Truly Great Movies: Romancing the Stone (1984)
Try , off the top of your head, naming another movie that’s an effective combination of both chick flick and action adventure film. I thought so. Hence why Romancing the Stone has been dubbed a Truly Great Movie.
Written by Diane Thomas, who tragically died in a car accident mere weeks before Stone‘s sequel (the VASTLY inferior Jewel of the Nile) was released, Romancing the Stone is a peppy, savvy romantic ode to the classic films of the 1930s, when ladies were tough and gorgeous, and men were manly and mischievous. Boasting two stars who had genuine chemistry and a director (Robert Zemeckis) who would go on to achieve new comedic heights with the Back to the Future franchise, Romancing the Stone is still a unique and fresh movie in a sea of 80s cliches.
Joan Wilder (Kathleen Turner) is a mousey romance novelist who lives vicariously through the lives of her wildly flamboyant characters. She lives a typically lonesome Big Apple existence with her cat named Romeo in an apartment littered with reminder notes that about groceries she never has the time to shop for. Her wardrobe consists of comfortable pumps and skirts in various shades of beige. She also has one of those horrible and ubiquitous puffy 80s winter weather coats that seemed to only come in the colors of powder blue, sickly mauve and cat-poop brown. But, I digress…
Joan recieves a package in the mail that her dim-witted sister Elaine has sent from Cartagena, Colombia. Elaine’s newly deceased husband was involved in the Colombian drug trade (let’s face it, any time anyone goes to Colombia in the 80s , it ain’t to see the beaches), and his business partners are looking for the map that the sweetly oblivious Joan now has in her possession in N.Y.C.
Joan, mustering all the courage she can through the belief that she can save her sister from certain doom, sets off for the wilds of the jungle hoping to negotiate with Elaine’s kidnappers, cousins named Ira and Ralph (Danny DeVito), whom you can find listed in the Screenwriter’s Handbook of Cliches under “Bumbling Comedic Villains Who Are Really Just a Red Herring in the Face of an Even Scarier Bad Guy”. That scarier bad guy is a rogue Columbian police official, Colonel Zolo; the very mention of his name inspires much comic contorting and face-twisting by DeVito’s Ralph.
Joan gets on the wrong bus is Cartagena and ends up alone in the middle of the jungle, where she has one of the movies’ all-time-great “meet cutes” with fellow adventurer and expatriate Jack Colton (Michael Douglas). We know he’s the romantic interest because his named sounds like it has been ripped straight from one of Joan’s own romance novels.
Jack saves Joan from Zolo in an amusing chase scene, but does so for a price. Is he a slimy, selfish con man or a knight in shining armor in disguise? Pleasantly, he turns out to be neither, thanks to the deft screenplay. As the story continues, Jack and Joan decide to team up and find the fabled treasure on the map on their own, trumping the advantage of Elaine’s kidnappers. Along the way are amusing encounters with local villagers (including a smuggler who is a fan of Joan’s books and leads a book club devoted to her work), an adult and complicated romance, and beautiful scenery in the form of cascading waterfalls and deserted military fortresses in the moonlight.
Romancing the Stone is an example of a romantic comedy done with style and substance, which is why it has held up so well over time. It has a witty, honest script and charming performances by the leads and supporting actors. It’s also amazingly quotable, which is why I still find myself responding to unexpected situations by quoting, “Wilder? THE Joan Wilder?” in my horrible psuedo-Colombian accent.
There is a re-make currently in the works, but I hope it never comes to fruition. This is one of those great movie recipes that shouldn’t be alerted, lest it lead to celluloid disaster. Let’s let Jack and Joan live happily ever after, still sailing down a crowded N.Y.C. street on the back of the Angelina…
Trailer for the Film: