Happiness is often fleeting, and misery, quite common. Let’s face it, drama is everywhere—in our own lives, and in films. And that isn’t such a bad thing. Tossed and mixed with a plethora of other genres, a dosage of Drama often adds depth to film, making it more human, more relatable, and more truthful. And hey, while only some dramas end on a happy note, it’s always nice to see how characters (as well as their fellow directors and writers) fought grief in the most creative and powerful ways. Drama isn’t such a bad thing, it inspires and motivates!
The term underrated is a tricky one, and quite frankly, ambiguous because you’ll always have to consider several factors that would classify it as such. Is it underrated because of its neutral reviews? Its less than impressive box office returns? Or is it simply because it is less known in this day and age? Each and all would classify it as underrated. Whatever the reason may be, here are 5 underrated Drama films that are definitely worth a watch.
Punch-Drunk Love (2002)
Let’s begin with a film known for its fusion of romance and drama, because why not begin a film about love? Over the past few years, I’ve fallen in love with Paul Thomas Anderson’s films because of how Auteur his films seemed, and how human his themes were. PT Anderson often spins simple themes of human emotion and conflict to a beautifully crafted sublime and surreal films, but Punch Drunk Love was a risk in itself. Blatantly odd as it is twisted, the film channels a unique combination of erraticism and drama that can often be misconstrued as an incoherent mess. But it isn’t, and is in fact, far from that.
Punch Drunk-Loves follows the story of a psychologically troubled novelty entrepreneur, Barry Egan, who falls for his sister’s English co-worker. While falling in love, he is tormented by his family, his condition, and a phone-sex line company who extorts him for cash. Exhilarating because of the film’s odd portrayal of its characters and events, the film explores the question of whether or not it is better to deserve to know the truth or to deserve to be happy.
Although many may be familiar with PT Anderson’s prestigious films like Boogie Nights, Phantom Thread, and the oh-so beautiful film, Magnolia, many have hesitated to take Punch Drunk Love seriously, especially since his other films do seem like they tower and overshadow this one. Hearing that the main character is played by Adam Sandler doesn’t help at all, as it may be more than enough for some to consider the film distasteful, but it’s definitely worth a watch, especially if you’re curious on how PT Anderson transforms unconventional elements to things of beauty.
When a foreign film begins with a limited theatrical release and starts aging, it enters to the realm of underrated films. Afterlife is one of the three foreign films in this list, and is a gem once you’ve actually finished the film and appreciate its value.
Nostalgic and raw in its nature, Afterlife follows the story of individuals, who, upon their death, are given one week to decide on a memory from their lives that they get to keep for eternity. Given the same predicament, it’s easy to relate to the character’s struggles. Imagine choosing a memory with a previous lover, and not with someone you’ve shared a marriage with. Imagine bearing a memory that tempts you to fall in love with someone you will never ever be with, for eternity. Or imagine dying, and not knowing which memory to choose because you consider all memories to be either neutral or bad ones. The memories of the individuals are then reenacted, and put together by a film production team. And perhaps what makes the film more intriguing is the fact that not all of the moments in the film are scripted. Some are actually played by nostalgic non-actors who share with us their own precious, real-life memories.
Afterlife was released in Japan in 1999 and grossed less than million dollars. And although it’s been around in different film festivals, the film’s limited release along with its inevitable aging may have may cause many to overlook this beautiful film. Now that you know about it, it’s time to give it a watch.
When Departures was released, it garnered mixed reviews from critics and audiences. Some have called it too subtle and too slow a narrative, while some praised it for its tribute to the Japanese Culture’s perception of death. Whatever the case, this second film in our list of aging foreign films with a limited theatrical release is almost no different than Afterlife—it tackles death and grief dramatically, yet beautifully.
Like most cultures, the Japanese marries death and ritual as a sign of respect. Written and directed by Yojiro Takita, the film follows a newly unemployed cellist who takes finds himself desperate to make ends meet. He stumbles upon a local ad with the word “Departures”, thinking that it was a career that concerned travel. Little did he know that it was actually an ad by a funeral home looking for an encoffineer. Despite being frowned upon by his wife and friends for his chosen career, he discovers the universal language of love and loss. With Cello pieces performed in the side, the film makes for a beautiful merge of drama, great screenplay, and music.
Aftershock is the third and last film in our list of aging foreign films you most likely missed because of its limited theatrical release. Inspired by the tragic 1976 Tangshan earthquake in China, the film depicts the story of family members who endure a long duration of separation and struggle
The film and its many melodramatic nuisances make it difficult for you to sit still, and consume passively. Fair warning: it’s definitely one of those tear-jerking films that would make you think what you yourself would do, given the same dilemmas. And that is what makes this film so beautiful, its many layers and struggles one may relate to as a parent, a lover, and as an acquittance.
Similar to the other films in this list, Aftershock did not see a local Philippine theatrical release, despite it being shown in the IMAX format in several countries. And if you haven’t heard of it til now, now’s a better time than ever to give it a sit-down, and enjoy one of the best Chinese Drama films flooded with emotion and cultural value.
The Shack (2017)
People tend to have a strong distaste for anything religious that is put on the big screen, yet that is just probably just their own biases screaming. After all, where there is religion, there is conflict and disagreement. Released in 2017, The Shack explores the concept of suffering and forgiveness, in a Christian Perspective.
The film follows the story of Mack Philipps, who, after losing his daughter, distances himself from his family and religion. Journeying to an abandoned shack after receiving a mysterious letter, he finds himself in the midst of God, who shares with him the value of forgiveness and wisdom, no matter how tragic circumstances can be.
Religious or not, watching this film with an open mind may give you a new sense of understanding of how pointless hatred can be, and how forgiveness can heal more than an aching wound.
Also published in Gadgets Magazine June 2018 issue
Words by Gerry Gaviola
Art by Theresa Eloriaga