I’m very cynical when it comes to the genre of Romantic Comedies. Whenever I find myself in the position of being forced to watch a “rom-com” I can’t help but recall the Oscar Wilde quote, “Deceiving others. That is what the world calls a romance.”. I often find the genre to be a very fake, false and unrealistic depiction of being in love. The Rom-Com often reduces romance to a simplistic cliched series of events which lead to a happy ending, but we all know that life is far more complicated and life goes on after you finally get the girl/guy.
I decided to compile a list of alternative rom-com films for this year’s Valentine’s Day, because these films deserve some praise as they deal with the complexities of love in the real world. Often these films are effective because they don’t resort to cliches or stereotypical characters nor do they have predictable narratives. So, without further ado let’s begin down this tunnel of love.
Pick Number One: Harold and Maude (1971) Dir. Hal Ashby
“Harold loves Maude…. and Maude loves Harold”
It’s a classic love story, boy meets girl who saves him from self-destruction and teaches him about the wonders of life, only the girl is a 79 year old woman. Hal Ashby’s Harold and Maude is a cult classic, and is very much a film of its era. With strong performances from Bud Curt as Harold and Ruth Gordon as Maude, the film is full of wonderfully tender and moving scenes between the two of them.
It sounds like it would be creepy and disturbing, but it’s a romantic comedy which shows that opposites do attract and that there’s someone out there for everyone. There is also an excellent soundtrack by the wonderful Cat Stevens which will leave you humming all the songs for days after watching the film. Quirky, funny, surreal and very unconventional, it’s a perfect alternative romantic comedy for Valentine’s day.
Pick Number Two: Chasing Amy (1997) Dir. Kevin Smith
It’s not who you love. It’s how.
Boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, boy discovers she’s actually a lesbian. Kevin Smith is mostly known for his fondness for using the four letter “F” word and there’s certainly an abundance of F-Bombs throughout Chasing Amy, but it’s a hilarious movie which looks at the topic of falling in love with someone who is essentially off limits.
Starring Ben Affleck pre-Batman and the under appreciated Joey Lauren Adams, Chasing Amy seems very real, very honest and open in it’s depiction of how messy and complicated relationships can be. There’s a open approach to discussing sex, and these type of film aimed at adults are now almost extinct from cinema. It also shows a side to Kevin Smith that he rarely embraces and is actually one of the more “mainstream” of his films.
Pick Number Three: Lars and the Real Girl (2007) Dir. Craig Gillespie
“Sometimes I get so lonely I forget what day it is, and how to spell my name.”
Before Her (2013), there was another film which centred around a socially awkward young man falling in love with an inanimate object, Lars and the Real Girl. The film follows Lars (Ryan Gosling) who brings home the girl of his dreams to his brother and sister-in-law’s home. The only problem is that she’s not real – she’s a sex doll Lars ordered off the Internet. And her name is Bianca (!).
However, Lars isn’t interested in sex but rather a deep and meaningful relationship. It’s quirky, deadpan and charming, as we also become accustomed to the little town where Lars live. Gosling delivers an excellent performance, and this is a much better film than The Notebook (another film which Gosling stars in).
Pick Number Four: My Sassy Girl (2001) Dir. Jae-young Kwak
“The 10 Rules: 1. Don’t ask her to be feminine.”
This Korean film is so miles away from being a stereotypical Hollywood Rom-Com that it makes all other romantic films look pale in comparison. It’s fresh, original, quirky and very human, that it seems to be something other worldly.
The film follows a young man (Tae-hyun Cha) who meets a drunk and rather eccentric girl at a subway station one night, he does the noble thing and makes sure she gets home safely, but the other passengers on the train mistake her for his girlfriend. So begins a whirlwind romance and his life gets literally turned upside down. It’s a film which touches upon the fears of falling in love again and having your heart broken and is guaranteed to believe in the concept of destiny.
Pick Number Five: Punch Drunk Love (2002) Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson
“I have a love in my life. It makes me stronger than anything you can imagine.”
Paul Thomas Anderson somehow manages to get a decent performance from Adam Sandler in this film, which is quite a pleasant surprise. The film is in typical PTA quirkiness and isn’t really your A-Typical comedy. Sandler is Barry Egan, a small business owner pushed around by his seven sisters who’s miserable life takes a turn when he meets Lena (Emily Watson).
Both leads give a great performance but it’s the visual aspects of the film which sets it apart from other romantic comedies. Don’t be put off by the fact that it stars Sandler, because this is certainly the role that he will be remembered for. There’s nothing quite like Punch Drunk Love and it’s certainly a very alternative choice for Valentine’s Day, and it’s a Paul Thomas Anderson film, so what more can you ask for.