Many of the great romance films of this decade, such as Phantom Thread, Call Me By Your Name, Brooklyn, or Cold War, enjoy passionate fan bases and have been ranked highly among the best films to come out in the last ten years. Not all films gain that reaction though, and some romance films still haven’t found the audience that they deserve. Even though some of these films are from celebrated auteurs and feature breakout performances, for whatever reason they remain underseen.
Here are ten excellent underrated romance films from this decade that are worth your time.
10. Mistress America
Although Noah Baumbach’s ability to confront family dysfunction on film is widely celebrated, Mistress America hasn’t generated the same amount of discussion that Frances Ha, The Meyerowitz Stories, or While We’re Young have received. Mistress America takes a different approach from Baumbach’s other films, as it follows a novice literature student (Lola Kirke) who becomes wrapped up in a plot by her new stepsister (Greta Gerwig) to win back her former fiance (Michael Chernus).
Gerwig is a comedic force of nature, but her character’s warped sense of reality is best suited as a supporting player in this film, which makes the choice to tell the story through Kirke’s point of view a smart decision. Kirke begins as an unassuming audience avatar who gives perspective to the eventual mishap that follows, and learns to adopt new philosophies on both love and writing. It’s a great way to see a character’s maturation as a foil to an absurd romance in crisis.
9. Rules Don’t Apply
Warren Beatty’s first film since 1998’s Bulworth wasn’t exactly the return to the spotlight he may have expected, but it remains an interestingly self-reflexive piece about aging out of stardom. Beatty stars as Howard Hughes in a much more playful way than Leonardo DiCaprio’s role in The Aviator, and follows an older and disillusioned version of the famous innovator as he disrupts an innocent romance between his driver (Alden Ehrenreich) and a dainty young actress (Lily Collins) that falls under his wing.
The old fashioned Hollywood romance is played with utmost sincerity, which makes Hughes’s insertion into their relationship a great source of manic comedy; through the role Beatty is able to make commentary on his own legacy as someone gifted with great talent, yet still destined to age out of his youthful energy. Ehrenreich and Collins do a great job at making the wide eyed innocence of a chance encounter in the City of Angels feel genuine, and are able to react to Beatty with both admiration and disdain.
A devastating take on the rekindled romance, Disobedience follows Rachel Weisz’s character as a family tragedy forces her to return to the traditional Orthodox Jewish community she was ousted from, causing her to reunite with her childhood flame (Rachel McAdams).
The details of their lost relationship become increasingly clear as Weisz is forced to travel back through uncomfortable memories, and as she reunites with her former lover the looming threat of repeating the past hands over them. Weisz and McAdams are both excellent in roles that require them to restrain their feelings and remain within the bounds of their strict community.
Disobedience does a great job at depicting a realistic Orthodox Jewish community that forces this romance to be buried, but not forgotten. It’s not as simple as running away for these characters, as they are forced to question the rules that have been installed in them since birth.
The film is also sympathetic to the husband of McAdams’s character, played excellently by Alessandro Nivola, who is stuck at an awkward crossroads of being a community leader and a husband with his wife’s best interests in mind. It’s a nuanced depiction of how tradition can break, and how societal roles can come into conflict with personal desires.
Netflix has a knack for purchasing independent films and burying them upon release, causing many great films to disappear after their festival debut. One such gem is 2016’s Tramps, an immensely charming riff on a Before Sunrise style conversation piece that’s done by means of a classic screwball caper.
Pairing a criminal’s luckless brother (Callum Turner) and a non-nonsense driver (Grace Van Patten) on a mission to recapture a briefcase full of cash, Tramps turns its classic setup into an atmospheric inner-city escapade that forced these two polar opposites to get to know each other.
Although the briefcase setup is a good way to set up the adventure, there’s no particular urgency to its retrieval that would distract from the spirited interaction between Turner and Patten; the crime subplot keeps them together despite their best intentions, but isn’t intense enough to detract from director Adam Leon’s impressionistic approach to Brooklyn and Queens. At a lean 82 minutes, it’s a brisk and nonconforming romp featuring breakout performances from both leads.
6. The Souvenir
Joanna Hogg’s tour de force period drama finds an interesting way to tackle inspiration and artistry by tracking the doomed relationship between an ambitious film student (Honor Swinton Byrne) and an enigmatic government employee (Tom Burke) suffering from addiction.
The film shows how both feed off of their roles; Swinton Byrne is enraptured by an older man who listens to her stories and legitimizes her independence, and Burke feeds off of this younger presence as someone to manipulate and dump his problems on. The motivations for Burke’s character are vapid and transparent, but his sly ability to deceive is transfixing for both Swinton Byrne and the audience.
Hogg is restrained in exploring the more destructive elements of the relationship, and builds on Burke’s transition from depicting himself as a charismatic stranger to a traumatized victim. He always treats Swinton Byrne as an object to cast his own desires upon, but he’s never explosive enough that her constant defense of him would feel unrealistic. Hogg treats this doomed affair as a slow moving car crash told with selective memories, building to an emotionally fraught climax. Filming has already begun on a sequel with the same creative crew, but it will be hard to top the nuanced intimacy of the first film.