It’s Valentine’s day and so far I’ve missed my bus, arrived late for class, slipped on the ice, spilled coffee all over myself, and forgot to recharge my computer so I could take notes. All in all it’s been pretty good so far. But while everyone else is out there delivering the obligatory flowers and chocolates (you did get flowers and chocolates, right?), some of us will be staying at home and hiding under the covers until tomorrow (I’ll be studying, myself). But for those of you with nothing else to do, or maybe for those of you looking for ideas, or maybe just for no one in particular, there’s always the movies. Ahhhh romance in the movies, is there anything like it?
Short Answer: No. Movies are lies.
Long Answer: But they are good lies and often lead to great things like cuddling and other stuff.
Nevertheless, movies are a classic Valentine’s Day staple, whether you’re on a date with your significant other, on a date with yourself, or not on a date at all. So in honor of that, I’ve decided to compile my obligatory list of my favorite movie romances. Not all of these – actually very few of these – are typical romances. Some are friendships, some are love stories, and some are just about learning to be yourself, but all of them are about finding acceptance and being true to who you are.
10.) HIGH FIDELITY
The perfect movie for music lovers. There’s a love story in here, but that’s not the romance I’m talking about. I like this movie for the relationship Rob has with music. Through all his failed relationships, music has always been there for Rob, helping him through the tough times, consoling him through loneliness, celebrating with him in his success. “What came first, the music or the misery? Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable, or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?” Rob wonders this at the opening of the film, but throughout the runtime we see Rob return again and again to his lover for every emotional moment he needs help navigating. The soundtrack itself is exceptional, but Nick Hornby’s book, as well as the movie’s script really captures the relationship so many of us have with music. Not everyone feels this way, of course, including Rob’s on and off again girlfriend, Laura, but for those of us who do, there is no real replacement for the emotional urgency that music provides.
9.) BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID
Butch and the Sundance Kid are the best of friends, always able to count on each other. Except for when they can’t because a girl comes between them. But especially then, because their friendship is so important to both of them. It’s not a romance, but the relationship is so very important to both of them. Really, they probably wouldn’t die for each other, but they’d die together, and isn’t that what we all want? Move over, The Notebook, this is the ultimate movie about dying next to your favorite person in the world.
Have you ever met a complete stranger you just connected with on a level you couldn’t explain, even if you don’t even know each other’s names? Neither character in Once is ever given a name, we simply know them as Him and Her, but the way these two bond over music is incredible. Both of them have other lovers: She is married and waiting for her husband to immigrate over; His girlfriend moved away and he’s reluctant to follow her because of their past history. The two of them perfectly compliment what each is missing in their lives and inspire each other to go and get it. In one scene he asks her to stay over the night and she says no, it wouldn’t be a good idea, and she’s right. This is not a relationship that should include sex. It should exist in the small moments in between life, where they can be vulnerable with each other only because they both know exactly how the other is feeling. Connections like these are rare and perfect and don’t come along very often. They can’t sustain over a long stretch of time, and that is how they become timeless. Your life can change because of someone you pass on the street. Isn’t that frightening and beautiful?
7.) FRANCES HA
Frances Ha is a movie about a woman learning to love herself. Frances and her best friend are inseparable, but her friend is getting married and moving on with her life and Frances is left alone. She can’t find a boyfriend, isn’t really looking for one. She’s not sure what she wants and drifts aimlessly, but in that time she learns to appreciate life and in the process gets to know herself. So many of us are afraid of being alone, but it’s not such a bad thing. Being alone isn’t automatically lonely. You get to learn what you are like and discover your passion, and then turn that knowledge into beauty you can display before the world. Your relationships with others will be better if you have a good relationship with yourself.
6.) LOST IN TRANSLATION
Another movie like Once, Lost in Translation features two strangers who connect for a brief period in time and form a perfect friendship that they both needed. Bob and Charlotte are both married but at opposite ends of their relationships – Charlotte is just beginning her marriage, Bob isn’t sure if he can keep his going. They are both lost in the world and need something they don’t know how to find, when they see each other in a hotel bar late at night. A friendship begins where they can share their solitude with each other. Their relationship is so touching and real and exactly what each of them needs. The movie is famous for the mysterious last lines that Bob whispers to Charlotte. We don’t hear what he says and we’re not meant to. That is between them and them alone. A connection between two strangers who have become friends just for this specific time in their lives.
5.) Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN
Y Tu Mama Tambien is about two teenagers who take a trip with an older woman to the beach and along the way discover their sexuality. Julio and Tenoch both leave behind girlfriends they don’t really know how to appreciate but along the way they learn how to talk to women and how to deal with each other. It culminates in a kiss between them during a heated night, but their relationship isn’t meant to turn into romance. That night becomes a profound moment for both of them when they finally grow up into the adults they should be. Unfortunately, their friendship ends as they part ways, which is the price they pay. Very few teenage friendships last into adulthood, and this is no exception, but it is a profound look at maturing and discovering your identity.
I love Juno and Paulie Bleeker maybe just because I see parts of myself in both of them. A sort of backwards romantic comedy, Juno gets pregnant on the one night she decides to have sex with Paul and then mostly ignores him for the rest of the film. She’s a teenager, after all, what do you expect, she demand they get married and he start working at a gas station somewhere? That would be responsible, and Juno is definitely not responsible. But their relationship is sweet and has an urgency familiar to all of us who still remember our teenage years. I love they way Paul never gives up on Juno and in the end, Juno never gives up on Paul either.
Miscommunication + Passion + Jealousy = Doomed Romance. Atonement is a tragic tale of love lost. McEwan’s novel and Christopher Hampton’s screenplay weave a tangled web indeed, but there is no denying the heat between Robbie and Cecilia. The sexual tension of the library scene is palatable and so brief but urgent before it all comes crashing down due to a young girl’s misunderstanding. Cecilia’s sister, Briony, spends the rest of the film trying to atone for her mistake that cost her sister a life of happiness and in the end, perhaps she finds it by immortalizing the story in a novel. Doesn’t that perfectly capture how great romances work? We all have dreams, longings, for this kind of perfect love, and maybe in some ways they can only truly exist in our fantasies. Briony comes to understand this and her choices paint a haunting portrait of love and sacrifice.
2.) ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The perfect love story for our time about a relationship erased. Literally, erased. If you haven’t seen it, it’s about a man who finds out his girlfriend has had their relationship erased from her mind, and he decides to get the same procedure done. Told in flashbacks in what I guess kind of qualify as dream sequences – but not really, but kind of – Joel revisits his relationship with Clementine backwards, starting at their tumultuous breakup and ending at their heartwarming beginning. Charlie Kaufman examines love in the most profound way, asking us what really makes us fall in love and stay together, and can we ever really know another person? We first see Clementine at the end of Joel’s relationship, when he hates her, and so we hate her too, but as the movie continues and we move backwards in time (this all makes sense in the movie, I promise), we fall in love with Clem just as Joel realizes why he loved her in the first place. Of course, the ending has many surprises in store, culminating in the perfect expression of what it means to accept another person for who they are, flaws and all.
What? Fargo? Yes, Fargo. The movie about murder and betrayal and kidnapping and hookers and pancake houses. Fargo contains my all-time favorite on-screen relationship. I’m talking about Marge and Norm Gunderson. They are just the sweetest couple, expecting their first child, taking care of each other, and just living life. It’s interesting, because Norm really isn’t necessary to this movie. I mean Marge doesn’t even really have to be pregnant. From a purely technical viewpoint on writing, there’s no reason for Marge to be pregnant and even if there is, there’s no need for us to meet Norm. But ahh, how glad am I that we do. “You got to eat a breakfast.” Norm insists on getting up early in the morning to make eggs for his wife when she gets called in for work. He doesn’t have to but he does. In another scene he drops by the police station where Marge works with lunch. She brings him worms for fishing with. She supports his painting when nobody else does. The two of them are so damn adorable, but that’s not why I love them. In the age of cynicism, it’s refreshing for once to see a relationship that you actually believe will work out. So often movies focus on what ruins relationships, the things that get in the way, and the inevitable decline of romance. Yes, all relationships come to an end, we know that, but so few of them make it worth getting there, at least on screen – and outside the genre of romantic comedies which are really just about falling in love, not staying in love. But Fargo does something different, and the world would be a better place if more of us aspired to the kind of relationship Marge and Norm have.
So there we have it. Some alternatives to the typical romantic comedies most people see on Valentine’s Day to be sure, but all of them movies that I can highly recommend. You know, if you want to be depressed.
In all seriousness, we all know relationships don’t last forever. Nothing lasts forever. And that’s what makes it so great. I mean really, you get to connect with another person in complete honesty and emotional intimacy, that’s a pretty good deal. Not everyone gets to ride off into the sunset, but I’d like to think this list reflects that there are a lot more kinds of relationships than just what we see on Valentine’s Day. So go buy your special person something they like, but do something for your friends too, and take care of yourself. There’s a lot more to this life than meets the eye if you’re just willing to look. Hopefully, I can give you a bit of a head start.