10 Best Romantic Movies...With a Twist

Don’t You Just Love Old Fashioned Romantic Movies?

Me neither, that’s why I picked these.

Cat Romance

Even cats heart romance

Ah, love is in the air. Whether that makes you swoon or gag is, of course, a matter of personal preference. But there’s no mistaking that the “Love Story” is a staple in the world of film and has been for decades.

But what is the definition of a “Love Story”? Here, indeed, is where all sorts of interesting things can happen. There’s the typical “boy meets girl, boy wins girl, boy loses girls, boy gets girl back” storyline present in approximately 99.999999% of all Romantic Comedies, there are straight up “Romances” where the couple must overcome great odds or make great sacrifices, and there are “Others”. It’s the “Others” that interest me most – the romantic movies that veer from the traditional, fall outside of typical conventions, present with a challenge to what we have been conditioned to see as a “Love Story”. So here we have ten (okay, with a couple extra) “Love Stories” that cross the boundaries of the usual, revel in the diversity that love has to offer we puny humans and show us that love means a whole lot of different things and romantic movies aren’t always just about a boy and a girl and a white wedding.

Secretary

Secretary Poster

Oh, how I love this movie. James Spader and Maggie Gyllenhaal star as two people with very special and quite specific needs when it comes to a romantic relationship. That they find each other at all is quite fortuitous, whether they can ignore societal and internal pressures to repress their feelings is quite a stickier wicket. Spader is magnificent as lawyer E. Edward Grey. Self-aware, self-loathing and absolutely compelling, I believe this character forms the heart and soul of what was to go on to become his Alan Shore on the TV show Boston Legal. It’s just that amazing of a character and that perfect a fit for Spader that it begged to be used again in one form or another. Maggie Gyllenhaal takes a giant leap of faith with her young career and makes a tremendous showing in this film about, in essence, the love that can form when two people want the same thing – even if that means some bondage and a few spankings. Do be forewarned, this is a movie for adults, it really isn’t suitable for children at all.

Harold and Maude

Bud Cort and Ruth Gordon. Who would have thought such an unlikely pair could make such a wonderful on-screen couple? AsHarold and Maude Poster Harold, Cort loves to shock. With the combination of a fascination with death in general and faking his own suicide in particular, he causes his mother considerable grief. Once he meets Gordon’s elderly Maude, his views on life will change. Cort and Gordon are the heart and soul of this film. They make us believe in the connection of these people, so vastly different on the outside yet so complimentary once the externals are put aside. A great film for those who believe that love comes in many shapes and packages, each more interesting and challenging than the next. An additional plus is, of course, Harold’s fabulous car.

Normal Poster Normal

So what happens when a man announces, after many years of marriage, that he wants to become a woman? A whole lot of commotion and a whole lot of inner turmoil for both man and wife is what happens. But after the fireworks comes something else – a new relationship between two people who have loved each other long and well and now must fit that love into an entirely new mold. An unbelievably great performance from Tom Wilkinson and excellent performances from Jessica Lange and young Hayden Panettiere as their daughter boost this small film into something quite lovely and wonderful.

Ghost World

Enid isn’t your everyday teenager. Well, maybe she is, actually – she feels pretty alienated from her peers, is unsure what her Ghost World Posterfuture holds and can be more than a little mean when she puts her mind to it. Entering into an almost painfully awkward friendship with Seymour (who was initially the recipient of some of that adolescent meanness) will broaden her horizons, help her transition from child to adult and form the basis for a film that is sweet, entertaining and a little icky all at once. Thora Birch is picture perfect as the somber Enid, and Steve Buscemi isn’t playing a criminal for once. He’s quite sweet – we like this shy, eccentric man. A love story for everyone who has ever felt out of step with the rest of the world and wondered if there was anyone who could truly accept them.

The Quiet American PosterThe Quiet American

Michael Caine is a reporter, jaded and burned out, living in Vietnam directly prior to major US involvement in the conflict. He is in love with Phuong (Do Thi Hai Yen), though he has a wife already. When Alden Pyle (Brendan Fraser) arrives on the scene as a seemingly awkward fish-out-of-water American, he and Caine strike up a friendship, leading to romantic tensions surrounding the lovely Phuong. So yes, there is a traditional love triangle aspect to the film, with Caine’s desperate love for Phuong taking over his sense of what is best for either of them. And yes, that love story is extremely well done and dominates this film about war. But there is another element that lands The Quiet American on this list. It isn’t just love of a woman that keeps Caine’s character in his position; it’s a learned love of Vietnam. He has come, almost without realizing it, to appreciate and treasure what is special and beautiful about this place. Caine and Fraser’s powerful performances and the wonderful cinematography cement the two elements and bring them together to make one fine love story.

Innocence

Love is not the sole province of the young, despite what our youth obsessed culture tells us day in and day out. When an old love (in the form of Charles Innocence Poster Tingwell) turns up in the life of Claire (an absolutely luminous Julia Blake), she must make hard decisions about the price of infidelity and the value of love and sexuality in the last years of her life. The screenplay for Innocence takes a bold look at love with wrinkles, love with experience and love with a past. Nobody is really completely innocent, and we get a glimpse at the complications that a long life filled with commitments, regrets and sacrifices brings to a budding romance. This is a lovely story of the agelessness of passion and the complexity of love.

The Man in the Moon Poster The Man in the Moon

No, not the movie about Andy Kauffman. That’s a different man and a different moon. This film stars Reese Witherspoon, in her first role, as Dani Trant. Dani is a young girl about to discover all that is joyous and all that is not about having a first love. She will also begin to grow out of her childhood and the shadow of her older sister. A very typical sounding coming-of-age story, this film is made special by the big chances taken with the formula by screenwriter Jenny Wingfield and the out-of-this-world debut performance by Witherspoon. The joy, confusion, hurt and anger that are almost always a part of feeling so strongly for another person for the first time are all over this performance. She simply nails it cold. When the script takes an unexpected turn, she gets even better. Just a wonderful little movie.

Kissing Jessica Stein Poster Kissing Jessica Stein

This is probably as close to a “Romantic Comedy” as you’ll find here. But it isn’t a typical romantic comedy. Jessica (Jennifer Westfeldt) finds herself falling in love – with Helen (Helen Juergenson). Jessica, being having never been sexually or romantically involved with a woman, finds the whole thing quite disconcerting. The fact that she is also completely neurotic doesn’t help. The film ends up being a commentary about the artificiality of our cultural rigidity about sexuality. Is Jessica straight or is she a lesbian? What difference does it make? What makes the movie special is that on top of its social commentary, it’s really very fun, funny and sort of breezy in its presentation. The leads are each appealing in completely different ways and you really want them to be happy in the end. This is what a romantic comedy should be.

Love and Death on Long Island

Giles De’Ath (John Hurt) is a very proper English gentleman. He is a widower with precise notions about what is and what is notLove and Death on Long Island Poster acceptable in this modern world. So it is terrifically surprising (to him most of all) when he chances upon a bad American movie in which he spies one Ronnie Bostock (Jason Priestley). Giles is instantly fascinated. This fascination turns into obsession as he makes his way to the States, determined to meet this beautiful young man. Priestly is quite good as well as the rather dim Ronnie who has more depth than one might imagine, but it’s Hurt that makes the film. Giles’ adoration of Ronnie takes the place of all else in his lonely widower’s existence and Hurt makes us believe it, makes us almost understand what he is looking for and why he’ll go so far out of his staid routine to find it. This one is something of a sleeper – it never really got much attention, but is as poignant a love story as you’ll find on the big screen anywhere.

In America PosterIn America

This fine film primarily focuses on the struggle of a young family to make a new life for themselves in New York City. Parents Johnny and Sarah (Paddy Considine and Samantha Morton) are emotionally and financially battered before they ever arrive, with the loss of their son clouding every moment. The love story in this film is an undercurrent. It almost never rises to the surface to take center stage. Nevertheless, it is upon this foundation which the entire movie rests. Johnny and Sarah have a rock solid marriage, something not all that common in movies these days (or maybe ever). There is never really a question of him straying despite their various hardships. There’s never really a question of her turning her back on him despite her own grief. They are a couple – that they will stay that way underpins the entire film. The love story is what allows the rest of the movie to play out on solid ground, to be believable and feel real.

Honorable Mentions

There are two films that I dearly love, but it has been too long since I saw either one to give more than my impressions from that time – I may be seeing them through rose colored, romantic movies glasses.

A Little Romance

In her very first film, Diane Lane stars as an American girl who meets a French boy and they have, well, a little romance. Sweet and filled with everything young girls love; this is a film I watched as often as it was on HBO when I was a kid.

This is My Father

James Caan stars as a man looking for the truth about his father, that truth being revealed in Ireland as a tale of a love not permitted or accepted in its time and place. Aidan Quinn stars in the series of flashbacks that tell this sad and lovely story. This is one of those movies that caught me completely by surprise with its depth and the caliber of its performances. A little lost gem if there ever was one.

And there you have it, a collection of movies with love at their very core. They aren’t your typical “Love Stories”, no, but each has something to offer, some wisdom about the vast diversity that exists in human beings when it comes to that enigma that is “love”. Enjoy!

 

— S. Millinocket

cat photo by Hosse

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