Valentine’s Day isn’t for everyone.
For a lot of people, it almost sounds blasphemous to oppose a day such as Valentine’s Day. After all, it is a holiday that exists to embrace love in all of its forms but, most notably, exists to embrace romantic love. For most people without a partner to celebrate with, Valentine’s Day may just be a day to peer at the television set from the comfort of one’s couch while eating a box of Bon Bons that, otherwise, would have been reserved for a would-be lover.
Sound depressing? It doesn’t have to be.
Sure, it may not sound fun to stumble upon another VH1 marathon of Love & Hip Hop or settle on the AMC network as it runs lovey-dovey movie marathons. Romantic movies may only serve as a reminder of a single millennial’s own solitude on Valentine’s Day, but it can be a smidge more bearable to catch an anti-romance film instead. An anti-romance film focuses on a drama significantly lacking in romance, often made all the more apparent thanks to a central couple whose relationship is anything but romantic. Think of a movie like Blue Valentine or (500) Days of Summer. Such unconventional movies may be bittersweet to witness, but they can also be a fun reminder that no relationship is perfect, especially for anyone with jaded feelings about Valentine’s Day. Here are some films that fit the bill.
‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf’ (1966)
It feels perfectly apropos to start off with Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf because this movie’s spirit and influence can be seen in several of the pictures that will be mentioned in this list, if not all of them. The film is a play adaptation concerning how a much older couple’s closet skeletons and resentment toward each other are slowly leaving a bitter stain on a younger, happier couple over the course of one night. The leads at the center of the film, twice-married and twice-divorced Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, feel as if they bring their own dysfunctions of their relationship to the screen in a raw, real portrait of a marriage that would be on its last leg if the participants didn’t settle for each other. They even go as far as to punish one another at every turn for settling for each other in this dialogue-heavy tale.
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‘Kramer vs. Kramer’ (1979)
Speaking of marriages on their last leg, Kramer vs. Kramer focuses on a custody battle between ex-lovers Jane (Meryl Streep) and Justin (Dustin Hoffman) over their young boy. Jane leaves Justin and their son and just when he figures out how to carry on as a single father, Jane returns to pursue a legal battle over the son whom she misses dearly. This Best Picture winner is a surprisingly mature attempt at rationalizing why parents divorce and why they pursue legal custody. Audiences never have a chance to get a real glimpse of what the central couple’s marriage looked like prior to separation, but there are enough hints of exhaustion and anxiety between the two to see no one’s completely at fault — not enough to peg anyone squarely as “the bad guy.” Even if a viewer finds themselves picking sides as they watch their proceedings, it’s easy to at least understand where each person is coming from.
‘Old Boyfriends’ (1979)
One of the more obscure and forgotten entries on the list, Old Boyfriends follows a psychiatrist named Diane — played by Talia Shire just a few years before her supporting roles in the Rocky and The Godfather franchises — shortly after her marriage falls apart. In hopes of coping and discovering herself, she embarks on a cross-country road trip to visit three ex-boyfriends who left the biggest impact on her life — one of whom is portrayed by Saturday Night Live standout, the late John Belushi. The way that Shire essentially gaslights each of these men before leaving a trail of chaos in her wake isn’t guaranteed to endear her to the audience, but it most certainly is cathartic to watch for anyone hoping to burn a trail of their own on an unforgiving Valentine’s Day.
‘She’s Gotta Have It’ (1986)
Spike Lee’s debut picture analyzes the idea of polyamory before such a word existed in the English language. On a shoestring budget of $175,000, Lee explores Nola Darling (Tracy Camilla Johns), a Brooklyn graphic designer who finds herself dating three men as she refuses to commit exclusively to any of them. Instead, Nola opts for a mutual agreement shared between all of her suitors — one of whom is played by Lee — for her to evenly distribute her time to each of them separately. The idea of such a free, sophisticated and sexually liberated woman was revolutionary in the 1980s, let alone the idea of an open relationship. Of course, as a product of the ’80s, the open relationship isn’t portrayed perfectly. Lee admits that the film isn’t perfect, as he told Deadline one specific aspect of the film reflects him as an “immature” director at the time, which explains why he went on to remake his debut as a Netflix mini-series. Still, it’s an interesting time capsule for such modern, romantic ideas — even if it isn’t exactly portrayed romantically.
In many ways, Closer, which is also based on an award-winning stage play, feels like a spiritual successor to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, featuring much of the same raw attitude, with a dash of vulgarity. It follows four people who are interlocked in a revolving door of infidelity with each other. Over the course of 104 minutes, Closer showcases each individual as lies pile upon lies until everyone involved goes from falling blindly in love with each other to bitterly hating one another.
‘Revolutionary Road’ (2008)
Revolutionary Road was promoted as the first time Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet would star in a movie together in 11 years. To say that Revolutionary Road would not be the love story that Titanic was would have to be an understatement. In fact, with the central couple at odds with each other mere minutes into the movie, it seems as though this is the antithesis of Titanic. The awe-inspiring quotes and the jaw-dropping visuals atop a dazzling boat are replaced by two people screaming at the top of their lungs at each other as they fall out of love after years of marriage. It’s about two people trying to sustain an unsustainable marriage and why, sometimes, breaking up is the best thing that two parties in a relationship can do for each other.
‘Gone Girl’ (2014)
Grammy-winning artist SZA naming her recent album’s single, Gone Girl, and basing the song on the movie —and, by proxy, book — showcases how quickly the movie has cemented itself as a modern classic. Much like the song, the movie Gone Girl is shrouded in themes of love lost, abandonment and the need for agency in a relationship. The adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s best seller concerns itself as a postmodern mystery in the disappearance of Nick Dunne’s (Ben Affleck) wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike). As the film fleshes itself out, it is quickly revealed that neither party is who they initially seem to be, nor was their relationship as glamorous as public perception would have implied.
‘Marriage Story’ (2021)
Much like the aforementioned Kramer vs. Kramer, Marriage Story is a mature study of divorce. The difference being this time, the audience has a clear idea as to why Scarlett Johannson and Adam Driver’s characters are madly in love and as to why that love dissipates. Again, like Kramer vs. Kramer, this movie doesn’t force audiences to pick sides between who is right and who is wrong, but in case the audiences favor one over the other, their motivations feel reasonable enough to not put outright blame anyone for how their relationship falls apart.
‘Malcolm & Marie’ (2021)
There’s a lot to be impressed about Malcolm & Marie, outside of its screenplay. For starters, it is cited as the first Hollywood feature to be entirely financed, directed, produced and written during the COVID-19 pandemic. Director Sam Levinson acquired his Euphoria muse, Zendaya, to film alongside John David Washington in secret between June and July 2020. In Malcolm & Marie, Washington portrays a writer-director coming home with his girlfriend on the night of his latest premiere. The movie’s nearly two-hour runtime sees a fight ensue between the couple, initially stemming from how much inspiration he took from her to make the film, despite her not receiving a thank you in his speech. For some, this may sound like a petty reason to fight, but, for others, it’s accurate to envision in a relationship how one minor thing could lead to a big argument. That and improvisation make for an intensely realistic viewing experience.
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This is one of those movies that work best when the viewer goes into it with as little knowledge about the plot as possible. Without giving too much away, the very root of this psychological horror is about a woman who has spent years rebuilding herself as a successful, single mother, only for it all to crumble before her when an ex from her past returns. Rebecca Hall is breathtaking, offering legitimacy to a truly horrifying and, in some aspects, bizarre story while Tim Roth is expectedly chilling as the ex in question. The core of this film, meanwhile, centers around the difficulties that surround recovering from an abusive relationship following a tragedy and how recovery becomes even more difficult when the past weaves its way into the present, affecting the futures of everyone involved.
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