One of my all-time favorite movies is a beautiful little piece you may never have heard of. It’s an intimate movie made for HBO in 2005 starring Bill Nighy and Kelly Macdonald called The Girl in the Café. I love it. I’m a sucker for any love story, especially when it involves two oddballs, but this one takes the cake.
Not every love story is about a dashingly handsome alpha male and a strong, beautiful woman with a mission she has to complete. In fact, most love stories are far quieter than that. And The Girl in the Café could very well be the complete opposite of the heroic love story. The “hero”, Lawrence, is a shy, quirky, lonely British civil servant well past his prime. The heroine, Gina, is an introverted young woman (I won’t give away her backstory) with nothing to do.
Lawrence and Gina meet by chance when Lawrence steps out of the office to have a cup of tea on a particularly bad day. The café is full and the only place for him to sit is at a booth where Gina is sitting alone. They strike up a conversation that is every bit as awkward and stilted as you could imagine and more. The tension of two desperately lonely people with no idea how to act around others is palpable. And it works.
Much to the shock and amazement of Lawrence, whose point of view the story is told from, Gina wants to keep seeing him. More than that, she agrees to attend the G8 Summit in Iceland with him. The romance is not so much a roller-coaster ride as a rough, jerky trolley moving at five miles an hour over treacherous terrain. What makes it beautiful is that these two sad, pathetic people actually seem to work. They fill the holes that were missing in the other.
But the course of true love, even awkward, hopeless love, never does run smoothly. The film is more than just a love story, it’s a political statement about poverty and the responsibility of great nations to care for small nations. The political message is wound so deftly through the incredibly personal heartbreak that these two characters have and continue to endure that it didn’t seem as obnoxious as it could have.
Another thing I love about this film and this love story is that it ends before it really ends. Or at least that’s the sense I get. It could never work in a romance novel, but for me it feels as though the film ends just as the romance reaches its moment of truth. Someone might argue with me on this one, but I feel as though the monumental question at the end is “Will these two people be together?”
And that’s what makes this love story, and so many of the love stories we all experience in our everyday lives, so potent. On the surface we have a man and a woman that are totally mismatched. But once you get past the age difference and the economic difference, you start to see that both of these people are deeply scarred by the quietly tragic things that have happened in their life. They are outcasts, forgotten by society for various reasons. Aren’t we all in some way?
The Girl in the Café gives me hope. Yes, there are messed up and repressed people in the world. Sometimes I feel like one of them. Sometimes just about everyone feels like one of them. But the oddballs can find love too. It’s the same reason I love the movie The Secretary. As weird as you are, there is someone out there for you. I love that concept!
So why, I wonder, does Hollywood and the world of Romance focus so much on the devastatingly handsome? The ridiculously wealthy? The genetically gifted? Sure, I love reading about gorgeous men with bundles of confidence and sex appeal that leaves women faint in their presence. But at the end of the day I would almost rather read about an average man who loves a woman desperately, beyond reason, and to the point of ruin … in a carefully controlled and quiet way. That’s true love.
I actually managed to find the trailer on YouTube. Just ignore the quality and the Greek subtitles.