Gone are the days when the latest Nicholas Sparks film was even closely comparable to our real-life love lives. The modern conception of romance is coming to the unsettling realisation that the person you’re currently with - the person who fails to see the necessity of regularly changing the bin - may just be your life partner. It’s deciding whether providing the response “pizza” to the question of their favourite food on Hinge is somehow a subversive comic take or the incredibly boring answer of an incredibly boring person. As a result, we can no longer stomach the saccharine sweetness shoved down our throat when Rachel McAdams re-appears on our screens in yet another romantic escapade. I personally drew the line at Me Before You, a film adaptation of the Jojo Moyes book that seemed to be an amalgamation of the author throwing darts at a board of the most horrible things imaginable. The result? A story of love set against the backdrop of dignitas. Yes, dignitas. Unfortunately, Me Before You is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the hordes of painfully average romance films that plague our Google searches when looking for a flick to watch on Valentine’s Day. Not only are they plain bad, churning out old cliches that even the less film-inclined of us can no longer handle, but they don’t fit within the lightly nihilistic atmosphere propagated by our post-COVID, post-Kimye world. My suggestion? On the day in question, pop on one of these. Ranging from slightly depressing to downright disturbing, they’ll either give you a taste of how bad it could be - leaving you refreshed and ready to take on another day with your mediocre spouse - or make you question your existence to such an extent that Valentine’s Day is rendered rather pointless. Enjoy!
1. I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Charlie Kaufman’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things is a slow burner, but one that packs a punch, especially when you start to realise what’s going on during the film’s later scenes. More than anything though, I’m Thinking of Ending Things is an incredibly effective mood-piece: it’s a hallucinatory, trippy rendition of a one-sided relationship that’s in the throes of its demise. While you might need a few post-watch Google searches to really get to grips with what on earth happened, performances by Jessie Buckley, Jessie Plemons, David Thewlis and Toni Collette make the whole painfully awkward affair a pleasure to watch nonetheless.
2. The Skin I Live In
What if you loved someone so much that when they were burnt in a horrific car accident you were inspired to create a flame-retardant skin suit for other burns victims? It’s unlikely to happen, unless you’re in the world of Pedro Almovodar’s The Skin I Live In that is. While it’s hard to talk about this hugely entertaining, slightly hammy Spanish melodrama-cum-thriller without giving too much away, I can divulge that it’s included on my Valentine’s Day recommendations as a stark PSA to thoroughly vet your potential Hinge and Tinder dates. This film is also so incredibly twisted that shoving it on under the pretense that it’s your favourite film might actually rid you of any relationship/date hanger-oners.
3. Revolutionary Road
Some may say (some being me) that this is the last film where you can revel in Leonardo Dicaprio’s acting ability without it being clouded by either his slight resemblance to Jack Nicholson or his penchant for girlfriends that you now surpass in age. Sam Mendes’ Revolutionary Road is a depressing vision of a crumbling marriage in the confines of 1950s suburbia that will have you reconsidering putting down a deposit on a house in the home counties. Given that it also stars Dicaprio’s Titanic co-star Kate Winslet, you also can’t help but see the film as a sort of sequel to the 1997 classic. Revolutionary Road is what would have happened when Jack and Rose returned to land and the whole “draw me like one your french girls” line started to wear a bit thin.
While Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible isn’t for the faint of heart - a trigger warning for rape and violence is very necessary - it is also an incredibly haunting dissection of how fleeting, innocuous choices can have very tragic consequences. The events in Irreversible happen in reverse, offering not only a unique, head-spinning viewing experience but an exploration of romantic relationships that goes well beyond the cliche “meet cutes” in conventional rom-coms.
5. Rosemary’s Baby
Rosemary’s Baby delivers the perfect mix of social commentary, horror, and 1960s fashion for any viewer that’s about to get stuck into some pity-purchased heart-shaped chocolates. The film follows the titular Rosemary and her husband Guy. When the couple move in next to some rather suspicious neighbours, Rosemary begins to suspect they have sinister plans for her unborn baby. If Rosemary’s Baby doesn’t put you off having children or deciding to move into an under-valued, potentially haunted flat - which would otherwise be an incredibly viable option given the London housing market - it will definitely convince you to finally do a Rosemary-esque big hair chop.
6. Ruby Sparks
What do (500) Days of Summer, Garden State, Silver Linings Playbook and a whole host of other films often recommended to you on Valentines Day have in common? The manic pixie dream girl. The term connotes a female character that “exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures”. While Ruby Sparks often makes appearances on lists of films that feature this archetype because of its titular character, the 2012 film is actually a witty deconstruction of the idea. Before you start scouring Depop in order to reinvent yourself for your newly-acquired “skater” boyfriend, pop this on.
7. Punch Drunk Love
If Julia Fox and Kanye West have taught me anything (I’m clutching at straws here) it’s that no-matter how love-scorned you are, you can re-emerge from the ashes and give it another go. In that vein, the small part of me that doesn’t think Valentine’s Day is a sad excuse to sell novelty heart-shaped objects and highly flammable teddy bears has recommended Paul Thomas Anderson’s wildly underrated Punch Drunk Love. While I’m a self-proclaimed Adam Sandler fan and it pains me to say this, I can confirm that Punch Drunk Love is one of a few on his cinematic repertoire that doesn’t involve him playing someone who shouts a lot. The 2002 cult gem is silly, pretty cute and, unlike most of the films on this list, a genuine joy to watch.
8. Natural Born Killers
Since way before cinema’s conception, we’ve been a culture obsessed with the “bad” couple. From Bonnie and Clyde to Heathers’ JD and Veronica - hell, let’s even throw in You’s Joe and Love - these evil pairings have given us an insight into those duos unsatisfied by nights-in in front of the TV. Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers is a fun, post-modern amalgamation of all of those that preceded it, taking fire at not only the murderous instincts of Mallory and Mickey but also the way in which the media glorifies their behaviour. While Natural Born Killers was deeply controversial and subject to censorship at the time, nearly thirty years later it feels seminal in cinema’s portrayal of the media’s parasitic relationship to violence.