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Harry Potter and the Offbeat Romanticist

Brokeback Mountain, Munich. So many important movies to see and weigh in on — and if I don’t see the new Pride and Prejudice soon, I’ll have to seek help from the Romance Writers’ Protection Program. And now there’s the new Tristram Shandy, adapted from the strange 18th century novel about the inability of writing to ever catch up with reality (ask any blogger). How did I fall so far behind?

Especially since I love going to the movies. I found my own particular personal set of romantic obsessions on the big screen, when I was a child too young to know what hit me. Which gives me some rather strange instincts for what I know will resonate with my fantasy life.

But the instinct machine was pumping overtime last month, even while I was in the midst of deadline purgatory. So even though I didn’t understand why I needed to schlep out on opening day to see the latest Harry Potter movie, I shrugged and gave myself an afternoon off.

Interestingly, it’s definitely my least favorite of the books — the longest, and to my mind the most bloated. The bathtub scene seems to take up a hundred pages all by itself. The tournament games are a big plot con, and all that business about Barty Jr. masquerading as Mad-Eye is a big so-what when the plot revelations come down (fictional masquerades should reveal something about the character doing the masquerading and this one doesn’t).

But then there’s the romance thing — the coming of age thing, the discovery of one’s erotic self thing. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is the first time we see our characters as adolescents. Hermione suddenly becomes two years older than Harry and Ron, who have turned into terrified, unbearable, sexist little beasts.

I love books where characters grow and change in ways that feel true to our sense of the human life cycle and the passing of time. The fourth Harry Potter is about recognizable fourteen-year-olds and it’s not pretty. If we didn’t love Harry and Ron already, we’d give up on them. But since we do love them, we (and of course Hermione) get to have our love tested, which is one of my favorite kinds of movie fun.

Movie romance has a lot to do with watching helplessly while characters we love act less well than we want them to. Like Alan Rickman cheating on Emma Thompson in Love Actually (if I started a religion, there’d be a commandment against cheating on Emma Thompson — or even just momentarily underappreciating Emma Thompson). Or like Julia Roberts in Notting Hill blaming poor lovely bookseller Hugh Grant for stuff that’s not his fault. (‘But that’s spectacularly unfair,’ he sputters — or mock-sputters, since he’s got perfect control over every one of the five syllables in ‘spectacularly.’ Michael and I say that line to each other all the time now — without the Brit-actor diction, but with delight in being able to express helpless, civilized amazement at our best-beloved acting like a complete idiot — or idjit, as the heroine of the book I’m finishing up likes to say.

How wonderful, then, that they got Mike Newell, who directed Notting Hill and Love, Actually to direct this Harry Potter. I don’t know if he’s going to direct the next ones, but I sure hope so, because love plays a bigger role as the series continues (all sorts of love, mixed up together, which is also what I like). And Newell will be great at realizing it in movie form, which is to say in as gesture discovering itself in the midst of emotion.

Or is it emotion discovering itself in the midst of gesture?

Yes. Both. And that’s the wizardry.

More later, btw. About why Snape is really still on the good side. You see, I’ve got a sort of instinct . . .

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