It’s Valentine’s Day and love is in the air!
Ha, who am I kidding? Thanks to the overall odiousness of POTUS being boosted by his boot-licking lackeys, the tentacles of hate stretching from Washington have managed to asphyxiate every pocket of our daily existence. Trying our damnedest to disconnect and just being can feel futile at times.
Having an anger-induced edge can be a good thing though; it keeps us fired up, focused and fiercely determined to resist the separatism and hatred encouraged by the political power structure. But it can also be fucking exhausting.
Self-care is essential during these trying times. Sometimes self-care can arrive in the form of a fictional romantic comedy that we can escape into for 90 minutes. Sometimes self-care is the thought of a happy ending—as elusive as they may seem these days—being motivation for us to get out of bed in the morning.
So for Valentine’s Day this year, instead of my usual uber-dark anti-Valentine’s Day counter-programming list (because who really needs to watch The Realm of the Senses or Shame right now?), I’ve curated a playlist of movies that are actually uplifting, optimistic, and funny. Movies that celebrate human connection, and, even if they’re still a bit dark or satirical of the social constructs involved, still reinforce love’s power. And despite what #WhoHurtYou Twitter says: Love is dope. So let’s press pause on being jaded jerks for a day and luxuriate in some love and laughter.
[Ed. note: Most of these aren’t on Netflix, but we all know what Netflix & chill means, so… Heh.]
They Came Together
A deconstruction of the deconstruction of the rom-com genre, David Wain’s They Came Together finds the director at his peak absurdity, which says a lot since this is same guy who created Wet Hot American Summer. It’s a straight-up parody, one that sends up the specific tropes that we’ve all grown to love (aka roll our eyes at) about fairytale romances between two polar opposite characters. But amidst all the satirizing of hyper-generic supporting casts (played, ironically, by a veritable who’s who of comedy gods), the silly gender expectations and a sword-wielding Michael Shannon, there is actually a genuinely sweet love story at its center between Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler finding love in a hopeless place (New York City).
Watching them come so hard together provides big laughs and a breezy good time.
Une Femme est une Femme (A Woman is a Woman)
Godard makes everything greater. The French director’s trademark wit and warmth are on full display as we are thrown into a complex love triangle involving an exotic dancer, her best male companion, and her lover who doesn’t want to have a baby—much to her chagrin. It’s bright, it’s bouncy and it’s beautiful—it’s also a French New Wave classic.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Dating in your 20s can feel like you’re trapped in an expert-level video game full of cartoonish characters, fantastical experiences, and shape-shifting villains. So leave it to Edgar Wright to perfectly visualize the comically chaotic experience of flings and first-time love with his signature speed, kaleidoscopic colors, and wholly inventive style.
You and your Valentine will be quoting Scott Pilgrim for days, and if not... well, they weren’t meant for you anyways.
Take a breather from the hyperactive colors of Scott Pilgrim’s visual grammar with Billy Wilder’s black-and-white dramedy The Apartment. This entry might be the most melancholic on this list, as the story focuses on corporate push-over C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) who loans his apartment out to his bosses so they can get their extramarital freak-on. Complications arise when Baxter falls for Fran (Shirley MacLaine), who is also sleeping with his dick-head boss. Talk about crossing swords.
Wilder provides some sharp commentary on capitalism’s commodification of love and sex, but this isn’t some #FakeDeep affair. Just sit back and enjoy Wilder’s cynical look at how falling for someone just as broken as yourself can be the best thing we can hope for.
This isn’t the “abortion comedy” that some critics wrongly reduced it to upon its release (although it does handle abortion with more nuance than any Hollywood movie in recent memory). It’s a redeeming story about refusing to define yourself by who you fuck, or how you fuck up. And it features the performance of a lifetime from Jenny Slate, an aspiring standup comic whose unexpected pregnancy becomes just another bullet point on her laundry list of life’s hurdles.
You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll learn that confronting all that messy, complicated stuff in your heart will make you feel better about wearing it on your sleeve.
Colby Smulders, Guy Pearce and Kevin Corrigan in mumblecore movie from Andrew Bujalski? It’s like the rom-com movie gods answered all of our prayers. In this smartly scripted comedy, a charming, harmless creep (Corrigan) falls for his personal trainer (Smulders) while her sexual tension with the gym’s pseudo-philosophical owner (Pearce) boils to the top. It might play small, but thanks to pitch-perfect performances and the comedic chemistry between its leads, Results has a romantically huge payoff.
Yes, everything you heard about The Lobster being bleak and dark is true, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t painfully hilarious and tender as well. In a dystopic future, single people are shipped to a resort where they have 30 days to find a mate or they will be transformed into an animal of their choosing. It’s a perfect universe to critique the performative nature of relationships and the pressures we put on ourselves to commit to a lifetime with someone. But it also deeply explores the longing for connection that underpins human existence.
So watch this with your Valentine and see what animal they would choose. You’ll learn everything you need to know about them!
Punch Drunk Love
Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch Drunk Love is almost impossible to categorize, much like love is difficult to define or describe. It’s certainly the most romantic movie in Anderson’s oeuvre and Adam Sandler’s most vulnerable performance of his career. But PDL transcends genre convention by visualizing exactly how anxiety feels when you’re in love and your own emotional damage is determined to keep you off balance.
With lush cinematography drenched in blue hues and a Jon Brion score that is gentle one moment then jarring the next (just like love!) Punch Drunk Love is a reminder that sometimes sadness and sweetness are almost indistinguishable, and that the best way to escape the rhythms of loneliness is to find your music with someone as equally off-beat as you are.