When we look at how a couple is presented onscreen, the most memorable films are often the most innovative. They are not always about falling in love: sometimes what happens afterward is unfortunate. The films in this list have been included for featuring relationships between men and women in refreshing ways.
1. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)
This film is just over five decades old, and yet it still holds up as a really solid look at a dysfunctional older couple. Mike Nichols did an excellent job of adapting a play that really works as a film. It has the feeling a lot of films based on stage plays often do, but Nichols makes effective choices that differ from the play. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was controversial when it was first released due to its strong language, alcohol use, and sexual content. It may seem less shocking today, but it is still powerful.
2. Swept Away (1974)
Lina Wertmuller’s Swept Away is a subversive masterpiece. It functions as a romantic comedy on the surface, but that’s a clever deception. Swept Away starts off as a comedy, but it ends up being a film about the distinction between the rich and the poor. It goes further than the standard idea of falling in love with someone from the “wrong side of the tracks.” Wertmuller is a little more cynical about the likelihood of a poor person and a rich person falling in love, while maintaining the perfect level of humour throughout.
3. Husbands and Wives (1992)
This is one of Woody Allen’s best films. A lot has been said about how strong the writing of this film is (it was nominated for an Oscar), and how well Allen is able to balance comedy and drama. However, Husbands and Wives is also striking because of its innovative use of handheld camera. It may be the only time Woody Allen used the technique so prominently in his work, and the documentary feeling gives the film a realism his other films don’t tend to have. As a side note, Husbands and Wives influenced another film that could be on this list: Listen Up Philip.
4. Love in the Afternoon (1972)
Perhaps taking cues from both Rossellini’s Journey to Italy, and David Lean’s Brief Encounter, Eric Rohmer made his own take on the theme of imperfect love affairs. What makes Rohmer’s work stand out is his interest in the morality of a love affair in particular. Love in the Afternoon (also known as Chloe in the Afternoon) is a portrait of a conflicted man on the brink of cheating on his wife. It is about the main character’s guilt as much as it is about his relationship.
5. Blue Valentine (2010)
Blue Valentine is an audacious look at a couple from the beginnings of their relationship to the difficulty they’re faced with as they age. The brilliance of Blue Valentine is partly due to how it covers a vast period of time in the couple’s relationship. Instead of the typical romantic comedy path, this film tells that story in the first act and then quickly ventures off on the more difficult side of keeping the relationship alive.