February 8, 2022

Movies About Love & Relationships that Got It Right

Love. Everyone has an opinion about love, which tends to be a culmination of personal experiences, the romantic relationships that were modeled for us as children and then, of course, cinema. There's really nothing quite like February 14th, Valentine's Day, that allows for the people around you offer up these opinions most freely, which is actually my favorite thing about this lovely little Hallmark holiday.

The films about love that I latched onto in my youth did not do me any favors with their perfectly delivered declarations of love, and neatly packaged happily ever afters. So, you won't find a list of feel-good romantic comedies here today. Instead, what you see below is an eclectic list of my favorite notable depictions of love in film and TV, most of these I have only discovered over the past 10 years. Disclaimer: Some of these may actually fall into the Rom Com genre, but I make the rules here!

1. Definitely, Maybe begins on a day when Will Hayes (Ryan Reynolds), almost to the close of his amicable divorce, decides to tell his 10 year old daughter, the story of the three most profound relationships of his life, up to that point, while she has a go at guessing which one is her mother. It is witty, light at times, and gutting at others. The beauty in this story, for me, is Will's evolution. The more life experiences he has, his needs and desires change and eventually solidify. Each of these relationships leave scars, lessons, and ultimately leads him towards a clearer understanding of himself. Timing is everything.

2. La La Land is the story of Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Sebastian). Mia moved to Hollywood to become a film actress, and Sebastian is a struggling Jazz pianist. When they meet, they are both fighting to make a career out of their respective passions. They meet, quickly fall in love, laugh, have scintillating and thought provoking conversations, introduce each other to new places, ideas, and possibilities. Together, they give each other the support needed to discover their dreams, which ultimately leads them down deviating paths in life. This is a story about possibilities and timing and the decision of your dreams vs. love. It's also one of my favorite movie musicals.

3. Like Crazy is the kind of movie that has you rooting for the love story, you feeling like you know these characters. You can see all of the obstacles stacked high in front of them, but you hold out hope regardless. You can see how naive the characters are, but only because you've been there before, and you are an objective observer here. Like Crazy was written as an outline where the actors improvised almost all of the actual dialogue in the film. 

Jacob and Anna meet in college, Anna is from the UK, in Los Angeles on a student visa. After their relationship begins, she overstays her visa and must return to the UK. The two continue their relationship long distance for some time, their love grows initially, but they are living separate lives and the relationship leads them to a standstill in many other areas of life. They break up, see other people but are unable to abandon their feelings for each other. Finally, they are reunited in the US, but the magic is gone. Was it a superficial connection? Does each relationship we enter into have a shelf life? In the last scene of the film, we flash back to more innocent times. They are different people now. The ending is open to interpretation but - as they hold each other, we are looking into Jacob's eyes, and it's over for him. The tragedy here is that they are both now, in this moment, exactly where they wanted to be all of those months ago, and what they were fighting for all along no longer exists.

4. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind can be described as a psychological drama, with elements of science fiction while exploring very realistic romantic love and memories. These people feel real. They are flawed. Their relationship ends and they elect to have their memories of the other completely eradicated bas the downfall of the relationship was very painful for both of them. They meet again, and have the same strong connection. Their lost memories are shared with them. The memories are shocking but they decide to try again., knowing what their past relationship held. Memories and love are fragile, our memories and our interpretation around them changes as we experience life.

5. Stuck in Love is a year in the life of a critically acclaimed writer, his ex wife and their two teenage children. The film explores the parent/child dynamic, apathy about love, the detrimental impact of romanticizing another person, expectations that are not based in reality, building walls to avoid heartbreak, infidelity, and the idea of holding onto hope that "the one that got away" will come back.

6. 500 Days of Summer. Zooey Deschanel's character, Summer, is the ultimate manic pixie dream girl. Tom (Joseph Gordon Levitt) meets Summer and his life is changed, he knows this is his person. She likes his music, she is eclectic, she's special. She is the one that can make him happy. He romanticizes her, ignores her talk of not wanting to be in a relationship. She very clearly tells him that she doesn't believe in love but he ignores this state and all of the subsequent cues that support this. He compromises what he wants from a relationship with her, and accepts what she is willing to offer, due to his attachment to the idea of who he believes her to be, based on what his idea of his perfect match is. This is one of those thought provoking movies that I always come back to. The more life that I experience, my understanding of these characters deepens. Watch it!

7. Closer is not for the faint of heart. The characters are all intertwined in this film, wounding each other in all of the ways that people can when they become attached and their defense mechanisms and survival techniques kick in. This is not a film that I revisit often but each time I do, I pull some new understanding out of it. 

8. Love Life: Season 2 (HBO) was the trailer that would play each time I selected a movie or show to watch on HBO Max for a few months. I hadn't read anything about this show but the trailer clearly did it's job. Love Life is a romantic comedy anthology series, which means that each season follows the life (love life) of a different character over a series of time in their story. I blew through the first season over the summer and started season 2 right when it came out. The first season was good enough to get it a second season but it was really the protagonist of season two that made an impression me. Marcus Watkins (William Jackson Harper) is married when he's introduced to us. He is also married when he meets Mia Hines in the first episode. The title of each episode is a different impactful relationship that Marcus has throughout the 10 episode run. Like all humans, Marcus is not all good or all bad. He makes some very good and very bad decisions. We follow him through life as he wades through the  repercussions of his bad decisions and celebrate with him when he evolves into a better version of himself, though his progress isn't always an upward trajectory. 

The episode immediately preceding the epilogue is called "Marcus Watkins", which is when he has a breakthrough and learns some incredibly difficult and detrimental truths about the way he does life.

In case anyone was wondering precisely how much my taste in movies about love has evolved over the past 10 years - I pulled this graphic I created from my old blog circa 2013: XD

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