5 Unconventional Movie Romances for Valentine’s Day
Ah, Valentine’s Day. That time of year when a young moviegoer’s heart turns to thoughts of love. Will you be seeking out a movie with your significant other this weekend? Do you lean towards comedy, or drama?
Perhaps you may be looking for something a little…different. Here are a few of our favorite cinematic romances that may fit the bill if you’re seeking something a bit more unconventional.
Annie Hall (1977)
While lauded by many as a classic romance, this movie certainly doesn’t follow typical “boy meets girl, boy gets girl” story. In fact, right from the get-go, the protagonist lets you know that the two of them don’t end up together, and the narrative jumps around to various points in their relationship, showing their initial attraction, their romantic highlights, and their downfall. I always appreciated how matter-of-fact this movie is about the romance. When they break up, nobody falls apart or proclaims that they can’t live without the other. They just break up. They have a good run together, and then they go their separate ways, and they move on. It may not be the great story of love conquering all most people expect from their romances, but neither is it a tragedy-filled Nicholas Sparks melodrama. It’s a very funny romantic comedy. The only difference is the leads just don’t happen to end up together at the end. – Hannah Keefer
As Good As It Gets (1997)
Melvin Udall (Jack Nicholson) is not the easiest person to know. He’s the very definition of a misanthrope: a brash, foul-mouthed, misogynistic racist whose hermit-like lifestyle suits his OCD just fine. Two things challenge Melvin’s world, though: a homosexual (and his dog) move into the apartment next door, and Melvin finds himself smitten by his regular waitress at the restaurant he patronizes. Melvin’s relationships with “Carol the waitress” (Helen Hunt) and “Simon the fag” (Greg Kinnear), as he calls them, upend his very existence. After all, there’s no way his attitude can continue if he wants to woo the fair lady. It’s not so easy for Melvin, but fortunately for him, Carol sees something there, below the harsh exterior. So what if, as Carol muses, this is As Good As It Gets? The future with such a person is hardly assured, but Melvin defines his feelings with a simple statement that carries more weight coming from him than it would from almost anyone else: “You make me want to be a better man.” – Nigel Druitt
High Noon (1952)
High Noon opens with Marshal Will Kane (Gary Cooper) and Amy Fowler (Grace Kelly) gettin’ hitched in a Quaker ceremony, and it ends with them riding off into the sunset. But there’s a romance in this great western that’s much more interesting, and much less conventional. It took place before the events of the film, and is communicated only in knowing looks and vague allusions. This unspoken dalliance was the taboo romance between Kane and madam Helen Ramírez (Katy Jurado).
In this English-language film, there is a line of Spanish spoken without subtitles. When Helen sees Kane, she says accusingly, “Un año sin verte,” and Kane replies with sympathetic understanding, “Si, lo sé.” Helen plays a decisive role in bringing about Cooper and Kelly’s happy ending, which is not entirely traditional either — Amy does what few women in classic westerns do when she kills one of the outlaws attacking Kane. Yet the Ramírez/Kane romance is unconventional on every level, and the more fascinating for it. The upstanding town lawman never repents of his prior relationship with the local “business” woman (if anything, it is she who regrets it), the relationship was bicultural and bilingual (in a 1952 western!), and it exists entirely in the film’s silent spaces as a haunting memory that can take whatever shape the viewer wants it to take. – David Conrad
Uh, spoilers, I guess. It’s pretty obvious to just interpret “unconventional romance” as “romance where the two people don’t get together”, but sometimes you just have to go with it. In this intimate musical, a Dublin busker (Glen Hansard) and an expat from the Czech Republic (Markéta Irglová) meet and click quickly and spend the bulk of the movie quietly getting to know each other and working on finishing an album he’s been writing. She introduces him to her young daughter pretty early on, though, and lets him know that she’s got a husband back home. The movie is a little coy regarding how this is all going to come out, and certainly in a modern movie there’s no guarantee that an existing marriage will keep lovers apart, but the way it turns out is unconventionally chaste and bittersweet, and yet perfect and satisfying even while it’s kind of heartbreaking. – Jandy Hardesty
(500) Days of Summer (2009)
“This is not a love story.”
This warning comes at the beginning of (500) Days of Summer, and for good reason: it isn’t. Sure, the film’s protagonist, Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), falls in love during the course of the film, and his relationship with Summer (Zooey Deschanel) is the movie’s main focus; but it is far from a conventional romance. The obvious reason for this is that the two do not end up together at the end. In fact, the film begins in the aftermath of Tom and Summer’s breakup. Thus, from the beginning, we know that, at least at the moment, the two are not together. Then, utilizing a glorious backward and forward time-jumping structure, the film explores the formation and disintegration of their relationship – a relationship that forever alters Tom’s life. It alters not just his love life or his approach to relationships, but his whole life. It inspires him to do something different – something better, or, at least, more fulfilling – than what he was doing at the beginning.
Whether or not he forms any more successful relationships after the events of the film – whether or not he ever finds “the one” – his life is changed for the better because of his experience with Summer. This is the real reason I see this film as an unconventional romance. Certainly, it is about love and what it means to find your soulmate, if indeed there is such a thing. But in another way, it is about the catalyst that drives Tom to make a major change in his life – a change that, we hope, will bring him more satisfaction than either his old job or his relationship with Summer ever could. Thus, a film we assumed to be a romance in spite of its own warning ultimately teaches us the lesson that the search for personal fulfillment and the search for true love aren’t necessarily the same thing. – Matt Ray