Thinking Outside the Heart-shaped Box: Some Not So Sappy Movies About Love

BY SAMANTHA NEOU

You meet a cute barista at the local coffee shop. You have a month long infatuation where nothing goes wrong and then you get married. You find out they’ve been harboring a secret identity and an affair, but that’s okay you two somehow make it work because love conquers all, right?

Nearly every Valentine's Day week, the same formulaic romance movies are released such as “50 Shades of Grey” to a film literally called “Valentine’s Day.” They add nothing special to the genre.

This is the problem with many romantic dramas or comedies that are popularized in media or among audiences. They portray love as all consuming and conquering when that's not how it works most of the time. Romantic relationships can be wonderfully intimate and life-changing, but there's so much more that goes on behind the scenes, no pun intended. For this Valentine’s  Day, here are a list of unconventional films that give a sometimes sad, heart-warming, complicated and honest perspective on love.

 

 

                                                                                  Blue Valentine (2010)

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Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams) are a married couple that has fallen into stagnancy. As they go about their lives, the film blurs the past and present, forcing us to figure out where did it all go wrong. It’s a daunting yet powerful story about an all too familiar situation that’s hardly depicted on the screen. It’s not often we see romance portrayed as fragile. “Blue Valentine” shows us there isn’t a defining moment of when a relationship begins to start or fail. If anything, just that there can be irreversible damage when not nurtured carefully.


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Saving Face (2004)

Chinese-American surgeon ‘Wil’ (Michelle Krusiec) is a lesbian, who hasn’t told her widowed mother Hwei-Ian (Joan Chen) or traditional Chinese family. Once she starts dating openly gay Vivian (Lynn Chen), she is forced to choose between following societal norms or to go against the grain and follow her heart. It’s a simple premise, but an important film socially because these narratives are hardly shown in mainstream American media.

 

 

 


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Don Jon (2013)

Jon Martello (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) only cares about his friends, his family, his car, his church, his girls and his porn. He has never had an actual relationship, so when he does, he’s faced with the reality that it isn’t all what it’s cut out to be. This film shows us how hyper-masculinity and porn addiction can affect our romantic relationships. 

 

 

 


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Her (2013)

In a futuristic L.A., a personal letter writer named Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) is coping with a divorce. Left with loneliness, it leads him to a friendship with his new operating system Samantha (Scarlett Johansson), who’s keen sensibilities and child-like wonder causes him to fall in love again. It’s an outlandish romance about the unexpected ways we connect with others and move on from loss.

 


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The Big Sick (2017)

Based on a true story, Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani) is a Pakistani comic who develops a relationship with American grad student Emily (Zoe Kazan). The problem: his Muslim parents aren’t huge fans of interracial coupling. Unlike many rom-coms, “The Big Sick” spends the majority of the time less on the couple and more on Kumail’s journey through this complicated culture clash. It’s a common situation that needs to be discussed, no matter how difficult.