I admit, I’m partial to a cheesy romance flick every now and again. Ideally something based on a Nicholas Sparks novel like The Notebook, Message in a Bottle or, my all-time favourite guilty pleasure, Dear John. While it’s fun being swept away by those tearjerkers which bear little resemblance to real life relationships, it’s also nice to see films which at least make an attempt to show more realistic and relatable love stories. I mean Channing Tatum in Dear John introduces Amanda Seyfried to his dad after their first date. Come on, as if that would ever happen in real life. So if you’re a bit fed up with glossy Hollywood tales trying to sell us the soulmate myth, here are a few alternatives.
A romantic comedy starring Daniel Radcliffe, bear with me folks. Radcliffe plays Wallace who, after a tough breakup, quits medical school and spends his days moping around feeling miserable for himself. He meets Chantry, a quirky graphic designer played by Zoe Kazan, and the two start a friendship. Since Chantry is living with her long-term boyfriend, nothing can happen between her and Wallace despite an obvious spark. Of course eventually attraction gets in the way and the two have to manoeuvre love, friendship and heartache. While the storyline largely follows the usual narrative of rom-coms, the two main characters aren’t complete clichés and Radcliffe and Kazan have genuine chemistry. Kazan’s character is also not portrayed as the Manic Pixie Dream Girl who only serves the purpose of making the male protagonist a better person. She has an actual career and choices to make that don’t solely revolve around the men in her life. Also, the Stag’s Head pub makes a brief appearance.
Luke (Jake Johnson) and Kate (Olivia Wilde) are best friends and also work together in a brewery (hence the title). Although they are both in relationships, they don’t avoid the occasional flirtation between each other. As they are figuring out their romantic relationship with their respective partners, they are also trying to set the boundaries for their friendship. It’s nice to see a film about a genuine friendship between a man and a woman, beating the old ‘When Harry met Sally stereotype’ that men and women can’t be friends. The film also avoids pitting its female protagonists, Kate and Luke’s girlfriend Jill (Anna Kendrick), against each other and we’re spared the predictable narrative of crazy party girl vs. down to earth homebody. With the amount of drinking going on in the film, you’ll definitely need a beer or two while watching this one.
John Carney’s follow up to Once is another musical romance, this time set in New York and starring Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo. Knightley plays Gretta an aspiring musician who has followed her boyfriend Dave (Adam Levine) to New York, just to see his musical career take off while he’s leaving her behind. When she meets Dan (Ruffalo), a music business executive who has seen better days, they come up with the idea of recording Gretta’s first album in the streets of New York. In the process of that they both try to rebuild the relationships in their lives. Keira Knightley, who can do no wrong in my eyes, gives a very low key and relatable performance, perfectly matched by a scruffy and lovable Mark Ruffalo.
Your Sister’s Sister
The classic love triangle storyline is messed up quite a bit in this indie flick starring Rosemarie DeWitt as Hannah, Emily Blunt as Hannah’s sister Iris and Mark Duplass as Iris’s friend Jack. Jack, seeking solace after his brother’s death, is planning a quiet stay in his friend Iris’s family cabin. His plans take a sudden turn when he encounters Hannah, who’s also staying in the cabin trying to get over a breakup. After a drunken night the two have to face Iris who shows up unannounced and is not too happy about how things have been developing between her sister and her best friend. What follows are plenty of conversations and soul searching. With great performances and a lot of empathy for its characters, the film shows the messiness and difficulty of finding happiness.
Before Sunrise (1995), Before Sunset (2004), Before Midnight (2013)
This slightly unconventional trilogy directed by Richard Linklater and starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy was shot over the course of 18 years. It follows the story of Jesse and Celine who in Before Sunrise meet on a train and decide to spend a night together in Vienna. The film ends without us knowing whether the two will meet again. This is where Before Sunset picks up nine years later. Set in Paris we encounter Celine and Jesse grappling with their respective love lives and aware of the fact that they can’t relive their night in Vienna. Before Midnight, so far the final instalment, gives us Celine and Jesse as a couple and parents to twin girls, all of them holidaying in Greece. Beware, this third film is an unflinching look at an adult relationship that makes one thing crystal clear, relationships are hard work. I think all three films offer a timeless insight into the complexities of relationships and highlight how our views on romance and love change over time.