Don’t get stuck watching a garbage romantic comedy on Valentine’s Day.
It’s February, Valentine’s Day is coming up, and love is or isn’t in the air. Chances are you’re going to want to spend a good deal of your time curled up on the couch with a loved one, whether they be human or furry, and you don’t want to get stuck watching a terrible rom-com about pretty people who work in advertising or own a food truck in New York City having shallow love problems. You want something more entertaining, less stupid, and Netflix has your back. Click on the films’ titles to be taken to their Netflix pages.
Pick of the Month: Blue Jay (2016)
Do you have someone who you consider to be “the one who got away?” Sure you do. We all do. It’s a cliche for a reason. Well, Blue Jay might be the ultimate “one who got away” movie. It takes just about the most heartbreaking “one who got away” story that can be told this side of Manchester by the Sea, throws the two players involved back together unexpectedly many years later, and then studies them as they awkwardly try to navigate how to relate to one another. One thing leads to another and laughs are laughed, cries are cried, and eventually you’re left with a really satisfying romantic dramedy. The movie’s kind of like if you watched Before Sunset without ever seeing Before Sunrise, and you had to figure out how these two people got to know each other. Mark Duplass and Sarah Paulson are the leads here, so you know you’re in good hands as far as the acting goes. Duplass wrote the script, so you know you’re in good though loose hands as far as the writing goes. Blue Jay is one that flew under the radar in 2016, and it’s time that more people saw it.
There aren’t very many teen comedies about matters of love that are very good at all. 10 Things I Hate About You is one of the exceptions. It’s basically the alpha dog of that new wave of teen comedies that came out in the late 90s, after the genre had experienced a drought for so many years. Maybe it holds up so well because it’s a modern day re-telling of William Shakespeare’s ‘The Taming of the Shrew,’ so it has effective plot structure built in, or it could be because it avoids the easy gross-out humor that was popular at the time, but probably it’s because it cast its leads with young actors like Heath Ledger, Julia Stiles, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt who would all go on to develop into interesting, thoughtful performers soon after. There are side characters played by great character actors like David Krumholtz and Larry Miller in here who provide legitimate laughs too. Hey, a teen movie from the studio system that doesn’t suck!
This movie would still be stuffed full of entertaining delights even if it didn’t feature an overarching plot where the title character stumbles into love. It does though, which makes it perfect for this list. Audrey Tautou is sweet and adorable and delightful on her own, the character she’s playing is sweet and adorable and delightful as well, and the little world she lives in, created by director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, is especially sweet and adorable and delightful, so what it all adds up to is basically the most twee movie that’s ever been. That’s okay though, because when twee works, it really works, and Amélie is such a treasure trove of quirk, beauty, and memorable production design that you’d have to be some kind of jerk to watch it and not fall in love.
This romantic dramedy (we’re using that nonsense word a lot this month) from writer/director Mike Mills (20th Century Women) tells the story of a romance that blossoms between an artist played by Ewan McGregor and an actress played by Mélanie Laurent that’s pretty dang entertaining on its own, but that’s not why it makes the list. The reason it gets on the list is its subplot wherein Christopher Plummer plays a man at the end of his life who has finally decided to come out of the closet and hit the gay dating scene for the first time. Plummer makes this movie. He’s so adorable, so full of energy, and so bursting with an enthusiasm for being alive that one can’t help but be inspired by his foray into figuring out things like house music and hookup culture. Sure, McGregor and Laurent are nice, and there’s even a cute dog in the cast, but it’s Plummer’s infectious joy that makes Beginners such a charming filmgoing experience.
You’re not likely to find another movie that better encapsulates how fiery, passionate, impulsive, and mostly stupid young love is. Blue is the Warmest Color became infamous for the steaminess of its sex scenes, which are quite steamy, but the real reason to watch it is the lead performance given by Adèle Exarchopoulos. Her character goes through a whole mess of things in this movie and she makes sure that every moment of her pain, confusion, and elation rings as being emotionally authentic, usually while her face is framed in deep closeup. She must have gone through quite a lot to make this movie, but her efforts were not in vain. This is a performance that’s memorable enough to live on for quite a long time. The movie looks really nice too. It’s really long, but it’s still February and the weather still sucks more than not, so you’ll have plenty of lazy afternoons to fit it in.
Maybe Drinking Buddies isn’t quite a movie about romance, but it’s certainly a movie that explores the conditions under which romance develops. What is it that separates our relationships that stay platonic from those that develop into something more? Is it often just a matter of timing and circumstance, or is there something deeper inside of us that knows when taking the plunge into a romantic entanglement is right and when it’s just not going to work out? The character work here is strong, Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson are great as the leads, and the movie fetishizes beer to the point where you won’t be able to finish it without cracking one open. Bonus points for the setting being Chicago as fuck and for Anna Kendrick and Ron Livingston playing supporting roles.
Lorelei (Marilyn Monroe) thinks that the secret to true love is to find a man who’s rich. Dorothy (Jane Russell) thinks that the secret to true love is to find a man who’s hot. Clearly they’re both misguided, but, in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, their pigheaded nature leads to them getting involved in all sorts of entertaining hi-jinx, which then get peppered with all sorts of infectious musical numbers. Howard Hawks adapting a big stage show for the screen is basically old school Hollywood at the height of its powers. This is the sort of loud, brash, colorful filmmaking that used to captivate general audiences, but that doesn’t really get made all that much anymore, which makes it feel like a jewel. And it especially feels like a jewel in the Netflix catalogue, which unfortunately seems to be shrinking and shrinking when it comes to classic cinema. Want to watch a good movie about love that’s from a different era? At this point, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is about all you’re going to get, as far as this streaming service is concerned.
If you’re looking for something that offers more than a great love story, then Grosse Pointe Blank is going to be your jam. Not only does it tell the story of a couple of estranged high school sweethearts who reunite over the course of the weekend that their high school reunion is held, but it’s also an effective comedy that pokes fun at the peculiarities of small town life, it’s a fun action movie about a hitman going on one last job, and it features a great soundtrack of 80s favorites. What’s not to like? Jeremy Piven? Sure, but this movie was filmed before he became a parody of himself and he still had a natural hairline, and we’re given Joan Cusack to make up for him. Dan Aykroyd? Sure, but this movie actually gets why he’s grating and crafts a fun character around it, and it gives us Alan Arkin to make up for him. Probably you have a big John Cusack crush and you’ve seen this movie 1000 times already, but if not, then it’s time to pounce. This is a really solid pick that basically everyone ends up loving.
Getting married is scary. It changes almost everything about your life; shunts you off into unknown territory. The anxiety that newlyweds feel can be so great that it’s pretty much the perfect subject to be exploited by the horror genre, which Honeymoon does. What would you do if the person you just committed your life to suddenly started acting like someone completely different? Can love can conquer all? Including sudden noises, strange lights, unaccounted for bruises, and mysterious vaginal bleeding? That question gets asked here, and then answered during a big, gory climax that’s just – oh wow – it’s affecting. If you like watching Rose Leslie be mean to Jon Snow on Game of Thrones, then you should like this, because it’s also a thing where she constantly talks shit to someone who she’s sleeping with, as well as simultaneously being a thing that puts her through all kinds of trauma and allows her to do some impressive acting. Is Honeymoon really a love story? That’s debatable, but it certainly posits that nobody needs to be alone.
When people talk about their first loves, they’re generally talking about the first person they dated as a teenager. If you think about it, we actually fall in love much earlier than that though, when we’re kids. The difference is just that little kids fall into a different kind of love – the purer kind where you’re thinking more about how much you like someone and less about their butt. Moonrise Kingdom is director Wes Anderson doing a masterful job of capturing that love on film. There’s all sorts of stuff to like about this movie – its humor, its characters, its production design – but the heart of the thing is the relationship that blossoms between its two young protagonists (played by Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward). They’re a couple of quirky outsiders, who had never felt quite at home until they found themselves together, and watching them cling to one another in the face of adversity is the sort of thing that can’t help but give you tingles of delight deep down in your bleeding heart.
Netflix doesn’t have Marty, the greatest movie about a sad sack who lives with his overbearing mother finally finding love, but Only the Lonely makes for a pretty solid second pick. Here John Candy is playing the sad mama’s boy, and Ally Sheedy is playing the shy girl who catches his eye, and they’re both just so likable and willing to project relatable vulnerability that their presences make up for the fact that all of the other aspects of this film are solid, but not exceptional. If you’re the sort of person who likes to root for the underdog, or who likes to cry at a movie, then this one is going to hit all of your buttons. If you like rooting for the pretty people and don’t tend to feel any sort of emotions, then I don’t know, maybe movies just aren’t your thing? Give MMA a try and see how you feel.
It’s possible to think of The Princess Bride as being an effective comedy. It’s possible to think of it as being a thrilling adventure tale. Most everyone likely remembers it as a heart-warming family film that anyone of any age can sit down, watch, and come away from feeling better about everything. It kind of gets overlooked that this is the movie that defined what romantic love is to a whole generation of young people in the 80s though. For people of a certain age, when we’re asked what the ideal relationship should look like, we think about Westley’s (Cary Elwes) devotion to Buttercup (Robin Wright). Heck, some people might even think about the epic bromance that develops between Inigo (Mandy Patinkin) and Fezzik (Andre the Giant). Not only is The Princess Bride a fun piece of entertainment that features flame spurts, lightning sand, and rodents of unusual size, it’s also a handy guide for how you should treat the people you love. Basically, if someone is nice to you, stab the people who are mean to them with swords.
It’s true that Shakespeare in Love won way more awards than it deserved back in 1998, but it’s also true that it received way too much of a backlash afterward because of its success. It’s not the movie’s fault that awards voters love things full of high-minded cultural references that allow them to pat themselves on the back and feel smart. Beyond the hype, Shakespeare in Love is still full of sharp, entertaining dialogue, really strong actors (and Ben Affleck), and lush and beautiful production design. Plus, there really is a strong love story at its core, and one that features tons of hot make out sessions shared by Joseph Fiennes and Gwyneth Paltrow, to boot. All joking aside, Affleck is actually a lot of fun here as well, and if you’re one of those people who just can’t stand the guy for whatever reason, well, the movie throws Geoffrey Rush into a supporting role to make up for it. Happy?
Not only is The Way He Looks a great story about young love, it’s also a great story about gay love, it’s a great coming of age story, and it’s a great story about an outcast finding his way in the world. Ghilherme Lobo is very strong as the lead character, a blind boy who’s struggling to assert his independence and find his way in the world. The film itself, from Brazilian director Daniel Ribeiro, has a lot of other stuff going for it too. It’s got a great soundtrack, beautiful cinematography, and a bittersweet kind of optimism that warms your heart as you take joy in the tiny victories of life. This is the sort of movie that can make the holding of a hand or an unchaperoned bike ride seem like an act of rebellion. It’s not hard to believe in the goodness and possibility in the world when you’re young and in love, and The Way He Looks taps into that feeling and lets you relive it like few pieces of cinema have to date.
Love can spring up in unexpected places. It can even come out of a one night stand. That’s the case in this very artful, very interesting romantic drama where a couple of guys named Russell (Tom Cullen) and Glen (Chris New) meet at a club, have some casual sex, and then find themselves tangled up in more emotions than either of them bargained for. Weekend looks great, it was clearly largely improvised, which adds a unique layer of authenticity to its proceedings, and it asks all sorts of interesting questions about what it means to be in a relationship, why we compulsively enter relationships, what the specific difficulties of attempting to be in a gay relationship are, and how long people need to be in our lives in order to have long-lasting effects on them. If you’re looking for a meditation on love to watch this Valentine’s Day, there are few as wise and affecting as this one.
Sometimes romance blossoms very naturally and organically, and sometimes the process is much more difficult. Your Sister’s Sister tells a story about one of those times when the process is very difficult. The film (from writer/director Lynn Shelton) doesn’t do much more than put three characters in a remote location and make them have conversations in various combinations, but when the characters are this well drawn, the cast has this much chemistry, and their complex romantic statuses are set up to make every interaction they have this inherently dramatic, that’s pretty much all you need. Your Sister’s Sister paints a picture of a very simple love triangle, but it manages to be thrillingly entertaining, nonetheless. Of course, that should come as no surprise, seeing as the trio of depressed, anxious, lovesick weirdos featured are played by Emily Blunt, Rosemarie Dewitt, and Mark Duplass, who are all huge Hollywood heartthrobs to varying degrees. My crush on all three is planet consuming.