14. Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
Wes Anderson always has a romantic aspect to his work, being especially attracted to doomed or somehow forbidden love (Rushmore’s Max and Miss Cross, The Royal Tenenbaums’ Richie and Margot, etc.). Rarely is it as much the focus and as innocently portrayed as in Moonrise Kingdom.
The “emotionally-disturbed” orphan Sam (Jared Gilman) runs away from scout camp in an attempt to be with his penpal, the similarly outcasted Suzy (Kara Hayward), and impresses her with adventure, dancing and a gift of fish hook earrings. A Dirty Dozen-style taskforce is assembled to get them back – consisting primarily of twelve year old boys.
As is always the case with Anderson films, the cast is impressive: Ed Norton, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton are on point; while Bill Murray in a cuckolded, maritally unstable role seems to a recurring motif in Anderson’s work. But the real MVPs are the adolescent couple who winningly sell those first tentative steps of young love, guarded yet comfortable in each other’s presence.
While many films show the struggles of adult and teenaged romances, rarely is the naivety of first love depicted; Moonrise Kingdom presents those emotions wonderfully in a gently fantastical, nostalgic light.
13. Les Amours Imaginaires (Heartbeats) (2010)
Most films that deal with romance focus on one of two stages, the initial infatuation and seduction or the break-up and heartbreak, while the in between is seen to not have any narrative traction. French-Canadian Les Amours imaginaires chooses the first option, the twist being that the two friends are infatuated with the same guy, the alluring blond haired Nicolas.
Playful flirting gives way to bitter rivalry and betrayal. A Italian cover of Nancy Sinatra’s “Bang Bang (My Babe Shot Me Down)” is used over slow motion footage of the pre-date preparations throughout to show the melancholy of this sad love triangle, the inevitability of oncoming rejection for one of the three.
The film is peppered with relationship anecdotes in the style of When Harry Met Sally; the difference being that they are delivered solo and consist of them cynically dissecting their failed relationships. Everyone has these stories, these moments of love gone sour and these snippets flavour the tone of Les Amours imaginaires.
Another notable aspect is it’s exploration of sexuality, and especially portraying the middle area of the Kinsey Scale. One of the relationship interludes is a young woman faced with weeks of email silence from a potential lover, she describes the rejection on her end as “a long lingering ‘No’”, and that is how Les Amours imaginaires feels – a heart-pulling drawn out tragedy.
12. Obvious Child (2014)
Why is that when a man jokes about his genitalia it is acceptable, but when a woman does it about hers its repulsive? Jenny Slate opening stand up sequence shows in quick secession riffing on vaginal leavings, religious identity, lesbian parenthood, her functional sex life and relationship worries to an appreciative comedy club audience.
The inciting post-break up jump-cutted montage of drunken phone messages is not only hilarious but honest and true to life. Obvious Child is kind of gross, kind of shocking but it is a real human woman expressing her self, which is sorely lacking from the majority of modern media.
Obvious Child was marketed as the “abortion rom-com” and that is no lie. Stand up comedienne Donna (Slate) becomes pregnant after a one night stand and the film shows not only how she deals with the pregnancy’s termination but also the growing relationship between her and the would-be father.
The event itself drives Donna to improve herself as a woman and all that entails. While associated with the current new-wave of female auteurs like Miranda July and Lena Dunham, Obvious Child’s writer/director Gillian Robespierre prefers to remain behind the camera, perhaps to the film’s betterment. A perfectly crafted, impressively crude tale of womanhood.
11. Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
With romantic comedies as a genre there are always template character types, normally fairly generic ones – Bradley Cooper’s Patrick is married, but separated and Jennifer Lawrence’s Tiffany is a recent widow and, it turns out, they are both mentally unstable. As a basis most directors would run with these character interacting and create a watch-able if uninspired film.
David O. Russell is not most directors. A character director extraordinaire, he is able to wrestle incredible things from this set up, while adding layers and increasing originality: there’s a dance competition, Robert DeNiro as Patrick’s OCD-suffering father and American football.
“Excelsior” is Patrick’s new mindset towards life, it means simply “upwards”; for someone who has recently plunged to the depths of a violent depression upwards is a relative term. His positive trajectory is not smooth, with considerable dives in the form of exploding emotionally when faced with the song “Cherie Amour”, the ending of Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms or the loss of his wedding video.
His dance competition rehearsals with Tiffany are not only helping with his mental health, but hers also – when he finally does the sequence’s final lift, he is not only physically but also metaphorically boosting her upwards. Silver Linings Playbook shows love as part of the healing process; what is broken can be fixed with the power of love.
10. Shall We Dansu? (1996)
Remakes are a blight on cinema as a medium, limp unoriginal versions of the source material mostly made so that Western audiences don’t have read subtitles. Though it was later remade by Hollywood as a Jennifer Lopez/Richard Gere vehicle, Shall We Dansu? takes its name from a song in a classic Gene Kelly musical.
The story of Shohei, a married office drone who begins taking dancing lessons as a distraction from his dull work-filled existence. With his newly altered schedule, his wife begins to worry and so hires a private detective to find out what he is doing with his Wednesday evenings.
The reason why the Hollywood version was not as well received is mostly down to the differences in culture – where in the US dancing and public displays of affection are commonplace, in Japan these acts are seen as shameful and are opposed. Richard Gere’s new vice has none of the controversial implications that Shohei faces and actively hides.
With this taboo activity pulling him into an exciting new world Shohei encounters many colourful characters, including his boss Mr. Aoki who harbours a Latin-influenced secret identity. The final moments of the film where his family find out and accept his hobby are extremely touching; finally Shohei can take pride in himself and his ability.
9. Y tu mama tambien (2001)
A couple of teenagers’ friendship is tested as they take a roadtrip with a married woman to the mythical Heaven’s Mouth beach. Starring the now internationally famous Gael García Burnal and Diego Luna as the friends Julio and Tenoch respectively and directed by Gravity’s Alfonso Cuarón, Y tu mamá también is very much a story of growing up, sex and adulthood, in fact the title itself translates as a child-ish comeback: “and your mother too”.
The contrast between the idealistic but immature graduate friends and the older life-worn dental assistant Luisa gives an interesting tone to their idle conversations; their points of view coming from theory, hers from life-experience
Opening on a shot of Tenoch sloppily fucking his girlfriend as a Harold and Maude film poster looms behind them one is struck by two things. One, that despite romantic comedies’ preoccupation with love, passion and romance, most Hollywood examples are perversely neutered, sexless affairs; a symptom of Hollywood’s blind eye to excessive violences but abhorrent disgust at pleasurable life-giving sex.
Two, that even though Y tu mamá también is not seen as a stereotypical romantic comedy the poster implies that it definitely identifies as one – both share an older woman love interest and bittersweet tone.
8. Jeux D’enfants (Love Me If You Dare) (2003)
Life-spanning love stories are a trademark of the genre, they give the viewer the ability to watch the couple grow to love each other over years, possibly decades. Due to this they are at risk of sappy sentimentality; Jeux d’enfants avoids this trap due to its surprisingly sick sense of humour.
As children Julien (Guillaume Canet) and Sophie (Marion Cotillard) play an escalating game of dares; when he grows up he wants to be a torturous tyrant, she a oven-warm cream puff – by the time they are in college their desires have changed significantly. The audience wants to see them together but forces stand in their way: his father, their respective marriages and the fact they are psychopaths intent on hurting each other via the dare game.
Jeux d’enfants shows a side of romance that is not regularly shown – the bitterness and fighting. Throughout the film uses “La Vie en Rose” by Édith Piaf as the love theme; Cotillard would later win as Oscar for portraying Piaf in the film La Vie en Rose in 2007.
In an example of fact mirroring fiction, Cotillard and Canet have been dating since 2007 and have had a child together, having known each other since the 90’s only for life to get in the way in between. Jeux d’enfants is proof that a rom-com can include a rain-soaked declaration of love and public urination.