“Romantic” films are often seen as a one-size-fits-all category, but they come in as many different forms as relationships do, and may be best watched in certain relationship statuses. Ranging from the cynical to the open-hearted, here are some potential films to watch this Valentine’s Day, matched to their appropriate status.
“The Lobster” (2016): Yorgos Lanthimos has gotten awards attention this year for his twisted love triangle “The Favourite,” but that movie looks like “Love Actually” compared to his earlier stab at the romantic comedy. “The Lobster” is practically a feature-length advertisement for being single on your own terms, with following the crowd’s advice on romance only ending in misery and sci-fi body horror.
A paunchy, sad-sack Colin Farrell stars a recently-dumped man forced to find a partner, since he lives in a society where the single are turned into animals. When he does find love, with Rachel Weisz, he encounters a whole host of other troubles. Even as he understands why people fall for each other, Lanthimos is decidedly not a romantic filmmaker, and this is an expert depiction of the many ways love can warp the mind. Real life may not force you to turn into a lobster, but love can really be that irrational.
IN A RELATIONSHIP:
“Carol” (2015): Todd Haynes’ love stories tend to be more tragically unrequited than anything, but this is his one purely blissful love story. “Carol” has accumulated a massive online following for being one of very few queer love stories with a happy ending, and its hard-earned optimism is an inspiring thing to see if you also have a special someone.
Its story of a fiery relationship between a department store employee (Rooney Mara) and a soon-to-be-divorced housewife (Cate Blanchett) is driven by almost imperceptible looks and gestures more than dialogue, but each one gives off more romantic vibes than a grand speech ever could. Few films have so expertly portrayed the feelings brought on by love, with Haynes’ camera capturing a world made beautiful by the love contained with it.
“My Own Private Idaho” (1991): For a much sadder queer love story, there’s this, from Haynes’ contemporary Gus Van Sant. Half of “My Own Private Idaho” is a bizarre modern-day Shakespeare adaptation, complete with talking magazine covers and Gen-Xers speaking in iambic pentameter, but the other half is as bittersweet a depiction as in any film of a relationship in the difficult middle ground between friendship and romance.
Mike (River Phoenix) and Scott (Keanu Reeves) are two street kids who go on a road trip together, searching for Mike’s mother and struggling to make sense of their own companionship. Like Haynes, Van Sant is a master at capturing feeling on film, with images of falling barns and moving skies standing in for the sensations of love, but unlike in “Carol”, the words that aren’t said or are ignored are more tragic than anything. Mike’s clumsy, tentative confession of love to Scott at a campfire is heartbreaking, all his words trying and failing to capture what Scott means to him.