Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. It’s the time of year for heart-shaped candy, bouquets of roses, handmade cards and of course, bad romance movies. There is no shortage of rom-coms and rom-drams, but I find the genre is full of films that are not worth your time. A prime example is the movie named for the holiday itself, the 2010 rom-com “Valentine’s Day.” I was amazed at how a great cast could make such a bad movie. But that’s beside the point — let’s get into the movies you should watch this Feb. 14, in no particular order.
Important to note: Holiday-themed romance movies like “Love Actually” are not on the list because in my opinion they should be watched in December, not February.
10 Things I Hate About You (Disney+)
If you’re looking for a classic '90s teen rom-com, 10 Things I Hate About You will not disappoint. Loosely following the plot of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, the storyline of the film is not revolutionary for the genre but the vibrant characters and engaging dialogue elevate it to legendary status. Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles have great chemistry, and their characters, Patrick and Kat, are given depth not all rom-coms grant their protagonists. Even those who may not usually enjoy teen rom-coms might find themselves smiling at this one. And the end scene is simply iconic.
The Half of It (Netflix)
The Half of It is the teen film I wish came out when I was in high school. It follows the protagonist, Ellie, as she struggles with confidence, her sexuality and being Chinese American in a small, predominantly white town. The main characters share the experience of being trapped in their small town, but their distinct backgrounds and perspectives caused them to understand and react to this reality in different ways. The film sets up a love triangle between three of the main characters which provides lots of drama, and shows how the experience of love can be so different for each individual.
Normal People (Hulu)
This is not a movie, it’s a TV series, but I watched all of it in one evening, so that’s basically just a seven-hour movie, right? It’s based on the novel by Sally Rooney (one of my favorites) so I was expecting to be disappointed, as I often am by on-screen adaptations of my favorite books. In the case of Normal People, I was not. It’s one of my favorite love stories I’ve seen portrayed in any format. It confronts topics of class, mental illness, abuse and the struggles of entering adulthood. Combined with superb writing, acting and cinematography, the show packs an emotional punch.
Emma (HBO Max)
It’s a rom-com. It’s a period piece. It’s starring Anya Taylor-Joy. What more could you want from a movie? This 2020 adaptation of the Jane Austen classic hits every possible mark for me. It combines immaculate styling (I would watch this movie for Emma’s outfits alone) with a light-heartedness and sense of humor that delightfully defied my expectations. While other period pieces adjust their stories for a modern audience by upping (and often overdoing) the drama and romance, Emma instead relies on its witty script to bring it into the 21st century. Between the moments of humor there’s a lot of heart. It’s the kind of comforting movie I’d always be happy to watch again.
Someone Great (Netflix)
Following three friends and their relationship drama during a chaotic day in New York City after protagonist Jenny’s (Gina Rodriguez) nine-year relationship ends, Someone Great stands out to me among recent rom-coms. Starting with the end of a relationship instead of the beginning of one allows this movie to examine Jenny’s post-break-up thoughts and reflections on her relationship. It does cater to a millennial audience, sometimes excessively, but that did not ruin the movie for me at all. The friendship between the three main characters, played by Rodriguez, DeWanda Wise and Brittany Snow, is at the core of the movie, and it’s refreshing to see genuine and supportive friendships between adults represented.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Peacock)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is not a light, easy-to-watch romantic movie. It forces the audience to question a lot about what love is, and what it means to love another person. To be completely honest, when I watch this movie it makes me question my whole life. The entire concept is unique and thoughtful, and the characters of Clementine and Joel are brought to life by Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey. Structurally, it’s slightly disorienting, but in a way that really works, and its portrayal of love is simultaneously authentic and surreal.
Always Be My Maybe (Netflix)
Sometimes I think romantic comedy is a terrible name for the group of moves it is used to describe, because so many are just not funny. But Always By My Maybe is. Ali Wong and Randall Park absolutely make this film, and their characters seemed like real people in the ways they spoke and interacted with the world. There’s a cameo from Keanu Reeves who plays himself in an odd yet hilarious way. While it was funny, the movie also made me cry (in a good way) which I really did not expect.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Hulu)
Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a beautiful, complex love story between two women in the late 18th century. Marianne, played by Noémie Merlant, is hired to paint Héloïse, Adèle Haenel, but she must do it without her knowing. The movie is full of long, quiet shots of the main characters on the cliffs off the French coast. The dialogue of the film is all in French, and the conversations between the two women are thought provoking and pact with emotion. It explores themes of the ways women were restricted in their choices, all while telling the story of two people who found a connection despite the odds.
About Time (Netflix)
About Time follows Tim, Domhnall Gleeson, and the discovery of a family secret that changes his life — the men in his family can travel in time. The story details his experiences in life and mostly in love, centering around his relationship with Mary (Rachel McAdams). Tim’s dad, played by Bill Nighy, also has a large role in the film, and gives a great performance. A good portion of the movie is set at Tim’s family house in England by the sea in Cornwall, and the setting contributes to the overall comforting atmosphere of the movie. It’s a heartwarming film that makes audience members look at life in a new, brighter way.
When Harry Met Sally… (Hulu)
When I think of classic rom-coms, I think of When Harry Met Sally… The movie begins when Harry and Sally, played by Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan, share a car ride from Chicago to New York. The plot then jumps to years later, and follows their friendship as they navigate relationships and life as young adults in New York City. This is a dialogue-driven film, and the long and realistic conversations allow the audience to get to know the characters and really root for them.
Thumbnail photo "Valentine's Day Red Velvet" by clevercupcakes is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0