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Film / There's Always Vanilla

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There's Always Vanilla is a 1971 romantic dramedy directed by George A. Romero. It was his follow-up to Night of the Living Dead. Like Night of the Living Dead it's a low-budget film made in Pittsburgh using local talent. Unlike Night of the Living Dead... well, it's about as unlike that film as you can get, starting with it being in color.

Chris Bradley (Raymond Laine) has turned his back on his family's baby food business, having served in the Army for a while and worked as a guitarist on recording sessions. Unsatisfied with where his life is at, he goes back home to Pittsburgh. He meets Lynn (Judith Ridley Streiner, who played Judy in Night of the Living Dead), a beautiful model and TV commercial actress, and they quickly fall in love. But as she gets to know him and his irresponsible nature, she starts to have doubts whether their relationship will work out.

Romero's only movie without any horror, supernatural, fantasy or action elements, it fell into obscurity and was very much an Old Shame for him, but it has been re-evaluated as a notable stepping stone in his development as a filmmaker in spite of its flaws.

There's always Tropes:

  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Basically the root of Lynn's attraction to Chris, but Chris is more of smooth-talking loser than a Lovable Rogue.
  • Antihero: Chris is a perennial underachiever, and the movie is basically him blowing one golden opportunity after another (the love of a beautiful woman, a decent job, rebuilding bridges with people in his life).
  • Book Ends:
    • Two balloons floating in the air are the opening and closing images.
    • In the last scene we see the finished version of the beer commercial that was being made at the start of the film.
  • Casanova Wannabe: Michael, the slick TV commercial producer who tries to romance Lynn.
  • Dramedy: It's often called a romantic comedy, but it definitely takes a dramatic turn in the third act.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: Romero and his production partners were eager to show that they had ambitions beyond making horror films, but the way this film turned out led him to avoid straight comedy/drama for the rest of his career.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Toward the end of the film Lynn seeks out a Back-Alley Doctor for an abortion but changes her mind at the last minute.
  • Meet Cute: Lynn knocks Chris over as she walks through a turnstile at a train station.
  • Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: Terri assumes that Chris is the father of her little boy, and he figures he probably is, but she admits she's not sure and he's not terribly eager to try to confirm it.
  • Opposites Attract: Pretty, strait-laced Lynn and schlubby hipster slacker Chris.
  • Relationship Revolving Door: Chris has one with Terri Terrific, a go-go dancer whose son may have been fathered by him.
  • Recurring Riff: The folk song "Wild Mountain Thyme" is played at several key points in the film.
  • Single Mom Stripper: Terri Terrific (not really a stripper, but still a dancer).
  • The Slacker: Chris, big time.
  • The Stoner: Chris and his go-go dancer friends. Chris also influences his father and Lynn to try weed.
  • Title Drop: From the talk Mr. Bradley has with Chris toward the end of the film, comparing life to eating ice cream: even though there are a large number of flavors to choose from, people usually end up choosing vanilla.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Turns out that Chris doesn't know that Lynn tried to get an abortion.