"Eat" may have been too strong of a word in describing the actions of my VHS player. "Chewed up and caught in its teeth" better describes what my VHS player did to Exit Smiling. After some careful extrication work, I was able to get the tape back where it should be. Then, I tried again. The worst that could happen was the same thing all over again. Fortunately, there was no further incident.
Exit Smiling uses dramatic irony just right. When our heroine saves the day at the last by using precisely those ambitions that she's been ridiculed for, she is never praised or rewarded. She's forgotten, unthanked, and left behind. There's a sweetness in this sadness, though, rooted in the unwavering positive attitude of our protagonist. She counts it all joy and so, by extension, must the audience.
Exit Smiling is thoroughly enjoyable in that "steady smile punctuated by guffaws" sort of way
Port of Shadows is enjoyable in a very different way. It is earthy and tough. Even the humor in it has a sharp edge.
Even so, there is a thematic connection between Smiling and Port. To paraphrase Port, that if we love life enough, maybe she'll love us back. Both protagonists make unselfish choices that end in personal loss. But, in the process of acting out these choices, they love and live brighter and louder and more truly than ever before. It is precisely in the moment of self-abegnation that these two are most fulfilled in their own selves.
In both films, it is the villainous characters who seek to fulfill their own selfish desires at the expense of others. It doesn't end well for these characters.
Spoilers for Port follow.
"It's horrible to love like Romeo when you look like Bluebeard!" may be my favorite line from Port of Shadows. The self-deception on display is epic. This man has a black heart, maybe blacker than Bluebeard's. Devoid of gratitude and convinced that it is his looks that make him unattractive, he is blind to his own moral failings as he expresses outrage at all others. When this man is killed in a fight over a girl, we do not shed any tears (though we may feel a twinge of sadness for this real character with complicated emotions and motivations).
When the protagonist dies nearly immediately afterward, we feel differently. The "simple twist of fate" that conspires against him is clear. Life may be a Bitch out to get him, but what's really clear here is that he's finally lived and loved worthily.