Valentine’s Day is often represented by the same slim selection of weepies and romantic comedies. While there is nothing wrong with watching “Love Actually” or “The Notebook” for the umpteenth time, it can get a little tiresome after a while.
To give you some suggestions of other films to watch this year, here are some slightly more off-the-beaten-path choices for both the hopeless romantics and cynics out there.
For the romantic
“Beginners” (2011): Despite being centered around the death of writer/director Mike Mills’ (“20th Century Women”) father, “Beginners” is ultimately a joyous movie about love. A few years before his death, Mills’ father came out as gay, and the movie celebrates the small amount of time where he could love freely.
Christopher Plummer won an Oscar in 2012 for playing the father, but just as winning is the film’s other section, where the character based on Mills (played by Ewan McGregor) gets over his father’s death by striking up a relationship with a free spirit (Melanie Laurent). While the film can get quite sad, the charm of its characters keeps it from being too much of a downer.
“Punch-Drunk Love” (2002): Paul Thomas Anderson’s one pure romantic comedy is filled with strange details and plot twists, but what sticks in the mind of viewers is the bizarre beauty of the central romance.
Barry Egan (Adam Sandler) is the furthest thing from an average rom-com protagonist, with extreme anti-social tendencies that occasionally erupt into violence when he’s left alone. But his relationship with the equally off-kilter Lena Leonard (Emily Watson) is disarmingly sweet, even when their pillow talk consists of them saying how they want to murder each other. Their passion for each other manifests itself in strange ways, but it is beautiful nonetheless.
For the cynic
“Modern Romance” (1981): Do not be fooled by the generic title. This Albert Brooks comedy is one of the most scathing films ever made about romance. This is a rom-com for people who think rom-com protagonists act like creeps.
Brooks plays Robert Cole, a film editor who breaks up with his girlfriend Mary Harvard (Kathryn Harrold) in the first scene and then spends the rest of the film completely unable to get over her. Robert’s pathological need for affection is played for cringing laughs, best of all in an extended sequence where he takes Quaaludes and tries not to call Mary.
But the film also shows how disturbing his behavior ends up being, especially when he starts stalking her at work and interrogating her about her phone calls. This is one of the few rom-coms where the reunion of the two main characters is dreaded rather than anticipated.
“Greenberg” (2010): Noah Baumbach is not one to sugarcoat the worst tendencies of his characters, so it is no surprise that his foray into romantic comedy is a lot sourer than the norm.
Ben Stiller plays Roger Greenberg, a failed musician stuck in a rut of writing complaint letters to massive corporations and rarely going outside. He strikes up a relationship with his brother’s assistant, Florence Marr (Greta Gerwig in her breakthrough role), but her cheeriness goes with his frequent bitterness about as well as oil with water.
If this were any other director, Greenberg might miraculously change his ways, but Baumbach is honest and knows that Greenberg can only get so much better.