Movie romances have the ability to excite and depress us about our own lives. They can make us hopeful about the endless possibilities of true love, or disappoint us by showing fairy tale romances that are worlds apart from reality. In honor of Valentines Day, a corporate holiday to demonstrate our love with cheesy gifts on a day chosen at random, I have compiled a tongue-in-cheek A-Z guide to movie romance. There is a mixed bag of movies I adore, despise, and can’t help but endlessly mock. The Beatles say that love is all we need…but a sense of humor about relationships, on-screen and off, can come in way more handy during the second week of February.
Beware, some commentaries contain spoilers.
A is for Ageless
The quirky 1971 comedy Harold and Maude tells a story about a depressed teenage boy who fakes suicide attempts out of boredom, and doesn’t lust after girls in his age bracket. Instead, he is bewitched by an 80-year-old woman that he meets while crashing a funeral—a hobby they share, to keep a fresh perspective on the value of life. They grow to dig each other, sometimes in the biblical sense. While such imagery may cause a person to recoil in horror, it is truly a story about friendship and learning to find happiness within the somber daily grind.
B is for Baboon Heart
“Baboon Heart” is the working title of the Christian Slater/Marisa Tomei romantic vehicle, which was upgraded to the vastly-improved name Untamed Heart. Slater plays a man who was raised in an orphanage, and was told by a nun that his weak ticker was replaced with the heart of a baboon. Long into adulthood, he believes this foolish tale and relays it to his new girlfriend Caroline, played by Tomei. Rather than acknowledge she has met a real weirdo and dart off, she falls madly in love with him. The real tragedy of the story isn’t his inevitable death; it’s that the hokey film transforms my eyes into a water fountain every time, without fail.
C is for Comatose
Sometimes you meet the man of your dreams and you’re meant to be together, whether he knows it or not. Such is the case with the Sandra Bullock film While You Were Sleeping, where she pretends to be engaged to a total stranger she fancies, who just happens to be in a coma. His family finds her delightful, because well, it’s Sandy Bullock. But still, weaseling your way into someone’s family while they are unconscious—don’t they have restraining orders for this sort of thing?
D is for Destiny
Even the most cynical moviegoers tend to enjoy When Harry Met Sally. Why? Because it’s a funny look at relationships and gender dynamics without being so saccharine you want to pound your head repeatedly against the hardwood floors. Harry and Sally may part ways on several occasions, but destiny has other plans for them (and thankfully, it’s not the same plan as Final Destination). They are right for each other and it is great just waiting for them to snap out of it and come together.
E is for Engraved Ring
Well, sometimes a girl needs a little sucrose in her diet. In Breakfast At Tiffany’s, Holly Go Lightly has a fake name and a big nameless cat. What she doesn’t have is a serious boyfriend, because she is too distracted by money and shallow indulgences. Paul finds her adorable, but his pockets are empty. So he goes to her favorite superficial haven, Tiffany’s, and has affectionate words for her engraved on the only thing he can afford—a 2 cent plastic ring. All together now: Awww.
F is for Funeral
In Garden State, Andrew comes home for his mother’s funeral, and has his spirits elevated when he meets the oddball girl of his dreams, Samantha. The film (which to me, is one of the most delightful romantic movies of the past decade) is about finding love when and where you least expect it. It may even make you shed a solitary tear, so look for the nearest cup.
G is for Grass
Not all relationships incite magic on all accounts. In Annie Hall, Alvy is delighted to find Annie, but she can’t have sex with him without reaching for the nearest bong. Her need for weed troubles Alvy, who would like to think he is all the man she needs, without the aid of drugs. He’s not, and their love affair goes kaput.
H is for Homicide
The film Titanic broke box office records and millions of girl’s hearts, but is this really the romantic love story we think it is? Jack and Rose meet aboard the doomed ship, and have a few happy days together before the looming iceberg rears its ugly tip. While they are stuck in the water fighting for survival, Rose hops onto a floating object to save her life. Jack tries once to get on, but she won’t scoot her fat ass over, and he is forced to remain in the freezing water. While he is dying of hypothermia, Rose complains, “I’m cold!”, while she watches Jack freeze to death. Somehow she pulled off the greatest romantic scheme ever—by making people ignore her murderous tendencies amidst their endless weeping.
I is for Infidelity
Not in the mood for love? Try Closer, a film where four people spit in the face of romance and take turns repeatedly cheating on each other. These are not people you’d ever want to date, but their cruel manipulative actions will make you appreciate your significant other on a whole new level. I’m sure they won’t mind the extra attention.
J is for Just Friends
There is nothing more humiliating than offering someone your heart, and having them respond with the 3 evil words, “let’s be friends!” Lloyd from Say Anything falls for the charming school valedictorian, but when things get too serious, she calls the whole thing off. He offers his heart, and she offers him a pen. I hope it was at least sharp enough to stab himself with.
K is for Killing Spree
Love doesn’t always come in perfectly wrapped packages stamped with parental approval. In True Romance, Clarence falls for a hooker named Alabama. They kill her drug dealer/pimp, and run away together to try and sell a massive stash of cocaine. It may not be the American Dream, but their affair is sparked with passion and adventure. Plus, nothing can go too wrong when a hallucinated Elvis is looking out for you.
L is for “Love Is Never Having To Say You’re Sorry”.
My vote for worst pseudo-romantic movie quote in film history, goes to the famous line uttered in Love Story. As if its movie-of-the-week cheesiness weren’t offensive enough, we have to endure a quote that is not only grammatically incorrect, but entirely false. Anyone who’s ever been in a relationship before knows that love is *always* having to say you’re sorry. If you never say it, or mean it, you are likely to find yourself embracing nothing but a packet of ding dongs every Friday night.
M is for “Meet Me In Montauk”
Phew, a genuine quote that recaptures the true spirit of love in movies. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is about a horrible breakup that leads a woman to undergo an operation to remove all memories of her ex boyfriend. When he learns that she has done this procedure, he retaliates and does the same thing to delete her from his mind. Since these two people truly love each other, scientific brain-probing can’t touch that. “Meet Me In Montauk” is a line that offers them a second chance at a new beginning.
N is for Nick Hornby
You can’t talk about romantic movies without mentioning author Nick Hornby, who wrote the books High Fidelity and About A Boy. These films dabble in love, but have a certain edge of cynicism to keep them grounded and interesting. Basically, it’s love for the everyman, not for people hoping for outlandish, caricature affairs.
O is for Obesity
One of my favorite underappreciated romantic indie movies is The Tao Of Steve, about an overweight man who uses wit, intellect, and games to round up the ladies. He may be tipping the scales, but beautiful women can’t resist his charms. Part of the reason is that he pretends he isn’t interested in them, and they can’t understand why someone substantially less attractive would dismiss them. This leads them to actively pursue him, and then he gets exactly what he wants. Brilliant! Except of course, when he meets a girl he actually cares about.
P is for Penny Lane
Awkward guys in high school would love for someone like Penny Lane to come into their lives and spice things up with magical flair and rock concerts. Almost Famous introduces this special kind of girl, who despite being seriously messed up, expands a guy’s horizons and shows him there is more to life than just dreaming about having one. Of course, just because he’s met her, doesn’t mean he can actually have her. Life is always throwing those brutal curveballs.
Q is for Questioning Sexuality
It would be nice if we all knew exactly who we were attracted to from day one, but that would just be too easy, now wouldn’t it? In Fucking Amal (known in the U.S. as “Show Me Love”), a depressed teenager hates her life and falls for one of the popular girls in school. Basically, someone she has no real chance with (or so she thinks), which doesn’t help her depression problems. Chasing Amy portrays a lesbian who gives a hetero relationship a shot, after first insisting that she is gay. Towards the end, she doesn’t know what she really is. There come those curveballs again.
R is for Reincarnation
Freud would have a field day with this one. Chances Are is about a man who is going to marry his girlfriend, until a car plows into him and puts a damper on trotting down the aisle in unison. When he is reincarnated, he arrives in the form of Robert Downey Jr, who finds his way back to this woman many years later (although he doesn’t first realize the connection). He winds up dating and falling in love with the woman’s daughter….who really, is also *his* daughter from his previous life. Take a few minutes to let that one settle.
S is for Strip Club
In The Graduate, Benjamin is trying to figure out what to do with his post-college life, and finds himself having an affair with a much older woman. When he gets fixed up with her daughter, he tries to show her the most dreadful time he can, and brings her to a sleazy strip club. Mission accomplished: she thinks he’s a scumbag. But now he also kind of has the hots for her. Maybe it’s time to push mama to the side.
T is for Troy Dyer
Reality Bites introduced a new kind of asshole to the Gen X crowd: Mr. Troy Dyer. He is sexy in a scruffy, haven’t-bathed-in-three-weeks kind of way, can’t hold down minimum wage jobs, and specializes in womanizing. His best friend Lelaina is secretly in love with him, because who can resist such a cad? Towards the end, he changes into the romantic dreamboat that all girls hope their favorite bad boys will switch into. While things may have worked out for her, most girls will not get this magical transformation they wish for. More likely, they’ll get a nasty case of crabs.
U is for Underage Love
Don’t worry, it’s not the disgusting, pornographic variety. The Professional (aka “Leon”), shows the relationship between a hit-man and a young girl named Matilda, whose entire family has been slaughtered in her apartment. They develop a bond that goes nowhere inappropriate (thankfully), but you kind of get the feeling they love each other, and not in a father/daughter kind of way. Let’s be glad that Todd Solondz didn’t direct it, or it may have wound up exactly the kind of movie nobody normal would want to sit through.
V is for Vasectomy
During their first date in American Splendor, Harvey informs Joyce that he’s had a vasectomy. Not exactly the most romantic thing to say, but at least it gets all the cards out on the table without having to dig for the truth later on. Their relationship is rocky at times, but earnest in a way that echoes real life. These two geeks love each other for better or worse, and watching them is constantly entertaining. Good for Joyce, for finally getting off that couch.
W is for “Who Says Relationships Have To Last Forever?”
Before Sunrise is a wonderful love story about two strangers meeting on a train in Europe, and spending one night exploring a city and discussing all areas of life. Since they live several frequent flier miles away and may never see each other again, Celine’s question about relationships seems fitting. Not every relationship has to last forever for it to be worth your time. Their chance encounter is profoundly romantic in nature, but it’s a love story for people drawn to stimulating conversation over the gushy emotional stuff.
X is for X-rated
Let’s face it: Sex and love often go hand-in-hand, especially when it comes to the movies. Sometimes excessive sex can be used as filler for lack of an actual story (see Winterbottom’s 9 Songs. Or better yet, don’t). Other times, sex can be shown to demonstrate two characters connecting and dealing with emotional turmoil (see Don’t Look Now, which had one of the first explicit sex scenes with actual meaning behind it). Sometimes sex in movies can have a purpose, but often it’s an excuse to watch good looking people go at it. Not that I’m complaining.
Y is for Yelling
Love can often turn more rotten than a carton of year-old milk. In War Of The Roses, a married couple is driven by their pure hatred for one another. They yell, they fight, and they try to kill each other. The problem is that they still live under the same roof, because neither wants to move out of the house. Divorce is not always the enemy; sometimes it’s the best of friends. Just ask my parents.
Z is for Zwigoff
Terry Zwigoff directed the underground comic hit Ghost World, about two misfits from high school trying to adapt to life after graduation. When Enid gets involved with an older, socially-clueless man named Seymour, she seems to have met her match. It’s great to see a couple that bonds over sarcasm and hating the world, instead of delivering cliché monologues about the power of love. Snore. My Valentine’s wish is that more movies like this get made.