By Annyston Pennington
Love it or loathe it, Valentine’s Day is a near-inescapable holiday. Fortunately, we have culturally adapted to include everyone on the single-to-spoken-for spectrum, promoting love not only of significant others but of friends, family, and selves. Now, less emphasis is put on the material representations of affection and more on the time spent with and the active appreciation of loved ones. As a fan of the movie night in general, I’m all for spending holidays curled up with a special someone (or a bowl of popcorn) and a good movie. Now the tricky part is deciding on a quality romance to get into the mood of the season.
From a feminist perspective, finding an enjoyable romantic movie can be a struggle considering the films’ necessary incorporation of, well, romance. Romantic plots breed opportunity for all kinds of outdated gender roles, sexist language, cliché plot devices, emotional abuse, etc. However, there are films out there that not only deliver in the tear-jerking, sexy, funny, and heart-warming departments but that offer refreshing viewpoints on human relationships and manifestations of love.
If you’re looking for something cheap, relaxing, and fun to do this Valentine’s Day, here are a few movies that fit my bill for good “Romances.” This was a difficult list to compile for me, as I had a hard time narrowing down my favorites (and keeping within the realm of movies that are actually romantic in some way). This list is by no means comprehensive and is, unfortunately, pretty white and heteronormative, but if you have further suggestions for enjoyable and inclusive romances, feel free to comment below!
1. Amélie (2001)
This French film by director Jean-Pierre Jeunet follows the life and adventures of Amélie (Audrey Tautou), an imaginative young woman who at times appears more perceptive of other people’s desires than her own. While Amélie contains a defined romantic plot, I enjoyed this movie in part because the main narrative follows Amélie’s personal growth, alone, before being united (spoiler alert) with the young man she seeks.
This independence is central to Amélie’s development as a character but also indicative of something much missed in most romantic films. Rarely we see the main character, let alone a woman, grow and live without the person with which she’ll be paired, and Amélie provides this, going beyond the genre of romance to inhabit the realm of self-discovery and the coming of age journey. It doesn’t hurt that the film is gorgeous and funny to boot.
2. A Single Man (2009)
For a romance with more tragedy than humor, A Single Man delivers full-force emotion and beauty. Directed by Tom Ford, this movie leaves nothing to be desired aesthetically, but the story stands alone as a testament to love neither disintegrated nor lost but stolen entirely. Colin Firth plays a college professor whose partner has recently died, and the story follows him about his days as he struggles with depression and uncertainty as to whether or not his life is worth living without his companion.
A Single Man also follows the narrative of a homosexual man and his maneuvering life in the ‘60s as he deals with great loss but also the necessity of silence in regards to his romantic life. While there are other films that focus on the relationships of queer people—I may save those for another article—I found the reflection and poignancy to be something special. Perhaps better fit for a Valentine’s Day spent weeping into a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, A Single Man is thoughtful, sad, but ultimately beautiful.
3. Dear White People (2014)
A self-proclaimed satire full of drama, humor, and social commentary, Dear White People is as entertaining as it is thought provoking. Following the story of Sam White (Tessa Thompson), a radio show host, writer, and social justice warrior, Dear White People examines race relations among and between the black and white student bodies at a prestigious university. While the plot seems straightforward enough, writer and director Justin Simien makes sure to explore the multifaceted issue of race on campus in a way that is genuine and unflinching.
What sells this movie for me as a Valentine’s Day flick is its complex portrayal of college relationships and how miscommunication, power, and race can affect young men and women. Rather than focus solely on comedy or commentary, the characters are just as well developed as their actors are attractive—which is saying a lot. With a kicking soundtrack and humor that made me laugh and think, Dear White People is a great Valentine’s film for both pleasure and discussion.
4. The Dreamers (2003)
If you’re feeling frisky for Valentine’s Day, The Dreamers may be what you’re looking for. The Dreamers, another French film on this list, features lush cinematography, beautiful actors, and artful but unorthodox sexual encounters. The narrative follows an American student boarding with a family, and their twin son and daughter, in Paris. The three youths bond quickly over a mutual love for film, but conflict arises from both politics and romance.
As the codependent relationship between the brother and sister (Eva Green and Louis Garrel) is revealed and the student (Michael Pitt) becomes romantically involved with the twin sister, the story becomes more complex and risqué. The movie touches on interesting issues surrounding women’s sexuality, codependent relationships, and the lines between romantic and familial love, but The Dreamers is still total eye candy. It’s a perfect match for a night in with chocolate, silk pajamas, and a glass of wine.
5. Her (2013)
Following Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), a writer of heartfelt letters who struggles with expressing his own emotions, as he finds love in artificial intelligence after an ended marriage, Her touches on issues of expectations, categorization, and the importance of physical and psychological connections in relationships. Set in a brilliantly colored future where AIs can develop personalities beyond their initial programming, Her seems just similar enough to our own social media age to make Theodore’s story romantic and heartbreaking than cold science fiction.
As I’ve already tested watching this film first with a friend then my significant other, Her resonates for different reasons depending on who you’re with and at what point in your personal relationships you are. It’s a spectacular evaluation of the way love can manifest without physical connection and how love can be transformative but not necessarily enough to make a person stay, a difficult lesson that is, however, more hopeful than tragic.