6 non-rom-coms for Valentine’s Day

Gaye finds some romantic viewing that won't necessarily induce diabetic shock...


Last month we offered up a Geek survival guide to rom-coms  – more than two dozen films appropriate for this month’s most romantic of days, (or most profitable scheme for florists and card shops, depending on levels of cynicism). But, although those picks are the least soppy of the romantic comedy lot, they’re still not for everybody.

If you think The Bridges of Madison County and Pretty Woman are better off as landfill, here’s a cherry picked list of titles to acknowledge Saturday, 14th February, without the added saccharine of traditional romantic movies.

If your perfect recipe for a romance film includes a pinch of pathos, a dash of hack and slash, a big dollop of obsession, or a generous slice of stalking, these flicks are for you.

The Purple Rose Of Cairo (1985) This Woody Allen film is a fantastical take on Hollywood infatuations and escapism fuelled by its own romance films as one of the heroes of the silver screen, Tom Baxter, tears himself away from the film’s fabric to woo his biggest fan, abused housewife, Cecilia (Mia Farrow). The movie-making money machine screeches to a halt and Gil Shepherd, the actor who plays Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels in a dual role), is dispatched to get the reels rolling again. He uses the only skill he possesses to do exactly that.

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On the surface, this seems like a light enough fantasy flick, but certain factors fight against that. The Purple Rose Of Cairo is reportedly Mr Allen’s favourite of all his films, and the ending, which some describe with words like “vicious” and “horrific”, is also claimed to be clear evidence of the writer/director’s hatred of his former partner, Ms. Farrow. Unlike the film Tom Baxter exits, there are no Hollywood happy endings here, and though the claims are disputable and accusations a bit hysterical, there’s something very disturbing about the snatching away of dreams in the final seconds – a very effective shock to anyone careless enough to invest in fictitious characters.

The Accidental Tourist (1988) Death, divorce and emotional detachment aren’t usual keywords for a romance. William Hurt stars as Macon Leary, a travel guide writer whose marriage has failed after the violent death of his son. Into his life teeters off-kilter dog trainer, Muriel Pritchett (Geena Davis in a brilliant, difficult role), and her ill, frail son who, over time, charm Macon with their slightly askew views and unabashed neediness. But Macon’s ex-wife and his own wacky family are still very much in his homebound world and can’t accept that Macon’s interest in Muriel and her son is anything but grief-induced.

The familial scenes with Macon’s siblings, and the side story of his sister’s own romance, are funny, sad, and fascinating, if hard to relate to, and that makes the point perfectly that we’re products of our upbringing. Macon’s challenge is to break free of his restraints and baggage, and liberate himself. One message, hard to take though it is in the fresh cuts of recent break-ups, is that only the deluded or deceived would try and start again with what went so far wrong the first time around. The next, that love can be found in the least likely places and people, is redemptive. Not your standard romance fare, The Accidental Tourist is first class, keen observation.

Truly Madly Deeply (1990) We’ll be clear upfront. This is a weepy of the highest order and tissue count. Juliet Stevenson plays Nina, an intelligent, talented woman whose psyche’s been cleaved by the death of her boyfriend, Jamie, and her loss, grief and pain is palpable. It’s an unashamed performance, with nearly perpetual tears and nasal discharge, but you never really mind like you might with less powerful stories. Truly Madly Deeply is a better Ghost, without the goopy clay scene or whodunit bits – (the most mundane cause of death separated these lovers) – and with a bruising twist to the second-chance-at-happiness scenario. The resolution in the final scenes, played perfectly by dead boyfriend returned, Alan Rickman, is incredibly incisive for those who get the subtle significance and as well-realised and razor-sharp as any this writer has watched onscreen. Lost love is always remembered with a sheen it may not deserve and stripping down to the rusted, worn, imperfect parts is a painful process to witness. Truly Madly Deeply is drenching and satisfying.

The Last Of The Mohicans (1992) How’d this get in the list? By virtue of the fact that most men will view it as an action-adventure film of the French and Indian War, while equal numbers of women will see it as a romance. Granted, there have been wartime romance films ad nauseam, but nothing is quite so up-close, personal – and brutal – as a scalping. And yet, somehow, this movie starring Daniel Day-Lewis, manages to be extremely sensual in its romantic scenes, even sandwiched between tomahawk blades hacking backs, slashing necks and shoulders, and muskets to the face. Quite an accomplishment then that there’s something for everybody! Also quite extraordinarily, the roles of the sisters, Cora and Alice Munro (Madeleine Stowe and Jodhi May), were entirely reversed from those in the 1826 novel by James Fenimore Cooper on which the film is based.

Cherish (2002)

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Robin Tunney (The Craft, Prison Break, The Mentalist) stars as Zoe, a computer animation technician and fantasist who daydreams that the cute guy at the office (Jason Priestley) is in love with her, delusions that dance to a personalised playlist of pop tunes – her life’s soundtrack played out by the local call-in request radio station. She’d be safe in her bubblegum pop cubicle of a world, if it weren’t for the guy who’s doing similar fanaticising about her, who’s willing and able to act on what flits through his head. As a consequence of a failed attempt to cherish her, Zoe’s involved in a fatal accident and put under house arrest awaiting trial. She has to find a way to prove her innocence without setting off the distance-activated ankle bracelet monitoring her movement in the barren studio flat of the rundown neighbourhood where she’s confined.

This is a good little mystery with great tunes, a daisy chain of desirous individuals crushing on each other, and an admonition against giving certain wishes wings. Extra Geekolades to whoever can identify the song the character at the end is actually singing, which was pulled when the rights weren’t acquired and Hall and Oates’ She’s Gone was substituted, but doesn’t quite synch with the singer’s lips.

He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not (À la folie, pas du tout) (2002)

Describing the plot of this French romance-thriller threatens to sap it of all its power and potency. It’s easy enough to recommend just on the strength of its star, Audrey Tautou (Amelie, Dirty Pretty Things, and the much less-admired The Da Vinci Code). Her character, Angélique, is in love with a doctor, madly in love, and the film is told in two parts, from two very varying perspectives. Suffice to say that the rose-coloured world we first see grows crimson and things go very dark, indeed.

Finally, we add these films to the Geek if-you’ve-got-to-watch-a-rom-com-go-for-these list…

Amelie (2001) – A sweet, but not sickeningly so, story of a shy, imaginative girl’s first pursuit of real love. The rather obvious inspiration and checklist for the narration and design style of the excellent Pushing Daisies series, now deceased.

Continental Divide (1981) – John Belushi and Blair Brown (Fringe) fall in love (Highly unlikely! Remotely possible!) in the high altitudes of a remote wilderness.

Eagle Vs Shark (2007) – One half of the Flight Of The Conchords duo (Jemaine Clement) with quirky stop-motion animated bits in a bonkers awkward lovers story.

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Electric Dreams (1984) – Reluctant geek architect, Miles, is cock blocked by his PC, accidentally made sentient by champagne and given a voice by Bud Cort. Surely that sells it. (Being remade for 2010, evidently.)

Garden State (2004) – A com-dram-rom with Zach Braff and Natalie Portman and their budding love amid emotional, mental and physical unfitness. With laughs.

Grosse Pointe Blank (1997) –John Cusack as professional assassin, Martin Q. Blank, returns to his home town for a high school reunion where more snags surface than patching gaps with his ex. In fact, fast-forward through the girlfriend and get to the good stuff.

Only The Lonely (1991) – John Candy + mother worries = enough said

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