Love, with all its ups and downs, offers endless fodder for filmmakers. I mean, there are SO MANY romantic films. However, that doesn’t mean capturing what love is really like is easy —love is a complicated feeling to cram into a couple hours of screen time. Thankfully, every once in a while a movie comes along that seems to speak directly to the personal, painful and often hilarious nature of relationships.
Running the gamut from happy endings to tragic tales of love lost, these films show a great romance is more than just a memorable meet-cute, and they also provide variety and the different spectrums love seems to embody.
It’s A Wonderful Life
Though known for the film’s ending, Frank Capra’s classic is held together by George and Mary Bailey’s love story. It’s not always easy for the Baileys, and their marriage required a lot of compromise, but they were a supportive and equal team taking on small town life together. Besides, Clarence the Angel may get all the credit, but we all know Mary was the mastermind behind pulling the town together for George!
Some epic and moving love stories don’t have happy endings. In Blue Valentine, we watch as two beautiful people fall in love, and then watch as the relationship cracks under the weight of reality and their own baggage. Although it’s painful to watch them scramble to keep things together, the film’s gravity is largely based in the sad reality that sometimes trying our best just isn’t enough to make a relationship work.
The Before Trilogy
Okay, so this Richard Linklater trilogy may be cheating, but Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy capture the subtle nuances and shifts in any relationship. Beginning with the first look between two young students and checking in with them every ten years, the Before films offer an unflinching look at how the nature of love changes with time.
2 Days In Paris
Another Julie Delpy film, this time directed by and starring the French actress, that brings to life the stickier moments in a relationship, 2 Days in Paris follows a couple spending —you guessed it— two days in Paris visiting Delpy’s family. The final scene, featuring a voiceover by Delpy, puts into words the thin line between adoration and irritation that couples walk in real life.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
The pain of a relationship ending can be unbearable, and it’s natural to just wish you’d never known the person you used to love. But as Joel Barish learns, sometimes it is better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all. As he travels through his memories, he’s reminded of the fun, tender moments he had with the volatile Clementine, eventually deciding to hold on to their time together rather than letting go of the more painful memories.
Michel Gondry isn’t known for making films that reflect reality, but Mood Indigo uses his signature out-there style to tell a very real love story. From an awkward meet-cute to heady days of early love to devoting our lives to helping the person we love, Mood Indigo may be drenched in Gondry fantasy, but it’s a relatable tale of tragic love.
Fate has a way of making initial passion difficult to follow through to a real relationship, but that doesn’t mean love always dwindles as life ebbs and flows. In Like Crazy, oceans, other relationships and life decisions stand between two young lovers, but they never quite draw totally apart. It’s a sweet, subtle story of two people who care deeply for one another despite the obstacles life throws their way.
Part of the beauty of Obvious Child is the strength of the relationships shown in the film. From friends to family to dating, we see Donna navigate a tricky situation with the love and warmth of the people she cares about. Max, the cute guy at the bar with whom she rebounds after a breakup, is there for her in a very real way, avoiding drama and opting instead to be a great guy. It’s a nice reminder that sometimes a love story can be grounded in having fun and being kind to each other.
Wristcutters: A Love Story
A young man traveling through the afterlife to find the woman he loves may sound like the makings of an epic love story, but Wristcutters has something more for viewers looking for romance. Zia and Mikai are both after two different things, and despite obvious chemistry neither gives up on their goals to be together. They find themselves side-by-side in the end because the journey takes them there, not because either was asked to sacrifice what they believe they want most.
Away We Go
This hilarious and touching look at growing up and finding home weaves together fears of adulthood, the meaning of commitment, and starting a family in a story that speaks to what makes a great partnership. Burt and Verona lean on each other and hold each other up as they navigate the tricky waters of impending parenthood. They are far from perfect and don’t really have it all together —like so many of us— but that doesn’t stand in the way of their being a wonderful, supportive family.
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