As Valentine’s Day approaches, we asked our writers to choose their favourite romantic films. Cue wonderfully off-kilter choices with not a standard romcom in sight.
An American Werewolf in London (1981)
More romantic than Mr Darcy reciting Keats from a balcony in the Parisian springtime, this classic horror comedy begins with a bromance between Jack (Griffin Dunne) and David (David Naughton). After Jack’s death at the jaws of a northern werewolf (same as a southern one, but a bit friendlier), David recovers in a London hospital. Here he engages in a whirlwind romance with his nurse, Alex Price (Jenny Agutter), a rather trusting woman who allows him into her home despite knowing him all of five minutes and observing him on the edge of sanity.
To cut a longish story short, David changes into a werewolf, kills six people and contemplates suicide after meeting his undead victims in a sex cinema. He transforms for the final time and is cornered in an alley by police. Despite Alex’s placation of him he is shot dead in front of her. There you have it. Love hurts. The End.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
The weird, wonderful and, to me, deeply romantic Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind makes me cry every time I watch it – and in particular at one final, gorgeously understated scene.
Jim Carrey’s shy and awkward Joel and Kate Winslet’s wild but deeply troubled Clementine appear to meet by chance on a train after Joel decides to skip work. What unfolds through their strange familiarity and Charlie Kaufman’s beautiful screenplay is that they have already known each other; they had a two-year love affair that ended so badly they each had surgery to remove the other from their memories.
Embarking on a new, if slightly familiar, relationship it seems Joel and Clem have a second chance at love. The film flits between dreams and reality, from memories to hopes with both Carrey and Winslet’s amazing central performances utterly convincing us of Joel and Clementine’s deep love for, but also deep frustration with, each other.
“What a shame it is that while there are hundreds of kinds of love in the world, cinema remains so resolutely hung up on one.”
In ‘reality’, their new love looks doomed as they soon discover the truth about their memory-erasing surgery. This is cemented by hearing their pre-recorded, gut-wrenchingly honest tapes about the other thanks to a broken-hearted, disillusioned worker (Kirsten Dunst) at the memory-erasing clinic who has decided to post back patients’ tapes in a bid to undo all the erased love.
What transpires is the final poignant decision that Joel and Clem have to make. Knowing that they may – in fact probably won’t – work; knowing that they’ll dislike so many things about each other and that their extremely different outlooks and personalities could ultimately destroy them, what do they do? They decide to try anyway. Cue wailing.
It’s odd, and hopeful, and a heartbreakingly beautiful reminder that true love is stronger than anything.
Lars and the Real Girl (2007)
They say it takes a village to raise a child and it’s this idea that underpins this frankly batshit black comedy, as a small town somewhere in the frozen north of the US helps shy Lars (Ryan Gosling) out of his state of arrested development and into manhood. Via the medium of a life-size sex doll. Yeah, I don’t really do romcoms.
The death of his mother in childbirth and the departure of his older brother (Paul Schneider) from the family home, left Lars to be raised by a grieving father, something that’s rendered him isolated to the degree that his pregnant sister-in-law Karin (Emily Mortimer) has to literally wrestle him to the ground to get a conversation.
Fears about this pregnancy and the arrival of a new colleague (Kelli Garner) tip Lars into a delusion that an anatomically correct internet purchase is, in fact, a wheelchair-using missionary from Brazil called Bianca.
Schneider is the audience substitute in his reaction, but the town’s doctor (the ever wonderful Patricia Clarkson) and Karin decide to turn into the skid and before long, Lars’ friends and colleagues, seeing the change in him, are dancing with his new girlfriend at parties and electing her to the school board.
Meanwhile, Lars and Bianca’s relationship remains chaste, keeping the film firmly out of the gross-out comedy genre.
Whether or not you find any of that particularly believable is somewhat irrelevant, because Gosling and Mortimer make Lars and The Real Girl sing. Yes, there’s romance in the film but it’s their (completely platonic) love that drives it and makes it so endearing.
A quirky reminder what a shame it is that while there are hundreds of kinds of love in the world, cinema remains so resolutely hung up on one.
Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
Silver Linings Playbook isn’t a typical *fake sick-noise* romance, something perhaps indicated by the eight Academy Award nominations it received, with Jennifer Lawrence picking up the best actress Oscar.
The leads (Lawrence as Tiffany Maxwell and Bradley Cooper as Pat Solitano) are both falling apart from recent traumas, and neither is in any shape to fall in love. They are fairly arseholey to each other and their families, who just want to help – and this is why I love this film. We are all horrid to each other, but we can still love deeply and honestly without trips to Paris or a linear dating timeline.
It’s a rarity to see the bare bones of a new relationship, with all its doubt and hesitation and deflection, depicted well on film, but Jen and Bradley smash it. And their dance-off is a thing of utter cinematic joy.
Nina Forever (2015)
If there’s one thing I’ve always said about romances, it’s that you should probably run for the hills if the object of your affection tells you their ex is crazy. If their ex emerges bloodied and broken in your bed when you’re making the horizontal hokey cokey, it’s definitely time to reassess relations – as central character Holly discovers in Nina Forever, the tremendous debut feature by British directors the Blaine Brothers.
Nina Forever is the tale of a broken man, Rob (Cian Barry), who embarks on a romance with his colleague Holly (Abigail Hardingham), following a fatal car crash, which causes the death of his beloved girlfriend, Nina (Fiona O’Shaughnessy). The only problem is, Nina is very much still with them.
Apart from being beautifully shot, it’s a genuinely moving representation of love and grief. Technically a horror movie (love stories come in all shapes and sizes, after all), I prefer their tagline “a fucked up fairy tale”, which probably gives a better steer than the traditional “naked lady dies” staple of the horror genre. Unlike many horror films, it’s very relatable to a female audience, and especially to anyone who’s ever fallen in love with the idea with fixing someone as much as they have the actual person.
Gone With The Wind (1939)
Gone With The Wind has it all; drama, passion, an intermission and a huge metaphorical bitch slap for perhaps the most fabulous, sour faced cow in literature.
So we’ve got Scarlett O’Hara; Vivien Leigh serving cat-eyed, curtain-wearing realness. Scarlett’s the most bodacious belle of the Deep South but she’s inexplicably smitten with insipid Ashley Wilkes, who’d rather stay married to sweetheart/slight-wet-blanket Melanie. Who is also his cousin (it’s olden days though so whatever). But Scarlett’s a fighter, so rather than allow these two good people happiness she spends the ensuing 12 years basically being BFFs with Melanie and constantly trying to sit on her husband’s face when she’s not looking.
ALL THE WHILE being pursued by filthy-rich sex god and bona-fide dreamboat Rhett Butler. Clarke Gable, whose alleged halitosis never ever stopped me wanting him to whisk me up that staircase and put a smile on my face like Scarlett’s the following morning.
At its core, Gone With The Wind is a tale of the enduring love of a good, insanely wealthy man for a disinterested, insane woman. If you’ve got four hours, a mountain of Kleenex, and a penchant for a pencil moustache it’s well worth a look.
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