[REVIEW] ‘Emma’ and Why Miss Woodhouse is Austen’s Most Delightfully Flawed Heroine

Everyone knows I love me some Jane Austen. For someone who wrote in the late 18th century it truly is remarkable how relevant and entertaining her work still remains to this day. Each year I try to re-read her books and I have seen every film adaptation out there from heroines killing zombies, facing cliques in high school, to Bollywood, to our traditional retellings in Georgian era garb and British accents. They almost always work for me to one degree or another.

And yet even by her fans sometimes Austen isn’t given the credit her writing deserves. They are admired but casually grouped in with romantic novels only about silly women falling in love. This is far from the case. The women of Austen are dynamic humans who are forced to make choices, and frankly the only major choice within their power at that time was who they agreed to marry. So when Lizzie refuses Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice this is not a normal dating scenario but a radical departure from customs and even a risk to her own survival and that of her family.

Austen’s novel Emma is especially interesting because it has her only heroine that is not on the outs of society. Lizzie and Jane are losing their home, Eleanor and MaryAnn in Sense and Sensibility are left in rather dire straits after their father dies, Fanny in Mansfield Park is dependent upon her cousins for survival and Anne in Persuasion has a double woe of being both an old maid and having a foolish father who has squandered their fortune.

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But then we have Emma. Miss Emma Woodhouse not only faces no financial crisis but she is so comfortable and frankly bored that she deems it her responsibility to meddle in other people’s lives. As one might expect, the more she meddles the more trouble she gets into and this makes her an interesting character. She has different flaws than the other Austen heroines.With these flaws it would be easy to make Emma an unlikable character, but there are two reasons why her story works:

First, she always has the best of intentions. Whether it is meddling with Harriett or encouraging Mr Elton, she is trying to increase the joy of those around her. This makes her foibles easy to relate with despite her aristocratic lifestyle.

Secondly, the narrative never fails to call her out for her mistakes. This is usually done by Mr Knightley but occasionally by Mrs Weston and sometimes it is her own inner monologing that teaches Emma the lesson she needs to learn. By the end of the novel she has grown immensely and has a new appreciation for her entire community. This is what you want to see in a story- character growth in addition to a compelling romance.

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2020 Film

Anyway, I tell you all this to try and explain why I think the new adaptation by director Autumn de Wilde of Emma works so well. She seems to instinctively understand and respect what Austen was going for in the story and character. Then she adds her own flair and touches I found completely delightful and charming. Aside from Clueless this may be the outright funniest version of the story and yet it still has the heart and vulnerability we need from the titular character.

In this version, Emma is played by actress Anya Taylor- Joy, and she feels younger and more sheltered than other versions. This makes total sense for her character. She certainly would not be someone that would have ever gone to any formal schooling or been out a lot in social situations. Most of her experience would be from her governess and/or her Father. Now her teacher and Mother-figure is leaving, so it’s no wonder she quickly finds a more naive and innocent person she can teach and train in Harriett Smith.

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Harriett is played by Mia Goth and she’s definitely my favorite person to play the role with the exception of perhaps Brittany Murphy in Clueless. The two of them are truly the blind leading the blind but they both mean well and seem to have a true bond of friendship that helps them to forgive and quickly find new loves to dote upon.

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Then we have the Eltons played by Josh O’Connor and Tanya Reynolds (her hair was especially memorable! Take note come Oscars). They are our comic relief/ or rich people who don’t learn and grow like Emma does. Miranda Hart is lovely as the chatter-box that is Miss Bates and Callum Turnder is the mysterious and selfish Frank Churchill. All of these characters sparkled with humor and wit.

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However, the funniest of them all is Bill Nighy playing Emma’s father Mr Woodhouse. He is a hypochondriac who has the doctor on continual notice (even when a baby is crying he wants to call the doctor!) and is constantly worried about the drafts in the house (which leads to a hilarious bit I won’t spoil). Even his reaction to the weather made me laugh. I would nominate him for best supporting actor if it was up to me. So funny.

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Finally, let’s talk about Mr Knightley and Emma in this version. This is a younger version of Knightley than we get in the novel, which I was a bit anxious about but it worked. Because he has clearly been working and out in the world more than Emma, his lectures and scolding still feels valid and earned.

I loved the way de Wilde and screenwriter Eleanor Catton give time where Emma and Knightley are fighting so hard they are shouting at each other. It was very refreshing for this kind of period piece. Also actor Johnny Flynn has the smoulder and suffering for his girl we like to see in spades! However, it is not all grand gestures as we see sweet and swoonworthy moments where he is crying in desperation for Emma. It helps that Taylor-Joy and Flynn have sizzling chemistry together especially in the dancing scenes where they are allowed to touch and linger on the feel of each other’s hands. So good!

While watching Emma I definitely felt some inspiration from 2018’s The Favorite and 2016’s Love and Friendship. They are both films with a period sensibility but a sharp sardonic sense of humor, and I’m all for that. It’s what Austen would have wanted and enjoyed in this day and age. It’s what she was going for with her bold heroines who defied convention in the one way they could: LOVE! It’s the best. l love Austen and I really loved this version of Emma! Go see it!

9 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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My Real Favorite Movies Part 1

Today I finished watching 2 of my favorite movies. Was it Casablanca? Was it Ben-Hur (both movies I adore). No, it was The Cutting Edge and Julie and Julia. Neither are movies you would see on top 10 lists of great films or praised for their great artistry but I love them. And it got me thinking. I think most of us have a secret favorite movies list. You know what I mean? That list of movies you actually like best but you know aren’t ‘great movies’. It’s kind of like the woman who secretly loves dime romance novels but tells all her friends her favorite book is Anna Karenina or War and Peace. It’s not that she dislikes the classics but they don’t give her quite the pleasure of her true favorites.

Anyway, I thought it would be fun to share with you 5 of my secret favorites and then I will continue to do more every once in a while. I’d love to hear what yours are (most of these won’t be a big shock because I talk about what I love with my friends. So not that much of a secret LOL)

You could also easily call this list- My Rewatch List. These are movies I could rewatch over and over again and never tire of (Wonder Woman would make this list but it’s pretty well loved)

You’ve Got Mail-

I had somebody once on this very blog tell me that my opinion on movies was obviously invalid because I went to BYU and loved You’ve Got Mail. I’m not sure how the math on that works out but there you go. I absoloutely adore You’ve Got Mail. It is one of the best, if not the best, remake ever made of the delightful Shop Around the Corner. It is chock full of Nora Ephron’s perfect writing. I love her commentary on everything from childrens books to leather jackets to Starbucks. I love that it is secretly a movie about work and how we get our sole value from our paid employment so frequently. I love Meg and Tom in it. I love the supporting cast. I love West Side of New York and all the stops at Riverside Park and the Gray’s Papaya. I love how it loves movies like the Godfather. I love the scene when Tom Hanks gets Rose to run the credit card through the machine and how upset Henry is. I love that Birdie had an affair with General Franco. I love that Frank wants to write a book about the Luddite movement and that he thinks it is relevant. I love that Kathleen loves Joni Mitchell and thinks of her mother when she hears River. You get the idea…I just love it and that’s that.

Home Alone-

A lot of people love Home Alone around the holidays but I love Home Alone year round. I first saw Home Alone when I was 9 years old and visiting my Grandparents for a special trip all by myself. Being independent was very important to me as a child (still is in many ways) and I completely connected with Kevin McCallister’s story and found it to be the funniest movie I’d ever seen. I remember just rolling out of my chair I was laughing so hard and not necessarily at the parts you might think. The booby traps are very funny for kids but I also thought the scene where he accidentally steals the toothbrush was funny or when he tricks the pizza delivery guy with the Angels with Filthy Souls fake mafia movie tape. “I’m going to give you till the count of 10 to get your ugly yellow no good kiester off my property…” That was hilarious to the kid me and I still think it is funny. But Home Alone wasn’t just laughs but it was also empowering to the young me. Kevin figures out how to shop for groceries, cook dinner, do laundry and save the house from burglars while he is at it. It’s the best.

Clueless-

Clueless came out the summer before my freshman year of high school and I vividly remember the experience. I watched it and not only thought it was hilarious but I felt like my world made a little bit more sense than it had before.  When Cher is talking about the boys and their baggy pants with a backwards cap ‘and we’re supposed to swoon’ I completely understood what she meant. I saw it every day! When she talked about frustrations at school or trying to fit in with friends it made sense to me. Even her getting on the freeway for the first time clicked. I was always terrified of driving and later once I had my permit my Dad took me on the freeway and he had to remind me to hold on to the steering wheel just like Murray had done with Dionne. I still love everything about Clueless. I love Paul Rudd in it. I love that it is based on Emma. I love all the hilarious lines. I love the interactions between Cher and her Dad. I love her speech about the Haitians. I love the soundtrack with all my favorite 90s songs. I just love it.

Dirty Dancing-

In fairness a lot of people love Dirty Dancing but I still feel it isn’t respected as a ‘great film’ like it should be. I like it much better than any of the Molly Ringwald coming of age comedies from the 80s. My love of Dirty Dancing is perhaps more amazing because it features a character having an abortion- a practice I abhor but the movie isn’t about that. It’s about a young girl coming to terms with the world and her own womanhood. Other people make all kinds of choices in life and part of growing up is to learn to love them regardless. This is what Baby learns. She loves Johnny and he loves her and they dance together and it changes her life. The best!

Moonstruck-

I love Moonstruck. I feel like I frequently see it come up on lists of ‘undeserved Oscar wins’ and I heartily disagree. I love Cher in this and her chemistry with Nicholas Cage is off the charts. I love how wounded he is and how they fight and the way the tension builds. I love the dialogue and when Cher says you’re “a wolf without a foot!” I love the scenes at the opera and how La Boheme makes her cry. I love the scenes with Olympia Dukakis and John Mahoney and I love when she tells Cosmo “Your life is not built on nothing.” It’s such a perfect response to a movie I love!

So there you have it! Those are 5 of my secret favorite movies. What do you think? What are some movies you love that aren’t usually listed in top 10 best movie lists? I’d love to hear.

There shall be more on this topic to come so be ready!

Foolishness: My Favorite Comedies

Happy April Fools!  I’m honestly not a big fan of practical jokes but I do enjoy a good laugh.  I thought given the day I would share with all of you 10 of my favorite comedies.

For these 10 I tried to pick all out comedies, not romantic comedies, dark comedies or movies like the Apartment that have comedic elements.  These are roll on the ground, laugh out loud, make me laugh every time films.  Humor is completely subjective (all films are but especially comedies) so these are just what I find most funny.  You may not and that’s cool.  Instead of just critiquing my list (easy to do) share with me your favorites and what makes you laugh.

1. Monty Python and the Holy Grail- Almost everyone I know thinks this is funny. There are so many jokes and the script is so well written. Some highlights are the Sir Bevedere and King Arthur debating about the witch, the knights that say ni, the black knight with no arms and legs screaming ‘Come on ya pansy!’, The Castle of Aaaauuuggghhhh (he must have died while carving it), “Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries!”…  So funny.

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2. Napoleon Dynamite- A somewhat polarizing movie that some either think is hilarious or it drives them nuts.  I’m in the hilarious camp.  Maybe partly because everyone involved is from my alma mater (for the most part) and I really relate to the rural Idaho setting?  Who knows?  It’s so likable and has one of the most endearing lead characters in modern movies so I love it.

If you haven’t read my character profile on Napoleon please do. When you really think about it he has a sad life.  They are obviously poor, his parents are nowhere to be seen, his brother and uncle are a mess,  his grandma has just been injured and he get’s rejected by the girl he asks out.  But you’d never know about it from watching Napoleon.  He’s walking around, looking at things and happy with his life.

There are so many great lines like “I told you! I spent it with my uncle in Alaska hunting wolverines!”, “A liger…It’s pretty much my favorite animal. It’s like a lion and a tiger mixed”, “How was school? The worst day of my life, what do you think?”, “You know, there’s like a boat-load of gangs at this school. This one gang kept wanting me to join because I’m pretty good with a bo staff”, “No, but who would? I don’t even have any good skills…You know, like numchuk skills, bow hunting skills, computer hacking skills… Girls only want boyfriends who have great skills.”

When he dances and shows the ultimate confidence it is hilarious and such a great victory.

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3.It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World – The dream cast that will never be beat and the ultimate cat and mouse chase story that has every kind of humor. It’s a mad cap race to find the treasure and hilarious all the way through it. Jonathan Winters , Ethel Merman and Buddy Hackett are particular favorites. 

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It’s the kind of movie that could never be made today because the studios would be so lazy.  Movies like New Years Eve, Movie 43, and Grown Ups figure all we have to do is have a bunch of famous people and it will get folks in the theater.  They don’t have a good script or funny setups.  It’s just disgusting crass and vulgar and not funny! It’s a Mad Mad World did it right.

4.  What About Bob- What makes What About Bob one of the funniest movies ever made is it is a classic example of someone driving another human being nuts and being completely oblivious.  Bob is having a great time.  He’s happy as a clam, and he isn’t intentionally annoying, but just trying to be loving and his shrink’s biggest fan.  But the shrink played by Richard Dryfuss lets one thing get to him and then another and another until it is this huge volcano. So often in life do we allow someone to get under our skin and they are completely unaware.  That is funny and totally rings true.  Bill Murray is so likable in the role and has an innocence that makes you root for him all the while he is making Dryfuss crazy.

It is so well written with great scenes like the dinner ‘um, this corn is delicious.  Is this hand shucked?’  or “There are two types of people in this world: Those who like Neil Diamond, and those who don’t. My ex-wife loves him”. “It reminds me of my favorite poem, which is, “Roses are red, violets are blue, I’m a schizophrenic… and so am I!”

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5. Clueless- My favorite comedy for many years.  Based on Jane Austen’s Emma it tells the story of rich socialite Cher and her best friend Dion as they try to do a little matchmaking with their friends in high school.  I love scenes like the Haitians and the dinner party or Cher’s description of her diet- “I feel like such a heifer. I had two bowls of Special K, 3 pieces of turkey bacon, a handful of popcorn, 5 peanut butter M&M’s and like 3 pieces of licorice”.  Ha.

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Almost every line of this movie makes me laugh and yes I think it is funnier than Mean Girls although that is also great.  Amy Heckerling does such a brilliant job making Cher and Dion, who would be the mean girls, into likable endearing characters.

My favorite scene by far is when Dion ends up on the highway for the first time.  I love his scene because I remember when a similar event actually happened to me in high school and I freaked out.

6. Better Off Dead- this is an admittedly stupid movie but it makes me laugh every time.  It’s about this kid named Lane Meyers played by John Cusack who obsesses over his girlfriend. When she dumps him he doesn’t think it is worth living until he challenges her boyfriend to ski the K12.

The plot is really just an excuse for a lot of hilarious gags like the newspaper boy who menaces Lane for his $2, the taxi drivers who learned English from Howard Cossell, Lane’s stoner best friend who says ‘this is pure snow.  Do you realize the street value of this stuff?’, his brother who collects coupons before the cereal is done, his neighbor who is teaching a foreign exchange student ‘the international language’, his mother who is such a bad cook it walks off the plate.  It’s hilarious and I love it.

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7. Bringing Up Baby-  This movie starring Kathrine Hepburn and Cary Grant taking care of a Leopard named Baby is hilarious from start to finish.  Grant is the uptight paleontoglist professor and Hepburn is a rich doner’s daughter who is a massive klutz.  They have to transport this leopard and all hell breaks loose and it has great dialogue, slapstick, hijinks,  and mistaken identities.  It’s one you could watch with the entire family and all have a hearty laugh.

 8.  The General-  A movie that has to be seen to be believed.  What Buster Keaton does with physical stunts is unbelievable.  Most of this movie is shot on a moving train and all to get the gags.  It’s an adventure and incredibly funny at the same time.  Very few title cards are needed because Buster Keaton is so expressive in his eyes and face.  It’s brilliant and hard to believe they could make a movie that holds up so well with action comedies of today, if not even slicker and more polished because it is actual people risking their lives instead of CGI.

Keaton can make picking up a log and putting it on the train hilarious  It’s without a doubt one of the best movies ever made and that’s not just nostalgia.  I’m telling you it still holds up today in every way. Trust me on this one.  If you think you will never like a silent movie give The General a shot.

9. Office Space- I love movies about work and that includes laughing about work.  I so related to this movie when I was stuck in the stupefying nothingness of cubicle life.  (Cubicle Hell as I like to call it). The useless company protocol like TPS reports, the cheap attempt to replicate family celebrations like birthdays, having 5 different bosses who have no idea what your actual job is, the worst boss in movie history, the ridiculous employee reviews,  and wanting to smash the tar out of the office copier.  All of that rings true.  I watch it and thank the Lord for a job I love.  Thank you, thank you. At least this movie made me laugh when it was rough.

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I love the ridiculousness of the plan they come up with ‘Isn’t that in Superman 4…” and when they get the magazine guy to tell them about money laundering or the flare at the chain restaurant ‘I want you to want to wear more flare’.  It’s hilarious but it is the only R rated movie on this list and it earns the R so be forewarned.

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10. Best in Show- My favorite of the Christopher Guest troop films although they are all hilarious.  Using the mockumentary style to cover a dog show and their owners it is funny from start to finish.  The entire team is at the top of their game including Jennifer Coolidge, Eugene Levy (literally has 2 left feet), Catherine O’Hara from Home Alone (which I could have put on this list but I already profiled it), Jane Lynch and more.  I especially love Fred Williard as the commentator who has me in near tears laughing at his frequently improvised lines.

I have yet to show this movie to someone who didn’t laugh.  (I’m sure there will be a barrage of comments saying they didn’t laugh but in my real life everyone loves it).

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Nostalgia

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Watching all these Christmas movies has got me thinking about nostalgia.  Often especially during the holidays we can get accused of liking something ‘for nostalgia purposes only’.  Everyone is guilty of this for one reason or another, but I often find there is more to the story than the accusation would suggest.

What is nostalgia?  Well, it is defined as “a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations”

So for example I lived for 3 years with 2 roommates in the basement apartment of a house.  We had many good times at that house and when I drive by it I am often overwhelmed by nostalgia for that period of  my life.  Now those friends have married and I don’t see them as much as I would like.  It is a time in the past that I miss and look back fondly on.

I’m not a psychology expert. but I think nostalgia is actually healthy as long as it doesn’t make us forget the blessings of the present because we are idealizing the past.  I did that once on my mission where I moved to a new area and all I could think about was how life changing the old area was.  My companions had to sit me down and say ‘Lafayette was great but we’ve got to work here now in Indy”, which I did and it was awesome!

That said,  it is good to be able to look back at our lives and remember the good times.  Remember with fondness all the love and happiness we shared, especially if those people have passed on.  So nostalgia can be quite powerful and motivating in our lives.

But let’s stick to entertainment. Like experiences, we can also have nostalgia for films.  A particular movie meant something to us or is associated with an era or person in our lives, and so we remember it with ‘wistful affection’.

I believe if you enjoy the movie it doesn’t really matter whether it is nostalgia or not.  It’s kind of like taking a placebo for depression.  If it helps your depression who cares if it is a sugar pill?  Better is better.  Enjoyment is enjoyment.

The only difference is it is usually impossible to pass on that nostalgia to other people so it can feel frustrating when they do not share your ‘wistful affection’.  In fact, it can even seem insulting because the film and the time in your life are so interconnected insulting one, feels like an insult to you and your moment in time.

Here is a funny clip from my favorite show How I Met Your Mother about when people don’t get your nostalgic movies (excuse the bad clip but it will give you the idea)

There is however a distinction I would like to make:

In nostalgia we have 2 kinds of experiences.  The first are films that really aren’t good that we have nostalgia for.  The second is films that are good and were important to us in the past (probably because they are so good)

For example, many people have nostalgia for Star Wars, Indiana Jones, ET and The Goonies.   Those are all legitimately good movies that I remember fondly too.  Whereas, say someone has nostalgia for Howard the Duck? That film doesn’t have the same inherent quality of content argument as Star Wars…

Here’s some examples from my life:

Cutting Edge vs Footloose-  Both of these films would be considered by me as ‘sleepover movies’.  They were the kind of movies my girlfriends and I liked to watch at sleepovers.  Other favorites were Dirty Dancing, Fame, Grease, Dance with Me, Bring it On, Save the Last Dance (dancing in general was a popular theme of these sleepovers for some reason).  The Cutting Edge is a silly movie that I have nostalgia for.  It’s completely predictable and stupid but it’s about the Olympics that I love and skating and there is pretty good chemistry between its stars, but it would  definitely be a bad movie I have nostalgia for and enjoy (I have it on blu-ray!).

Footloose on the other hand I also have nostalgia for but I actually think is a good movie.  It is well written with an interesting discussion about religion, safety, freedom of choice and some terrific choreography and music.  I watched it again not that long ago and was surprised how dark it gets.  All that definitely went over my head but I liked it then and I like it now.  Definitely a good nostalgia movie.

christmasBeverly Hills 90210 vs Boy Meets World-  We were not allowed to watch 90210 when I was a kid because it was considered too adult by my Mom- probably rightfully so.  But nevertheless I have a certain nostalgia for it.  When I could sneak it I enjoyed it and I enjoy it now even though it is totally soapy and stupid and poorly acted.  It went on for like 10 years and especially near the end when I was on my own I really got into it even though I knew it was kind of terrible.

Boy Meets World on the other hand I was allowed to watch and I sincerely think it is a great show.  Yes it is extreme cornball but it has such heart, it teaches good messages, has an appealing cast and the acting is not half bad.  I love it and I love Girl Meets World, so it’s good nostalgia in my book!

christmas2Clueless vs Girls Just Want to Have Fun- We’ve got two more sleepover movies.  Girls Just Want to Have Fun is a stupid movie about girls who want to make a dance show (again with the dancing!).  But I still enjoy it.  It’s charming in its own way and has an appealing cast.  Definitely bad but I enjoy it for nostalgia purposes.

Clueless on the other hand is the nostalgia movie of my high school experience, and I think it is one of the best written comedies ever made.  It makes me laugh to this day.  Things like Cher’s speech on the Haitians and the garden party or the scene where Dion drives on the freeway for the first time crack me up.  I have strong nostalgia for it but it is also genuinely a good movie.

christmas1Some might claim they can be more objective than those of us who have nostalgia for films or shows,  but I don’t think that is the case.  If I acknowledge I have the nostalgia and can say if it is good or bad despite my sentimental feelings how is that not the peak of objectivity?  I am able to look at it and say ‘I love it but I know it isn’t very good’.  That is objective!  If I tried to defend it as good when it really isn’t than you’d have a point.  If I like something on this blog because of nostalgia I will tell you.  Like I admitted upfront I was going to have a hard time reviewing Little Mermaid because I am sooooo attached to it and it meant so much to me as a little girl.  I still think I was objective but maybe not as critical as I was on things that didn’t have the same personal value.  But that is the exception to the rule.  Most films I look at with the same perspective and eyes and can objectively say whether I like it for nostalgia or other reasons.

Just to sum it all up- we all have movies that are nostalgic for us when we watch them.  They remind us of eras of our lives, particularly childhood and if we enjoy the experience of watching them than who cares? Enjoy watching them for whatever reason you want.  Just don’t expect others to experience the same whimsey and delight.  Also, there are films we have nostalgia for that are actually good movies and others that are pretty bad.  It’s important to see that difference and not discount something merely because it is a sentimental favorite.

Especially at Christmas many of us have nostalgia for It’s a Wonderful Life, White Christmas, Christmas Story and Christmas Carol etc but those are great movies so watch and remember all the good times you’ve had over the holidays with these wonderful nostalgic movies.

I will add too that Perks of Being a Wallflower is the first movie I’ve seen as an adult that felt really nostalgic for me, so nostalgia doesn’t have to be a movie from our past.  It could have been filmed in my high school amongst my friends and I LOVE it so much.  I saw it at least 5 times in the theater because I kept taking my friends, twice in one week.  It spoke to me and excited me in a way no other movie has in years. I think the writing is great, acting great, and the story is so moving, funny, sad, scary, just perfect. One of my all time favorites.  Definite nostalgic but still very good movie!

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