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Thursday, Aug. 4, 2005 05:48 pm

Celebrity romance

Flicks about falling for famous people

Why is the public so obsessed with the private lives of celebrities? Is it really important that Katie Holmes had Tom Cruise jumping on a couch? Is it a big deal that Colin Farrell is trying to stop the release of a private videotape? That practice is more common than you might think, but overexposure can be harmful to a celebrity’s reputation. OK, maybe not in Farrell’s case. Actors such as Tom Cruise should be judged by their work, not by their romantic endeavors. Given the media attention that feeds the public fawning, is Hollywood missing the boat on movie ideas?

Perhaps the failure of celebrity biopics soured many producers on the topic. Does anyone remember the disastrous Gable and Lombard (1976), the absolutely dreadful film about the mythic romance of Clark Gable and Carole Lombard? Probably not, but I’m sure Hollywood hasn’t forgotten. Real-life celebrity romance has rarely been approached since, although Martin Scorsese touched on it recently in The Aviator (2004). Dramatizing Howard Hughes’ romances with Katharine Hepburn and Ava Gardner was successful this time out, so future attempts are likely.

Trying to re-create the image of a known personality is risky, but the same ground can be covered in fiction. Notting Hill (1999) suggests what might happen if a major movie star (Julia Roberts) were to date outside her species (Hugh Grant) — in this case, a lowly bookstore owner. The risk of sappiness comes with any Roberts film, but Grant, who is the actual protagonist, saves the film with his self-deprecating charm. Rhys Ifans, one of the strangest actors in movies, deserves special mention as Grant’s roommate.

Win a Date with Tad Hamilton! (2004) takes a similar premise but switches the sexes. Hamilton (Josh Duhamel) is a movie bad boy who tries to improve his public image by offering himself as the prize in a contest. Kate Bosworth co-stars as the small-town grocery-store clerk who wins. Yes, it’s just as silly, illogical, and predictable as it sounds, but it isn’t horrible. Topher Grace (That ’70s Show) steals the film as her long-suffering buddy who is secretly in love with her.

There are other people in Hollywood besides stars, and Modern Romance (1981) shifts the focus. Albert Brooks, who also wrote and directed, stars as an overbearing movie editor who continually breaks up with his girlfriend (Kathryn Harrold). If you view your romance with a more cynical eye, this is definitely the film for you. In fact, this is one of the best romantic comedies ever made.

DVDs scheduled for release Tuesday (Aug. 9): Because of Winn-Dixie, Off the Map, and Kung Fu Hustle.

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