5 Valentine’s Day Flicks

Ah, Valentine’s Day. A holiday built entirely around sustaining the Hollywood romantic comedy industry, or those films that approximate “romance” with two people shacking up after becoming close over a gimmicky plot. Like the couple that falls in love by sending letters to each other back in time. Or the independent bookseller who hates the corporate bigwig but falls in love with his online persona via email, and vice versa. Or perhaps the worst romantic comedy of all time – ironically titled “Valentine’s Day” – which deals with not one, not two, but if I remember correctly, three couples that are either cheating on their spouses or on each other and somewhere along the way learn some life lessons and then really fall in love with a non-cheating partner. That romantic comedies lack any notion of realism or romance is part of their charm I guess. I blame them for the degradation of our youth.

Instead, I’ve picked out five Valentine’s flicks that either you, or your significant other, or perhaps even both of you, will likely end up hating. These movies aren’t “romantic” in the typical sense – i.e. boy and girl live happily ever after. Instead, they might end up in heartbreak, ambiguity, or the faintest glimmer of hope that maybe things will work out next time. Essentially, they have unhappy endings, which seems to be the antithesis to everything that Valentine’s is supposed to stand for. But then again, the movies that are directed to the Valentine’s audience are formulaic pablum – comforting but ultimately unsatisfying. Perhaps it’s time to take a chance on something different.

5) Punch-Drunk Love

If you want to see Adam Sandler act, look no further. Playing his familiar role of the man-child without the smug winks and comedic timing, this is a character that compliments Sandler’s persona rather than being a shallow caricature of it. He plays Barry Egan, the only boy in a family of women. He’s quiet, soft-spoken, and prone to flashes of violence. His sisters set him up with a female friend of theirs, and Egan falls in love for the first time. That’s a simple explanation of the film which is dream-like in quality (the first scene has Sandler finding a harmonium – Google it), has a subplot focused on buying chocolate pudding, sinister phone sex operators, and a greasy Phillip Seymour Hoffman in a pivotal cameo. It’s a romance all right, warts and all.

4) Annie Hall

The second Woody Allen film I ever saw (the first was Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Sex* *But Were Afraid To Ask….a rather overlong title for a middle-of-the-road effort by Allen) that got me interested in the director and deservedly won the 1977 Best Picture Oscar (sorry, Star Wars). The film is original and strikingly inventive – Woody breaks the fourth wall, a conversation between him and lover Diane Keaton (the titular character) has subtitles that explains what they’re really thinking, and enough flashbacks and narration to make the six seasons of Lost blush. It’s awkward, it’s sweet, it’s wonderful, it’s all too short, and it doesn’t end happily. Perfect.

3) The Graduate

If anything, just watch this for the opening credits with Dustin Hoffman standing on a moving walkway while Simon and Garfunkel’s haunting music plays in the background. Any of the scenes with Hoffman by the pool are great too. This isn’t typical romantic fare – Hoffman sleeps with his love’s mother and then stops her from marrying someone else – but it does have the stock Great Romantic Gesture typical of romantic comedies, except in this one, we never know if that one gesture is going to guarantee a happy lifetime.

2) Up

Okay, it’s a cartoon, and there’s not much in the way of typical romance in the movie. One half of the couple dies within the first ten minutes and the rest of the film is filled with talking dogs, aerial warfare, and a strange ostrich-like creature. But the emotional crux of the journey is that the lead character, the old man voiced by Ed Asner, is undertaking the whole adventure because of a promise to his late wife. She may not be there with him, but that doesn’t matter. He’s doing something for her, which is a surprisingly rare occurrence in popular romance movies (just try and think about the leads in romantic comedies who don’t act out of self-interest).

1) Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

It’s a romantic movie with a sci-fi bent: a man played by Jim Carrey (in a muted and restrained role) discovers that his ex-girlfriend has erased him from her memory. He decides to undergo the same process, but while reliving his memories of her he realizes that he doesn’t want to forget her after all. Part thriller, comedy, science fiction, an original take on an old story, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is the romantic movie to watch on Valentine’s Day. It’s watching a relationship unfold – from the early wonderful days, to the bitter fights, and then to when two people who used to be close drift apart. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, and the beautiful thing about this film is that tells us that that’s not what people want anyway. We’ll take the good and the bad. Just as long as we always have the memories.

There you go, a few unorthodox Valentine’s picks. I have a feeling that once I see Blue Valentine it might earn its spot on here as well. You call it depressing, I call it romantic. Alright, let’s just forget about it and go watch The Notebook.

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