The best rom-coms for skeptics, scrooges, and grinches

If you just want Valentine’s Day to be over already… but still can’t deny that tiny part of yourself that believes in love.

Feb 29, 2020, 11:39 am*

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David Wharton

Valentine’s Day is upon us. Couples everywhere are scrambling to put together the most romantic evening they can come up with, to top whatever they did last year. Meanwhile, the suits at Hallmark and Russell Stover are having their calls forwarded so they can spend the week doing the backstroke in their Scrooge McDuck money vaults.

You could say that I’m not a fan of Valentine’s Day. Partly that’s the cynicism over the manufactured nature of it all, and partly it’s because my partner and I are terrible at the whole romance thing. The closer we get to stereotypical romantic gestures, the more certain one of us is about to make a snarky comment or laugh in the other’s face. Hey, it works for us, and I know we’re not the only ones. So, for anyone else out there whose hearts are buried beneath layers of calcified sarcasm, we present a list of Valentine’s Day movies for people who just want Valentine’s Day to be over already… but still can’t deny the tiny little part of them that still believes in love.

1) Edward Scissorhands (Amazon with Starz)

In what may still be Tim Burton’s best film, an old woman tells her granddaughter a bedtime story involving a colorful cookie-cutter suburban neighborhood that rests under the shadow of a creepy old mansion—and of the strange young man who lives there, a sheltered innocent with wicked-looking scissor contraptions where his hands should be. Eventually Edward (Johnny Depp) is discovered by an saleswoman from the neighborhood below and brought out into society. He becomes a local tourist attraction, he falls in love with the beautiful daughter of the woman who found him… and he’s eventually betrayed and turned on by the people he thought were his friends. Sad and sweet and visually stunning, Edward Scissorhands is a timeless romantic fairy tale that will nevertheless shore up your cynical belief that humans are the worst.

2) Let the Right One In (Netflix Instant)

Love, if it does arrive, may show up in the most unexpected of ways. Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) is a shy 12-year-old living in 1981 Stockholm with his mother. The kids at school bully Oskar mercilessly, and he’s admittedly a strange cat: He collects newspaper stories about murders and sleeps with a knife under his bed. When he meets a young girl named Eli (Lina Leandersson), he finds a kindred spirit who seems just as out of place in the world as he does. That’s an understatement, to be sure: She’s actually a vampire. But the monstrous truth about Eli’s real nature doesn’t frighten or dissuade Oskar, not even when Eli reveals that the whole blood-sucking thing is just one of her secrets. Oskar accepts her as she is, blood-soaked rampages and all. And what could be more romantic than someone who truly sees you, even at your worst, and doesn’t flinch?

3) Chasing Amy (Netflix Instant, Amazon Prime)

Everybody you might potentially fall in love with comes with baggage. You either deal with it or you let it become an insurmountable obstacle, even if it’s really just your own bullshit that’s standing in the way of your happiness. In Kevin Smith’s Chasing Amy, Holden McNeil (Ben Affleck) falls hard for a girl named Alyssa Jones (Joey Lauren Adams). The only problem? She’s into the ladies and has no interest in “switching teams.” Nevertheless, she can’t deny a certain connection with Holden, and they embark on a relationship for which they have no road map whatsoever, one littered with hazards in the form of Holden’s insecurity and incapability of accepting that, if she’s choosing to be with him, he can’t keep second-guessing that decision. It’s a messy, emotionally complex rom-com that delves into issues more people have to deal with in the dating world as sexual fluidity becomes more commonplace and more openly acknowledged. In the end, it’s all a clusterfuck… but that doesn’t mean the journey wasn’t worth taking.

4) Adventureland (Netflix Instant)

Speaking of messy, don’t you hate it when you fall for the cute girl at work but she’s too busy messing around with the married asshole who pretends to have once played a gig with Lou Reed but is transparently lying about it to seriously give your attentions any consideration? That’s the kerfuffle in which young James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) finds himself when he takes a summer gig working at a shitty Pennsylvania theme park and meets Emily (Kristen Stewart), who’s hung up on guitar-playing married pretty-boy Mike (Ryan Reynolds). With his parents suffering financial troubles, James is watching the future he had all planned out crumble before him, but he decides it doesn’t matter if he can just convince Em that Mike is stringing her along and win her heart. Part coming-of-age tale, part painfully earnest young adult romance, Adventureland explores the good things that can happen when everything else is falling apart—and the reality that getting to those good things often isn’t easy. It was written and directed by Superbad’s Greg Mottola, and in my estimation it’s a better movie.

5) Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Amazon Prime)

Is it worth trying again for the love of your life? What if you know it probably won’t work out? What if it’s almost certain that the same things that doomed the relationship the first time will sink it again this time around? There’s something very human about chasing love in spite of all the warning signs flashing red, and that’s at the heart of Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman’s sci-fi romantic drama Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Joel (Jim Carrey) and Clementine (Kate Winslet) are coming off a nasty breakup. Anyone who’s been in that position has probably wished they could just flip a switch and forget all about the other person, but in the world of Sunshine, you really can. When Joel learns that Clementine has undergone a procedure to make her forget him, he decides to do the same… but then changes his mind midway through the process. He flees across the landscape of his subconscious, clinging to the last memories of Clementine as darkness pursues them. It’s strange and surreal and beautiful, reminding us that even the most painful memories carry worth, even if it doesn’t always seem like it.

6) Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (Netflix Instant)

I think most people have met a potential love interest when the timing just didn’t work. Maybe only one of you is single. Maybe they’re only in town on business and about to fly back home to the other side of the world. Whatever the reason, there are few cases of bad timing worse than the one faced by Dodge (Steve Carell) and Penny (Keira Knightley), who meet each other mere weeks before an asteroid is due to destroy human civilization. Dodge’s wife has left him and Penny has dumped her boyfriend, so the timing would actually be great if not for the whole apocalypse thing. Regardless, they set out on a road trip to find Dodge’s old high school sweetheart and then a way back to England so Penny can see her family one last time. Along the way, their new friendship becomes something more, and they realize that the things they thought were most important in their final days can’t hold a candle to this new thing they’ve discovered with each other, tragically, at the end. The apocalypse, as a subject matter, has been done to death on the big screen, but rarely has it been as sweet and sad and charming as in Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. You can keep your CGI asteroid impacts; I’ll take Dodge and Penny’s cross-country adventure any day of the week.

7) Heathers (Netflix Instant)

We’ve covered a lot of cinematic relationships that face major hurdles or are simply doomed from the start, but we all know there’s another breed most of us have encountered at some point: the guy or girl who is just plain bad news. In the cult classic black comedy Heathers, Veronica Sawyer (Winona Ryder) is invited into the most prestigious clique in her school: the so-called “Heathers,” the queen bees of Westerburg High School, each of them terrible. Veronica soon decides she liked life better as an outcast, all the more so when she meets the roguish J.D. (Christian Slater), a troublemaker whose contempt for the whole pretense of high school, and the Heathers in particular, immediately appeals to her. When Veronica suggests giving one of the Heathers some comeuppance, J.D. is immediately on board with the plan—but, unbeknownst to Veronica, he’s decided that the Heathers deserve far worse than a little embarrassment. He has a more final solution in mind, and Veronica soon realizes she’s fallen for a bad boy who’s a lot more bad than she anticipated. Fuck me gently with a chainsaw…

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Screengrabs via Youtube | Remix via Fernando Alfonso III

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*First Published: Feb 14, 2016, 9:00 am