Pride this year looks quite different due to the global COVID-19 pandemic and will occur in mostly virtual spaces, this allows for other expressions of triumph and joy to be enjoyed.  Film, particularly in the past decade and a half, has been a medium in which stories which for so many years were repressed with regard to sexuality from mainstream media.  To celebrate Pride Month, I have compiled a list of my favorite gay film couples, a list that I hope to expand as I view more films with couples of all sexual preferences and gender identities.

5. Maurice Hall and Clive Durham, Maurice (1987)

Though subtle and even more overt LGBT films existed at the time Maurice was released in 1987, the film marked a turning point.  A period piece at its core, the film follows Maurice (James Wilby), a young man struggling with his sexuality in the early part of the twentieth century.  While at university, Maurice develops feelings for his friend Clive (a pre- Four Weddings and a Funeral Hugh Grant), and they engage in a brief romance.  However, social and family pressures soon wear on Clive, and after witnessing the arrest and conviction of an acquaintance for soliciting sex, he elects to suppress his sexuality and align with norms.  While their short-lived love affair transcends into a rather troubled friendship, as Clive marries and Maurice continues to desperately seek out his own destiny.  Though perhaps not the most uplifting of love stories, Maurice and Clive evoke the repression and feelings of obligation present in society that hung over many gay men at one point or another.  The juxtaposition of Clive who caves to these expectations and Maurice who defies them in the name of love makes for a bittersweet watch, and while these two perhaps were not destined for one another, what they shared for a flickering moment reminds viewers of their own relationships that simply weren’t meant to be.

4. Elio and Oliver, Call Me By Your Name (2017)

Call Me By Your Name will perhaps be considered one of the quintessential LGBTQ+ coming of age films, exploring perhaps one of the most confusing times in a person’s life.  In the film, seventeen-year-old Elio (Timothée Chalamet) shares a summer romance with Oliver (Armie Hammer), his 24 year old tutor whose come to stay with his family.  There’s a forbidden aspect to it, a theme often present in coming of age romances, but layered with questions with regard to sexuality and the frankness of the film itself, Elio and Oliver’s relationship feels fresh, bittersweet, and completely relatable.  Coupled with beautiful performances by Chalamet and Hammer, it’s a film that feels intimate and resonates with the viewer long afterwords, and Elio and Oliver are a pair that will not soon be forgotten, not only for their emotional impact, but the cultural one as well.

3. Jonathan & Gethin, Pride (2014)

Pride is the true story of a group of gay and lesbian advocates who rallied around and raised funds to assist a group of miners during the union strike in the mid-1980s. While the focus of the film is the incredible determination of a group of people and their willingness to help others in the face of adversity despite an initially cool reception, the relationships within the group are a guiding force. Among the inspiring, free-spirited young adults are Jonathan and Gethin, a couple who join the cause, with Gethin’s gay bookshop serving as the unofficial home base for Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM). In a group comprised mostly of young adults still seeking purpose and identity to some extent, Jonathan and Gethin’s established relationship adds a sense of endearing homeyness to the film. Jonathan (the delightful Dominic West) is the epitome of the extrovert, an actor who exhibits wisdom and charm, a man fully confident in his identity (he also knows his way around a dance floor, as evidenced by one of the film’s most memorable scenes). His partner Gethin (the beautifully nuanced Andrew Scott), is a soft-spoken, nearly morose bookshop owner who, while acceptant and embracing of his sexuality, harbors heartache over his family’s unwillingness to embrace him when he came out. Jonathan and Gethin’s moments together are sweet and reassuring, a perfect representation what many of the characters in the film likely seek, the stability and true pride in who they are, both as individuals and as a couple. While they are the only twosome on this list whose story is not the forefront of their film, their sweet, grounded love story provides another glimmer of hope in a truly inspiring film.

2. Ennis Del Mar & Jack Twist, Brokeback Mountain

Brokeback Mountain is undoubtedly one of the most groundbreaking and influential LGBT films of the past two decades, and it’s due to the delicately told tale of Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger in such a moving performance) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal), two men who fall in love over the course of a summer spent working on Brokeback Mountain herding sheep.  Over the course of the next two decades, the two of them marry women and have children, but their hearts remain with one other they meet periodically for passionate getaways disguised as fishing trips, a love that excites, confuses, and challenges everything they know about relationships.  Ennis and Jack’s love story is tender and ardent, exemplified in a simplistic sense by the film’s most famous and equally harrowing quote: “I wish I knew how to quit you.”  No spoilers here, but to call this star-crossed lovers’ journey a tug at the heartstrings would be to vastly underrepresent the emotional and cultural impact of the film and the heroes’ romantic trials and tribulations.

  1. Ned Weeks and Felix Turner, The Normal Heart (2014)

Perhaps this will be a controversial and unconventional choice, but this was the pair that came to mind when brainstorming this post.  Based on Larry Kramer’s riveting 1985 play of the same name, The Normal Heart is an autobiographical work rooted in Kramer’s own experience in the early years of the AIDS pandemic. The plot centers around a brave group of gay men in New York City in the 1980s who fought for treatment, equality, and funding to combat the crisis all the while dealing with the loss of lovers and friends.  The film is a feat overall, a raw look at the oppression and fear experienced in the gay community during one of the most tragic periods in the history of the LGBTQ+ communities, which truly leaves the viewer feeling like they are losing friends as the film continues. The love story between Ned Weeks (Mark Ruffalo) and Felix Turner (the impeccable Matt Bomer) is its core, equal parts sweet, tear-jerking, and inspiring, a faded page torn from the lives of far too many, and is perfectly encapsulated by the line, “We are losing an entire generation,” delivered heartbreakingly by Jim Parsons’ Tommy Boatwright. Felix’s quiet strength is the perfect balance for Ned’s vehement passion, not only in their relationship, but in the fight against the disease that threatens the love they found in each other. While it may be a love story bound to break your heart, it is also one that resonates not just because of the deep love between Ned and Felix but because it captures the beauty and darkness in one of the most pivotal moments not just in the history of the gay community but of humanity.

Let me know in the comments who your favorite LGBTQ+ pairings are in film and TV, and I’d also love to hear how you’re planning to celebrate Pride 2020!

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Words for When There Are None

For me to not write anything about the discussions happening here in the United States would be to ignore something that has weighed heavily on not only my mind, but those of many others.  Called to attention have been beliefs ingrained into many of the systems we hold dear that allow continued repression.  The senseless murder of George Floyd by a law enforcement officer while other officers stood by and watched is unfortunately only the latest in a long list of members of the black community victimized by police violence and brutality.  Sadly, there is a deep-rooted history of authoritarian violence against them, and it is not something that has gone away and resurfaced in the decades since the passage of the Civil Rights Act.  It’s always been there, perhaps just not captured by photos or a video.  And it has to stop.

I could reiterate all that’s been written, but that’s likely redundant and perhaps even your cue to click off this post.  Instead, I will simply say that all of us must do better.  It is no longer enough to sit back and simply not spout hateful things about anyone based on the color of their skin, their gender, their sexual orientation, or any number of features that a person has no control over.  The need for change is imminent, and it starts with each one of us using our voices to champion a tidal shift.  Below are just a few ideas of ways that you can be part of the metamorphosis so this transference in attitudes and social norms is not simply part of a news cycle until something new makes a headline splash.

  • Attend protests or demonstrations– This option is admittedly not for everyone, and perhaps it seems daunting given the media portrayals.  However, it is the most visible way for your voice to be heard.  Create your own sign, grab a friend or two, and congregate with like-minded community members to march or even stand in front of a governmental complex so that officials take notice.
  • Donate to organizations advocating for social change– Personally, this was the first step I took when I gathered my thoughts and after doing some research.  There are countless organizations in need of support for a variety of causes within the Black Lives Matter movement.  It is a very personal decision where a person chooses to contribute funds, and it is far more difficult to know the legitimacy of pages that are posted online.  Some include: Black Visions Collective, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and Campaign Zero.  This is only a limited list, so please check out Charity Navigator or the Better Business Bureau’s page on legitimate organizations to donate to that are currently accepting donations.
  • Don’t brush off prejudicial comments from relatives, family members, etc.  Is this an uncomfortable idea?  Absolutely.  However, calling out those around you who make comments that allow systematic racism and all other types of injurious, unjust belief systems to continue to circulate is where those tough conversations and educational opportunities begin.  Simply talking around the dining room table, while  possibly being confrontation, at least calls attention to these flawed belief systems and if nothing else will hopefully encourage others to question their ideologies.
  • Support black owned businesses– There are many black-owned businesses, both online and brick-and-mortar, ranging in a variety of types of retail from beauty and clothing to bookstores and any number of others.  Social media such as Twitter and Instagram are excellent resources to locate black owned businesses.  Also, shout them out on social media and be sure to let others know about the products and the business behind them.

As mentioned above, these are only a small fraction of ways to maintain the momentum of the past several weeks and allow change to take shape in ourselves, our community, and ultimately our world.

Comment other ways below for your voice to be heard or any organizations that you are aware of that are taking donations!

television, Uncategorized

“This is a Love Story:” The Heartbreaking Humanity of “Fleabag”

I apologize for my lengthy absence. Unfortunately, real life got in the way during the latter half of 2019. Here’s to 2020 being a great year for this blog, and thank you for your patience and continued support.

WARNING: This contains spoilers from series two of Fleabag.

About two weeks ago, I finished watching the (rightfully) critically acclaimed British comedy Fleabag and have been unable to leave the incredible world woven into the series since.  For those who have not yet delved in (and if you haven’t, stop here and go check it out on Amazon Prime; you will not regret it), the series follows the titular character (created, written, and portrayed by Phoebe Waller Bridge), a brazen thirty-something, through the unfiltered struggles of modern life and love in London. It is bookended by Fleabag offering the audience commentary inaudible to those around her, often words one might think but would likely never have the courage to say. Fleabag is a modern, bold character, unabashed and sexually confident like few before her. Like many of us, she copes with family dysfunction, challenges at work, and the complications of modern dating.

Fleabag’s love life is a mess, and the first series is a collection of several ill-fated hookups and relationships, both in real time and in flashbacks. As the series progresses, the reasons for her misplaced vices crack through the surface and split open this already shattered character, revealing the insurmountable damage due to the traumatic death of a friend and extraordinary family dysfunction. By the conclusion of series one, the audience is left with a vulnerable character, the relationships in her life strained and nearly non-existent. She is forced to face the repercussions of past actions and begin the journey of living with pain and loss all the while moving on and trying to be a better person.

Enter the second series, beginning just over a year later, which finds Fleabag evolved, no longer using sex to cope and in the midst of the healing process, likely to be a lifelong one given the indelible mark of the past. And, as does happen in life, just when things appear to be on the upswing and in the direction you’ve been planning, the powers that be pitch a curve ball. Enter The Priest.

The audience meets The Priest (the brilliant Andrew Scott) at an engagement dinner for Fleabag’s father and godmother, at whose wedding he plans to officiate. He dons street clothes, shamelessly sips from a glass of wine, swears, and even bums a cigarette off Fleabag. The evening passes with multiple stolen glances from both parties, several glasses of wine, and an accidental black eye. Despite the seemingly rocky evening, their final interaction of the episode shows The Priest handing her a folded napkin with his phone number along with the gentle, “If you ever need someone to talk to…I’ll be there…I’m always there.” This takes Fleabag by surprise, leaving the audience wondering just where this relationship might lead, both for our heroine and the off-limits man she’s taken a fancy to.

What transpires over the next five episodes makes for some of the most romantic, sexy, heart-wrenching television in recent memory. Fleabag attends Catholic mass, sips canned G & T in the Priest’s office, joins him at a Quaker meeting, engages in a simultaneously gutting and erotic confession (you’ll never hear the word “kneel” the same way), a multitude of cheeky power play references, and a sensual consummation of the inevitable. Fleabag and the Priest prove a romantic pairing unlike any other, their banter playful and pure oddly coupled with a deliciously naughty undercurrent. Though sexual tension constantly bubbles beneath the surface, their interactions are genuine, and what began for Fleabag as a seemingly physical attraction grows quickly into a mutual affection and ultimately, love. Heartbreakingly, however, at the conclusion of the series finale, The Priest makes a tear-jerking decision, choosing God over her despite the overwhelming feelings he has. Both of them have tears in their eyes as they part, and though it may have been doomed from the start, the audience knows that the brief, deep love affair they shared will remain with each of them for the rest of their lives.

Andrew Scott’s charming, sexy performance as The Priest erupted across social media like a tidal wave. Countless articles were written, videos were created, and a spike of over 150% in Pornhub searches for religious porn occurred, creating one of the biggest television phenomenons of 2019. Much of the attention objectified the character (now known on the internet as “Hot Priest”) and subsequently Scott, often oversimplifying The Priest’s role in Fleabag’s ongoing character growth instead to a sexy sidepiece. Phoebe Waller Bridge, creator/writer/star of the series, beautifully summed up the appeal of The Priest in her Saturday Night Live monologue last year (click here to watch the full clip): “…Andrew and I were trying to figure out what it was about him that was driving women so mental, and we boiled it down and realized it was because he was doing this one thing: listening…really, really listening…” This observation hones in at last on the true appeal of The Priest, not only that he’s physically attractive but that, like many great heroes in romantic comedy, he exemplifies the qualities many of us seek in a partner: loyal, funny, kind, and a good listener. His attractiveness certainly does not hurt his appeal, but ultimately, the endurance of his character lies in those core attributes.

The Priest’s indelible traits are most evident in one of the series’ pivotal scenes, where Fleabag looks off camera mid-conversation to offer the audience one of her commentaries. “We’ll last a week,” she says in reference to the conversation they’ve had, in which they’ve agreed to be just friends. The Priest furrows his brow, peeking over at her, perplexed. He asks, “What was that…where did you just go?” Fleabag denies anything odd, only offering the audience a look of confusion when he glances away, likely as taken aback as we are that he’s been the only person in the entire series to truly notice her. This makes the ending of their romance all the more devastating, for the audience can only hope that Fleabag will perhaps meet someone else who could see her for who she truly is, or at the very least remind her that she is not all alone in this world, and that there is someone who knows the real her.

The plot itself is not entirely what makes the Fleabag/Priest love story so poignant; that lies in the honesty of the characterization, attributed to the incredible writing of Phoebe Waller Bridge and stellar performances of Waller Bridge and Andrew Scott. Waller Bridge invokes true heart and soul into Fleabag, reminding us that we are her and she is us. All of us make mistakes that we struggle to live with. All of us use unhealthy coping strategies at times. All of us fall in love with people when it’s destined to fail. To put it simply, we are all human, we are all imperfect. Scott’s magnetic Priest is an extension of that, a man who relies a bit too heavily on alcohol, who defies many preconceptions about what a member of the clergy is, a man in love who’s forced to make an impossible decision between two passions. He’s human, not the infallible, asexual being we are often led to believe priests are. It might seem a simple observation from a show so revolutionary, but the simplicity is what makes the performances and the show itself stand out.

In a world obsessed with appearances, Fleabag presents us with characters who are flawed and vulnerable, damaged souls simply trying to find their way in a world that only grows more complex by the day. The series is unafraid of taboos surrounding love and sex, instead embracing them head-on, reminding us that they cannot simply be compartmentalized. It is a love story for a modern world, fraught with complications, reminding us of the sad adage that sometimes, the love of your life is not the person you end up with, though the passion never fades. Not all love stories have happy endings, but the impression that person makes on your life for that moment in time is remarkable, even if simply for the fact that you knew what it felt to be loved that way, even just once.

Thanks for reading, and sound off below on your favorite Fleabag/Priest moments!

music

Stevie Nicks: A Celebration of Rock’s Mystical, Romantic Goddess

By any standards, Stevie Nicks is a legend.  Her celestial, mysterious persona, coupled with unimitable stage prescence and a smoky voice, has made her somewhat of an antidote to the industry, never capitalizing on an outwardly sexual display to market herself.   As a member of legendary rock band Fleetwood Mac and bona fide solo artist, she has sold over 140 million albums and at the time of this article is the only woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice (with Fleetwood Mac and solo).  However, beyond all the dark shimmer, Nicks is a true romantic at her core, knowing all too well the grandeur of a love affair as well as the yearning and long-lasting heartache of a relationship that didn’t work out.  Love songs, both those that show the negatives and positives, are music staples because of their relatability, and Nicks is one of the quintessential singer/songwriters on the subject.

Stevie Nicks, circa 1979

Stevie Nicks is the Fairy Godmother of Rock and Roll.  Taking cues from Janis Joplin and Grace Slick before her, Nicks never shied away from the edgy side of rock and roll.  The early rock and roll industry was male-dominated, therefore voices like that of Joplin and Slick were groundbreaking, inspiring another generation of women to push through the glass industry and prove that women could rock just as hard as the men.  Nicks continued to shatter it further, becoming one of the faces of Fleetwood Mac and eventually shooting through the stratosphere with a successful solo career while continuing to record with the Mac.  Like the confessional female songwriters of the early 1970s such as Joni Mitchell, Carole King, and Carly Simon, Nicks’ own life seeped into her lyrics, therefore allowing listeners an intimate glimpse into her own private world, all the while bringing down the house with her distinctive voice and edgy rock appeal.

However, at her heart, Nicks is also a romantic.  Her fashion sense is born of dreaminess, full of swishing skirts, lace, and moon pendants.  Her wide, brown eyes evoke both innocence and sensuality, and truthfully, both lie there.  Those who have seen her live know she is a force, completely enveloped by her songs, but once the music stops, a bubby, fast-talking woman emerges, and it’s easy to see why she remains a consistent musical voice nearly fifty years after she first emerged alongside Lindsey Buckingham with the Buckingham/Nicks album in 1973, for she writes about something humans all naturally crave: love.

Her storied romances are documented in her songs, almost like a scrapbook of her life.  She’s romanced the likes of Don Henley, Joe Walsh, and J.D. Souther and was even married briefly, though her most infamous love story is easily that of her and Lindsey Buckingham, her Fleetwood Mac bandmate.  Each of these relationships are documented through her music, both the freshness of new love, the overwhelming passion of a strong relationship, as well as the frustration and sometimes decline of those relationships.  From “Dreams” on the Rumours album (inspired by Buckingham) to “Sara” (inspired by Buckingham, Henley, and bandmate and onetime lover Mick Fleetwood) to “I Can’t Wait” and “Has Anyone Ever Written Anything for You?” (both inspired by Walsh), Nicks documents all of these love milestones and provides comfort to listeners at any of those stages in their lives.  However, what she does best is pining, and many of those tracks are directed at her most public, and perhaps even tragic, love affair.

Nicks with Lindsey Buckingham, circa 1975

Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham were together for the better part of a decade and joined Fleetwood Mac together in 1974, which was followed by the Mac’s comeback album Fleetwood Mac in 1975.  The end of their relationship helped culminate one of the most iconic rock albums of all times, Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 classic Rumours.  Their responses to the break-up were juxtaposed with the songs they penned, like responsive dialogue to each other, her ethereal, morse “Dreams” is sharply contrasted with his angrier, bold “Go Your Own Way.”  Since then, their relationship has remained tumultous to say the least, full of an abundance of highs and lows, culminating in Buckingham being fired from the band in 2018, a move that continues to divide fans (Buckingham previously left the band in 1987 due to a touring dispute; he returned in 1997).  Rumors (no pun intended) continue to circulate as to the true reasoning, but there is no doubt that much history lies between Nicks and Buckingham, and that cannot be lost on longtime fans.

Nicks’ love for Buckingham remains a common thread in her music, or at least it has in her most current works (all released prior to Buckingham’s departure).  Their breakup is now over forty years in the past, and yet songs like “Blue Denim” (from her 1994 album Street Angel) and “She Loves Him Still (from 2014’s 24 Karat Gold: Songs from the Vault) remind us that their history is lengthy and complex, but despite all that, a deep connection remains.  All of us have been in relationships that did not work, be it our feelings were unrequited or the differences were just too great.  Nicks’ music illustrates the pain, the longing, and mostly, how that lingers and impacts all that comes after it.  

Nicks, circa 1979

At the time of this post, Nicks is now seventy-one, independent and still ferociously dedicated to her career.  She has inspired an entire generation of songwriters, from Sheryl Crow to Lady Gaga and Adele, proof that a woman can be both strong and vulnerable and stand along her male counterparts.  Love has the power to be both a most enchanting, beautiful feeling as well as something that can shred an individual’s very soul, and Nicks’ poetic, mystifying lyrics display both, often in the same track.  Generations of listeners, both young and old, will undoubtedly continue to discover this songstress’s incredible tales, both her own and those of characters she’s created, reminding us that we are never alone, that love is all that we’ve ever experienced it to be, and that sometimes, not every love story has a happily ever after.  Perhaps she is the true “hopeful romantic,” always believing in the grand passion and loving many incredible men, and while never truly settling down with any of them, she never stops reminding us of all the beauty that it brings, no matter through happiness or bittersweet memories.

Let me know your favorite Stevie Nicks song in the comments below!

 

Uncategorized

The Most Common Misconceptions About Romance Novels (And Their Writers)

Romance is easily one of the most chastized (and yet oddly, most profitable) genres in the fiction industry.  It serves as the butt of jokes for a variety of reasons, although many of these statements are generalized or simply due to lack of firsthand knowledge of the genre.  In this week’s post, I have chosent to explore what I have found to be the most common misconceptions about romance novels and the peole who write them.

  1. Romance novels are “just fluff.”
    This is easily the most common condemnation of the romance genre.  Its critics state that romance novels have no substance.  However, just like films or any other medium, romance novels have sub-genres, and while there are romantic comedies and more light-hearted novels, romantic suspense is very popular.  Romance novels, in fact, have a lengthy history of tackling issues like domestic violence, rape, and single parenthood.  These have also been consistent themes touched on since the advent of the modern romance novel in the early 1970s, not necessarily due to media attention on a specific event or movement.  As with any book, it’s all dependent on the genre (or in this case, sub-genre), that the reader selects.
  2. Romance novels are all about sex.                                                                                        This misconception is also known as “All romance novels are like Fifty Shades of         Grey.”  Besides the fact that this can be easily disproven by the fact that the Christian romance genre continues to flourish, these generalized statements also dismiss the subgenres, which often dictate the “heat levels” of romances.  These heat levels range anywhere from no sexual activity at all between the heroine and heroine to vry explicit sex scenes, such as those in Fifty Shades and other erotic romances.  However, most romances fall into the “hot” category, where there is usually one or two descriptive love scenes and perhaps another one or two which are casually mentioned.  Safe to say that leaves another ninety percent of the novel reliant on character development rather than the sexual relationship of the characters.  While the intimacy often proves to be a progression for the characters, the focus of the story is their journey, though sex may or may not be part of that.  As a writer of the genre as well, it is also important to say that the intimacy of the characters (and the explicitness of the love scenes) is very character-driven and suited to the couples’ personality.
  3. Romance novels are predictable.                                                                                          This misconception is likely due to the fact that in order for a novel to qualify as a categorized “romance novel,” the story must have a “happily ever after” or a “happy for now” conclusion.  While that might be the case, the journey to that satisfying conclusion is often rocky.  Obstacles drive the plot of any novel, and while romantic endings generally have a “walking off into the sunset” conclusion to look forward to, that does not make the voyage less frustrating or even sad at times.  This is particularly true for series that follow a singular couple, such as Sylvia Day’s Crossfire series, which took five books for the characters to reach their “happily ever after,” with an emotional, exhausting journey along the way.  While perhaps not having a ponder-worthy ending, many romance novels remain etched in the mind long after the final page is turned, be it character development, education about a social issue, or unimitatable chemistry between the couple.
  4. Romance heroes and heroines are flawless.                                                                     This assumption is slightly easier to understand, especially if romance novel covers were truly representative of what lay between the pages of these books.  However, it can also be disputed that, like all of us, the heroes and heroines in these novels have their flaws, both physically and emotionally.  It can be a scar on their face, a physical impairment, or a past trauma, and these add layers to the characters, enhancing their realism.   In recent years, there have been many authors who have further embraced this push for representation of the true female size, including heroines labeled as “plus-sized.”  This inclusivity adds for further character connections, and therefore a more enjoyable reading experience.
  5. Romance novels are written by middle-aged women surrounded by a plethora of cats.                                                                                                                                            So maybe this is little specific, but there certainly is a belief that the people behind the romance genre are middle-aged spinsters.  In fact, the irrelevancy of this can be easily disputed by the fact that there are male romance novelists as well as LGBTQ+ writers who continue to expand their reach within the genre.  People of all backgrounds write romance, and nothing about their “real world” personality need explain what they choose to write.  Of course, there is also the obvious fact that the age, marital status, sexual orientation, etc. of the author is irrelevant to storytelling, but that could be a post in itself.  I, for one, am twenty-four, but read romances written by authors of a variety of age ranges, genders, whatever demographic area chosen.  At the end of the day, it’s not what matters, but it proves to be another nitpicking point (or perhaps humoring point) for critics of the genre.
  6. Romance novels are only read by middle aged women.                                                As someone who was a mere fourteen when I began reading romances, I can dispute this fact from my personal experience.  However, most romance writers state that they began reading the genre around a similar age, which leads me to believe that the genre is read by a wide age range, from teens to people in the aging population.  This could account for romance being one of the top selling genres in the fiction industry, though this is not a widely publicized fact.  In fact, many of the heroes and heroines in these novels are in their twenties and thirties, so it makes sense that people within those age brackets would also be drawn to these stories, as it is yet another point of relatability.  These are novels full of love, passion, and overcoming the obstacles, and these are plot points that many people can connect with.

Thoughts on this?  Have you encountered any other misconceptions about romance, or do you have any others you’re aware of that you would like addressed?  Sound off in the comments below!

movies

“Stay Forever:” The Hopeful Romantic’s Reexamination of the “Hugh Grant Archetype”

The image that Hugh Grant’s name conjures for anyone over thirty is likely a distinct one: floppy, unkempt chestnut hair most would envy, magnificent blue eyes which could seemingly bore into the soul, and perhaps one of the most bright, endearing smiling to ever grace celluloid, complete with a rather prominent set of dimples (see the poster for the 1995 film Nine Months for further evidence). The visual is likely complemented by a honeyed British accent, bumbling vocabulary, and a shy demeanor. It is a personality that was the fixture of many beloved romantic comedies, particularly throughout the 1990s. Though Grant himself states the roles are not representative of his own personality, the character structure he favored during that part of his career has left an indelible mark on the portrayal of love in pop culture.

Hugh Grant, circa 1999

American fans caught their first glimpse of Grant when the British romantic comedy Four Weddings and a Funeral exploded at the box office. The thirty-three-year-old already had over a dozen film and twenty television credits, including characters of a variety of backgrounds, archetypes, and even sexual orientations. However, it was the role of Charles, a bumbling, endearing Englishman who pines for Carrie (Andie MacDowell), an American with whom he shares a near instantaneous connection with at two of life’s landmarks: weddings and a funeral.

Charles was not intended to be outwardly attractive to women, which was one of the reasons screenwriter Richard Curtis fought the casting of Hugh Grant, fearing he might bring too much charm and smoothness to it. In fact, Grant’s costumes and haircut were intended to offset his appearance. However, as evidenced by his meteoric rise to international superstardom and popularization of the aforementioned haircut, it appeared that the charming British-ness of the character and his actor were anything but unappealing.

Grant and Andie MacDowell in a still from Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)

As a rather awkward millennial, I find it nearly too easy to relate to, and most certainly crush on, Charles. He says the wrong thing at inopportune moments, fumbles his words when he’s trying to be impressive, and is constantly brushing back his unruly hair with his fingertips. Still, though, you find yourself smiling when he talks, your heart aching when Carrie casts him aside after each one-night-stand, and and your own fingertips itching to brush his hair back for him. Charles is likely a person many a person you’ve been friends with and never noticed, which is a pattern I’ve found in Grant’s lovable rom-com characters. Many of them are the types of men women claim they would like to date or be in a relationship with, and yet they are also the type we tend to walk on by in favor of a smooth-talking beautiful disaster a la Daniel Cleaver, another iconic Grant role.

Despite Richard Curtis’s initial opposition to casting Hugh Grant in Four Weddings, the two worked together on four subsequent films to date as well as two short sequels to feature length films. The leading man roles in two of the films (and the shorts) bear some echoes of Four Weddings‘ Charles, usually in the bungling of words and ineptness in social situations, which is perhaps what inspired their second collaboration.

Notting Hill is widely considered a standard in the world of film romance. At the time of its release in 1999, it paired Grant with Julia Roberts, easily the biggest film star in the world and the queen of romantic comedies. The film follows Grant’s William Thacker, a bookshop owner who bumbles his way into the heart of Roberts’ Anna Scott, a stratospherically successful film actress. Their journey to happily ever after is funny, touching, and sweeping, a true romantic’s dream, and much of it is thanks to Richard Curtis’ carefully crafted, swoon-worthy creation, particularly where the hero is concerned.

Will Thacker certainly bears resemblance to Charles in his general social awkwardness, constant ruffling of his glorious hair (which earned Will the childhood nickname of Floppy), and introverted personality. However, the difference in the character is an increase in maturity. Where Charles fears commitment, which leads to many of his romantic troubles, Will is more established, albeit unsuccessful, in life. He is divorced and has a career, uncertain as it sometimes appear.  He retains that endearing awkwardness and boyish streak, but there is a more seasoned approach, particularly in the moments where he stands his ground and admits that his “relatively inexperienced heart” could not stand to be broken again.  Whereas Charles from Four Weddings could be viewed more as the young adult crush, Will is an adult take on a sensitive, romantic male in love who, while willing to take a risk, also does not want to be walked all over like he was in the past (though he certainly has his pushover moments).  It is growth in the writing of Richard Curtis as well as the character archetype he embraced with Grant as his instrument.

A swoon-worthy Grant in Notting Hill (1999)

Curiously enough, this film also follows a similar pattern to Four Weddings and a Funeral in that the heroine is the more “experienced” in relationships than the male charcter, or is at least presented that way.  In film and novels, there is a tendency to lean toward the male character being more experienced and always knowing the perfect line or having an impeccable appearance, whereas the former and Notting Hill rely on a more sensitve leading male character and a wordly, nearly cynical leading lady.  It is a refreshing structure, and perhaps that is what has made Will in particular one of the most endearing romantic leading characters of all time.

Following some branching out into more caddish roles such as sleazy boss Daniel Cleaver in two Bridget Jones films, billionaire playboy George Wade in Two Weeks Notice, and a critically acclaimed turn as Will Freeman in About a Boy, Grant reunited with Richard Curtis for the writer’s directorial debut, the British rom com ensemble Love Actually. Co-starring Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, and Colin Firth, the film is like a beautifully wrapped gift chock full of intertwining love stories. This turn has Grant as David, the newly elected British Prime Minister who is instantly entranced by Natalie (the adorable Martine McCutcheon), his equally charming household staff member, who find themselves in the midst of flirtatious banter and a rather uncomfortable misunderstanding following a run in with the U.S. president, which leaves David questioning Natalie’s intentions.  Capped off by an iconic dance scene and the genuine sweetness of David and Natalie’s slightly clandestine attraction, it is the lovely centerpiece of the film, integrating the freshness and hopeful spirit of new love found in a most unlikely circumstance.

Grant’s David trying to maintain his cool during his first meeting with Natalie (Martine McCutcheon)- Love Actually (2003)

Where Will Thacker certainly expanded on the maturity of Richard Curtis’s character archetype, David continues that progression.  Some of that may have to do with age, both of actor and writer, as Grant was forty-three in this film, compared to thirty-eight in Notting Hill and thirty-four in Four Weddings, but it likely also simply the evolving of a familiar character arc.  Grant has stated in interviews that he believes many of the leading male characters are inspired by Curtis himself, therefore this would provide an explanation as to the more edgy approach.  David maintains that sweet, sincere sensitivity consistent with the previously discussed characters, but there is also increased assertiveness and confidence, exercised in particular during his interactions with the American president, where a determination to exert authority and strength is very evident.  This could also be due to the very nature of the character who is, after all, supposed to be a politician and therefore would need a thicker skin and more cutthroat approach.  Those actions are sharly contrasted by his demeanor with Natalie, who confides in him about her ex-boyfriend who ended their relationship because she was “getting fat,” to which David’s eyes widen and he offers to have him murdered (in a completely joking manner), all the while stealing a conversation whenever he can just to be around her.  It is that multi-layered approach that shows the growth of the character archetype, making the character unique yet familiar.

These days, the 58 year old actor’s iconic locks have long since been trimmed short, speckled with gray, and a few wrinkles are now etched in the expected places.  He last appeared in romantic comedy a decade ago, alongside Sarah Jessica Parker in Did You Hear About the Morgans? (2009).  He has embraced more complex characters in the years since, receiving critical acclaim for roles in Florence Foster Jenkins and more recently, A Very English Scandal.  Despite this gradual metamorphosis and increased honing of his craft, none of it diminishes the roles that built Grant’s career and established his place in the public consciousness.  In fact, it perhaps encourages admiration for an actor who broke free and reinvented himself at a time in his career when many flounder and struggle with their identity.

Grant, mid-1990s

The “Hugh Grant archetype,” as I’ve come to describe the Richard Curtis-crafted male leads, is one that is distinctly belong to the actor and screenwriter.  Rarely are romantic leads, particularly as we approach the second decade of the twenty-first century, so genuine, romantic, and gallant, yet not conventionally with eloquent vocabulary or seamless way about them.  In a world where sincerity is always an uncertainty, the portrayal of a man who retains sensitivity and strength, balancing both masculine and feminine qualities, is refreshing, unique, and enduring.  Perhaps that is why these romantic films endure, for they do not rely on a suave, alpha ladies’ man to sweep a delicate flower of a heroine from a life of toil.  Instead, they show that often what we seek is right in front of us, sometimes in a more muted, unsuspecting package than we would expect.  All we have to do is dig deeper and brush back the surface.

Sound off below and let me know your favorite Hugh Grant film in the comments!

music

The Hopeful Romantic Picks…Her Top 5 Love Songs from the Movies

Where there’s a great love story…a great love song should follow. This week, I’ve picked my Top 5 love songs featured in movies. These songs not only perfectly illustrate the power of love but also reflect well the couples in the films or the overall plot line. Grab your headphones and some tissues (and maybe queue up some of these movies) and prepare for some good old fashioned love songs…

  1. “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life”- Performed by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes (from Dirty Dancing)

If a more uplifting, exciting ending exists than that of Dirty Dancing, set to the perfectly written, exuberant “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life,” I have not yet encountered it. The lyrics perfectly suit Johnny Castle and Baby Houseman’s classic love story, and music itself sets the stage for one of the most iconic dance scenes in cinematic history. You can’t help but smile at the pure romance of it all, from the forbidden lovers truly able to embrace their feelings in public set to a song that couldn’t have been better suited to the theme of the film To further enhance the authenticity, both artists were recording artists when the film was set in the summer of 1963, bringing at sixties flavor to 1987.

2. “(Everything I Do), I Do It for You”- Performed by Bryan Adams (from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves)

Aside from Kevin Costner’s wavering accent, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is likely best remembered for this mega-hit. Rocker Bryan Adams’ raspy six and a half minute power ballad is ultimate cheese, complete with lengthy guitar solos reminiscent of eighties power ballads, but it also feels sincere and epic, suited perfectly for the legendary love story of Robin Hood and Maid Marian. The gorgeous, romantic lyrics also make it my top pick for a wedding song, but that’s another list…

3. “I Will Always Love You”- Performed by Whitney Houston (from The Bodyguard)

Perhaps the best song not originally written for a film, Whitney Houston’s powerhouse remake of Dolly Parton’s 1974 country hit could not have been better suited for The Bodyguard, the 1992 blockbuster film debut of Houston. In a film pairing two unlikely people, a superstar and her bodyguard, this soaring track balances well the somber ending, a love letter to the person you love but cannot be with, emotion-wrought lyrics filled with sincere well wishes and sweeping declarations. Sad love songs rarely come in such a striking package.

4. Against All Odds”- Performed by Phil Collins (from Against All Odds)

Serving as the title track for the 1984 romantic drama starring Jeff Bridges and Rachel Ward, Phil Collins’ piano driven ballad expresses the narrator’s determination to maintain hope that the woman he loves will return to him despite the odds being slim. Utilized at the conclusion of the film and at the end credits, it slightly lifts what could have been a melancholy ending, infusing it with positivity and perhaps even adding to the romantic notion that the lovers in the film might eventually be reunited. Still, the sadness of the hope likely being moot does tinge the ballad with bittersweetness. Sad songs typically don’t conclude romantic films, but when they do work, it is golden, as in this case.

5. “Can You Feel the Love Tonight”- Performed by Elton John (from The Lion King)

Elton John is a master of the romantic ballad, and this grandiose single from The Lion King feels nearly too mature for an animated film if listened to without context, but the magical beauty of the song adds to the sparkling Disney-ness of it, blending together John’s masterful adult contemporary sound and the simplicity of Disney score, creating one of the most iconic love songs for the artist and the film dynasty.

Honorable Mentions:

After All”- Performed by Cher and Peter Cetera (from Chances Are)

Though not a fan of the film, this song is an absolutely stunning track for anyone with that person who keeps walking back into their lives, even after they think they’ve said goodbye. There are few better songs about the ups and downs of love.

“Love is All Around” Performed by Wet Wet Wet (from Four Weddings and a Funeral)

This 1994 remakes of The Troggs ‘1967 hit perfectly suited the quirky rom-com with its saccharine sweetness complete a couple edgy guitar riffs to ramp up the power ballad-ness.

“It Must Have Been Love”- Performed by Roxette (from Pretty Woman)

This 1990 smash is sentimental, dreamy, and reflective…perfectly suited to its use in one of the film’s more touching moments.

What are some of your favorite songs from the movies? Sound off in the comments!

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Literary Elitism: The Demonization of the Romance Genre

As a romance writer, one of my biggest frustrations continues to be that romance is one of the most ridiculed genres in literature, despite that it is one of the top selling genres in the realm of fiction. This is due to elitism within the literary community and a variety of misconceptions about the romance genre. It can be frustrating and tiring for readers and writers to be ostracized and teased for what they read or write about, and this shaming needs to stop.

I began reading romances when I was fourteen. In high school, I received funny looks from teachers when I carried one of my books with me to class. The shock and judgment grew even worse when I wrote my first romance novel in my senior year of high school. That was the year after Fifty Shades of Grey exploded and thrust the romance genre into the spotlight, both in positive and negative lights. It showed that people did read romances, but it also displayed the fodder romance was, labeled fluff and compared to pornography (a rather interesting paradox, if one were to think about it). I always felt that the novels I read were being put down in favor of literary fiction, as though those books were somehow more valuable.

While I was proud when I released my first romance novel, I also felt judged. I got a lot of questions like “Is your book like Fifty Shades?” There was an assumption that just because I wrote romance, I automatically wrote a book like that, though romance is more complex than simply BDSM novels.

What many people do not realize is that there are a variety of romance types. This consists of sub-genres and heat levels. Most romances are categorized by “heat level” secondly to their sub-genre. This term indicates the sexual content of the novel. “Sweet” is the term for novels that contain no sex scenes or minimal ones, such as the bedroom door closing behind a couple in a film. “Hot” is usually where most romance novels fall in the spectrum, which means that there are a few sex scenes throughout the book but not in graphic detail. “Spicy” romances, more commonly referred to as erotic, are where novels such as Fifty Shades of Grey would be categorized, which indicates that the sexual relationship between the couple is a more integral part of the relationship and that there will be more than a few sex scenes within the book.

Love scenes are a part of romance novels, but these books are so much more than that. The purpose of a romance novel is to explore the development of a romantic relationship between two people and the journey that it takes them on together and as individuals. Depending on the writer, this can be explored in a variety of ways.

I am lucky that people have not been as judgmental about my reading or writing romances as time has gone on. However, among academics, I still sense a feeling of bias towards literary fiction and classic novels, almost as if one is not a serious reader if they do not read “something of substance.” Romances are not considered to be quality reading and are passed off as fluffy, predictable, and pornography.

My trouble with these labels is that they are untrue. Calling a romance predictable is only basing the book simply on the far that it will end happily (a requirement of the genre label), and what is wrong with that? Romances are all about a journey, and oftentimes, it is very complex. Sometimes, it takes more than one book for a couple to work through all of the complications that separate them. While it is a requirement for there to be a “happily ever after” or “happy for now” ending for a book to be considered a romance, the journey can still be surprising and gut-wrenching.

As far as romances being fluffy, it depends on the sub-genre a reader chooses. Many romances, particularly those in the erotic and romantic suspense sub-genres, can be quite dark and intense. Sweet contemporary romances tend to be more fluffy, but there is nothing wrong with a book being enjoyable. Books are entertainment, after all. It’s like enjoying a good romantic comedy, just with a little more elaboration.

The pornography accusation infuriates me. People demonize the genre simply because of sex scenes. Some may be gratuitous, but many times, romances use love scenes to further enhance the emotional connection between the characters. In some cases, it may also provide the reader with some insight into past physical or sexual traumas that a character has been suppressing. Not all is for titillation, as often suggested by the genre’s critics.

The point of books are that they should be an escape from reality, and the reader should enjoy them. Reading should not have to be focused on searching for some deeper meaning that an author may or may not have intended for a reader to see. No one should be judged for what they read, and it is frustrating that individuals still feel the need to make others feel as though they are less because they prefer to escape in a romance. These novels took just as much time to create as any classic novel from English class, and people should think about that before they start to judge someone for what they are read. After all, what is the alternative? Not reading? Is that a better lesson than people reading about relationship development with a little sentiment attached, or has our society become so cynical that we judge anything with even a hint of happy ending to it?