4 heart-skipping romance films to binge on Valentine’s Day

Scott Powell

If you’re the kind of person who loves your significant other but not so much that you actually want to spend money on them, nothing says “Babe, I value you only slightly less than my bank account” quite like a nice romantic movie night at home. If you’re looking for a good, sweet cinematic sap-fest to watch with your special someone this Valentine’s Day or just something to help you forget how hopelessly miserable and lonely you truly are, here are some titles to check out!

1. “Beauty and the Beast”

As far as Disney’s adaptations of traditional princess stories go, “Beauty and the Beast” is undoubtedly the studio’s finest offering — even beating out the films developed by Walt Disney himself. This is because “Beauty and the Beast” is the only one where the crux of the story is centered around the development of the characters’ relationship and not merely the action in the plot.

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The love story here isn’t simply tacked on for the sake of enhancing the melodrama. It’s not just a supplemental addition to the protagonist’s central quest, but rather the focus of the quest itself.

This, in turn, makes the film and its characters far richer, more complex and more compelling because what they are after is real. The film is willing to recognize and admit that what its characters want is in fact the same thing that the audience wants.

They don’t try to dress up their objectives in glitzy, showy, exotic ends (handsome princes, exotic castles, self-actualization, etc.) — the kinds of hollow objectives that excite audience members but fail to satisfy or fully communicate the sense of understanding they are looking for from a film.

Add the film’s Academy Award-winning score, its stunning visuals and Jerry Orbach as a singing, dancing, Don Juan-esque candlestick, and you’ve got the perfect date night Disney flick.

The love story here isn’t simply tacked on for the sake of enhancing the melodrama. It’s not just a supplemental addition to the protagonist’s central quest, but rather the focus of the quest itself.”

2. “When Harry Met Sally”

We as a society are so averse to the concept of love. For proof of this, one need look no further than the opening paragraph of this listicle. And yet, no matter how much we try to distance ourselves from the feeling, no matter how much we scour through history, art and literature in search of validation for our nihilism, apathy and carelessness, love always finds us. And no film captures this quite as effectively or as memorably as “When Harry Met Sally.”

What makes the film so true and so resonant is the fact that it’s a love story that is stubbornly determined not to be a love story. It seems that that is the central theory we are trying to convince ourselves of in everything we do these days — this idea that love isn’t the most important thing, that all the poets and musicians and painters and writers throughout human history have been wrong and what we’ve actually been searching for in the past 10,000 years is something much more tangible: something like power, money or a nice warm uninterrupted bubble bath.

Harry and Sally’s vigorous efforts to prove to themselves that they don’t need each other in their lives, that they have transcended their primitive longing for human connection, cuts straight to the heart of what romantic comedies are and what purpose they serve, which is to peel back the layers of symbols and signals we use to try to distinguish ourselves and our desires and expose to us how love is, ultimately, all that we truly want or desire.

Harry and Sally’s anti-courtship is a love story told from the outside in — it’s not a couple’s attempt to unravel and make sense of the complications of their instinctual attraction to one another, but rather their slow and steady discovery and acceptance of that attraction. 

Harry and Sally’s vigorous efforts to prove to themselves that they don’t need each other in their lives, that they have transcended their primitive longing for human connection, cuts straight to the heart of what romantic comedies are and what purpose they serve.”

3. “The Apartment”

Admittedly, if this list were compiled solely based on my own personal opinions, “The Apartment'” would be at the top of the podium. More than that. It wouldn’t even be on the podium, but rather hovering over it like a zen guru, legs crossed, hands on knees, eyes closed, softly “om”-ing to itself as it steeps in its own transcendent perfection.

But, alas, I figured I should factor the general public’s opinions into my ranking, and since “The Apartment,” while not an obscure entry by any means, is not as well known or as well remembered by modern audiences as some of the other titles listed, it’s relegated to third place. But that doesn’t make it any less of a brilliant piece of art.

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Following the story of C.C. Baxter, a lonely insurance worker in New York City who attempts to better his life and his career prospects by lending his shoddy apartment to his higher-ups as a space for them to engage in their extra-marital affairs, Billy Wilder’s classic, superbly written co-gedy (“co-gedy” being a word I just made up to describe a comedy with tragic undertones) is one of the most authentic human love stories ever told.

What makes it so spectacular is Wilder’s ability to weave topics into the plot that are serious and scandalous, especially in 1960, when the film was first released, without portraying them as mere melodrama.

The film tackles depression, anxiety and even suicide in real, honest terms, yet still manages to make the simple romance at the story’s core its most compelling aspect. The lightness and the comedy are able to coexist with the tragedy without being overpowered by it, making the film one of the truest testaments to love’s endurance ever projected onto a movie screen.

The film tackles depression, anxiety and even suicide in real, honest terms yet still manages to make the simple romance at the story’s core its most compelling aspect.”

4. “About Time”

Most people credit Richard Curtis’ 2003 sap-slap “Love Actually” as the definitive romance movie of our generation. They might be correct in this assertion, but only because our generation is one defined by short attention spans and a stubborn unwillingness to commit to anything for longer than seven minutes and 22 seconds.

Thus, “Love Actually’s” strobe-like cycling through its 8,000 different mini-plots, repeatedly socking us in the face with as much surface-level sentiment that can be contained in a two-hour run time, makes it the perfect film for us.

That being said, the depth that Curtis fails to capture in “Love Actually” he more than makes up for in his 2013 time traveling tall tale, “About Time.” While the story of a young man using time travel to try to manipulate his love life might sound a bit contrived and gimmicky on the surface, the film is executed with a tenderness, authenticity and whimsy that mold its kitschy premise into a deeply touching, profound and thought-provoking piece.

Curtis doesn’t let the story’s time traveling element become a mere plot device, and the movie shows reverence for the significant weight and depth that the concept of time carries with it and how integral its restrictions are to our relationships and the value we find in them.

While the story of a young man using time travel to try to manipulate his love life might sound a bit contrived and gimmicky on the surface, the film is executed with tenderness, authenticity and whimsy.”

Honorable mentions:

With love of whatever kind being the sole thing that we are searching for in life and the central thing that we go to the movies to experience, it’s hard to narrow the list down to only four entries. So, here are some picks that didn’t make the final cut but are nonetheless worth a watch.

  • “It Happened One Night”
  • “As Good as It Gets”
  • “City Lights”
  • “Singin’ in the Rain”
  • “La La Land”
  • “Her”

Scotty Powell can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @scottysseus.