Films For Valentine's Day That Won't Cause Sugar Sickness

It's the second week in February, and we all know what that means: it's time for the weird, pre-determined day we are supposed to express love, with jewels and chocolate and whatever else we are being sold. My Twitter feed is full of truly odd things I am meant to "suggest" my partner buy me for this special day -sorry, but if I sent my husband to buy me lipstick or other beauty products it would end in tears on both sides. It has just gotten well and truly out of hand, this Valentine's malarkey.

I remember when I actually liked Valentine’s Day – I was about 5 years old, and we gave out those awesome kid’s valentines to all our friends and got love hearts and Red Hots (Britain you are missing a trick with this spicy cinnamon candy!), and just had a little party with some red fruit punch. Good times. 

Then you grow up and it just becomes...well, a bit horrible. From high school, when the chosen ones get roses sent by classmates and secret admirers in a move straight out of Mean Girls that was really just a thinly veiled popularity contest, to youthful singledom, where we’re meant to feel bad about ourselves for not having someone to celebrate the assigned day of romance with. Then you become part of a couple, and despite generally mocking it and thinking it’s stupid you’re still meant to acknowledge it in some way for the influx of people everywhere who ask you what you’re doing to “celebrate.” (um if you really luurve Valentine's Day you probably don't want to bother reading the rest of this post!).

Ugh. Don’t get me wrong, I feel warm, fuzzy things too, but I rather resent this day where magazines tell us to buy tacky lingerie and wear pink like fem-bots if we’re to be loved. If it’s the one day of the year you can get your partner to be nice to you and treat you like you’re the bomb, then maybe you should re-assess. And men don't have it much better, with a sudden pressure to perform like red rose wielding Casanovas; even if neither they nor their partner acknowledge it, it's there, and it's frankly ludicrous.

Anyway, in that curmudgeonly vein(!), I’m going to suggest a few “anti-Valentine’s” films you can watch if you are fed up of self-flagellation for being alone or overpriced set course menus for two in an overcrowded restaurant full of miserable people who can't possibly be enjoying the rushed triple setting service. In their own way I actually do find these films romantic, but they maybe are a bit more realistic about love than your bog-standard rom com or Nicholas Sparks cotton candy love story. These movies all touch me in my cold black heart, I heartily recommend them to anyone who feels more spiky that sweet when it comes to all this Cupid stuff.

Harold & Maude: Age gap love taken to an extreme, it’s not a typical romance but it’s about two soul mates who happen to be a suicidal young man played by Bud Court and an OAP (played by the wonderful Ruth Gordon). It’s been imitated many times, director Hal Ashby's bleakly sweet tone never quite matched though. The original black comedy? It's up there anyway. Maybe not for everyone, but if you like Wes Anderson or Richard Ayoade you will probably like this movie. 

Heathers: Teenage kicks, so hard to beat…Thank the gods this film existed when I was a teenager. A rebel outcast (was anyone ever cooler than Christian Slater in this film?) and a preppy princess (Winona Ryder) meet, fall in love, become homicidal and blow sh*t up. Black black black comedy. Love is a drug, and sometimes it’s bad for us. Extra points for naming the high school after Paul Westerberg.

Annie Hall: Bizarrely often touted as the first ever “rom-com”, Annie Hall, unlike most rom-coms that came after, tells the truth about love in ways most films to this day shy away from. Intellectually obnoxious Alfie meets idealistic, quirky actress Annie, and they live happily ever after…for a while. I admit this movie made me want to move to New York. I am a cliché. Diane Keaton makes boiler suits and bowler hats look stylish, and plays the role of Annie, which was incidentally written about and for her while she was dating Allen, to perfection.This movie is funny and sweet and sad, and still feels authentic to me no matter how many times I watch it. 

The Way We Were: This is one of those movies that I find somewhat strange for its reputation as a great romance. It's actually quite sad. Look away now if you don't want any spoilers. I can't talk about why this movie is great without (mild) spoilers, and let's be honest it's 30 years old so you know, get over it.

No one has ever been as beautiful as Robert Redford in this movie, no couple ever less suited than the radical activist Katie and the all American athlete and military man Hubbell. But we root for Barbra/Katie nonetheless, because we all had an elusive fantasy crush once, and the theme song sung by Streisand is killer: "If we had the chance to do it all again, would we...could we?" (...sob!).

I mean, I don’t know. It's corny but I can't help but love it. I can’t watch the “Your girl is lovely, Hubbel” line without thinking of SATC now, which dedicated an entire episode to love for this film. Like Annie Hall, this is another romance that worked great on the East coast, where there were sail boats and lobster bakes, and was ruined by Californian vapid-ness – damn you, California!

Rushmore: Wes Anderson’s not quite first film (but first one that most people saw), is still my favourite film by him. Anyone who has ever had a wrong place/wrong time/unrequited or otherwise doomed from the start romance will get it. Anyone who loves Bill Murray will get it.

When I first saw this in the cinema, Murray had been in career wilderness for a while, and seeing him onscreen again felt simply magical. I get quite irked when Sofia Coppola gets all the credit for his renaissance, because it began here. (Though do watch Lost in Translation (on Amazon Prime if you have it), if like me you kind of think it's overrated but love Murray so much you can't resist!)

Jason Schwartzman is the obnoxious yet still weirdly likable young protagonist, Bill Murray his rebellious and bilious mentor, Olivia Williams the object of both of their affections. Rushmore shamelessly rips from films like Harold & Maude and The Graduate with its bleakly romantic themes and quirky soundtrack, but is still completely its own film, funny and heartbreaking at once.

Gone With the Wind: Yes, it’s four hours long and it’s depiction of slavery is cartoonishly dated. But Scarlett O'Hara's relentless pursuit of what she believes to be her true love, perfect boring Ashley, all the while ignoring the actual love right under her nose-dastardly yet actually awesome Rhett, is still sort of eternal. You can’t help but root for the spoiled madam, and no one ever owned a role the way Clark Gable portrayed Rhett: "Frankly my dear..." is still the original mic drop of all movie lines, ever.

None of these films are so sad that they make you stop believing in love; they are not in that modern ilk of indie film that takes love, chews it up and spits it out for you to stare at and cry out for humanity (I’m looking at YOU Blue Valentine). There will be tears, but (I think!) they still make you think it's worth it in the end. There’s just a certain levity to them that the subject rarely encounters onscreen.

Happily ever after has its place, don’t get me wrong, sometimes it is all that will do for me. My Jane Austen dvd’s are worn out. But on a day so full of bizarre corporate and other outside expectations and distortions of what the heart is supposed to want and aspire to, a little bit of romantic reality is more my speed. How about you, are there any films about love that you think actually get it right? Please share in the comments :-)

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