Valentine’s Day is upon us, and never has there been a better time to ask: What constitutes a romcom? New York Magazine kickstarted the debate this week after publishing a list dubbed The 25 Best Rom-Coms Since When Harry Met Sally. The seemingly innocuous blog post prompted a torrent of virtual pitchforks: How dare you include X! Omit Y! Pretend that Punch-Drunk Love qualifies as a romantic comedy! Some valid points were made (see: Punch-Drunk), but the list itself seems a little pointless. Does anyone really need a refresher course on Drew Barrymore as queen of the romcom box office? And while we’re at it, can’t we try to broaden our definition of what constitutes a romantic classic? There’s a whole world of onscreen passion out there. With that in mind, we offer some less obvious romantic classics: V-Day viewing options that don’t fit inside the heart-shaped box.
The Royal Tenenbaums
Genre: Dark comedy, 2001
V-Day credentials: A brother, a sister and Bill Murray aren’t the most obvious love triangle, but then, a little taboo never made anything less sexy. In his epic family drama, Wes Anderson creates characters that are so flawed and emotionally ravaged that you want them to find fulfilment wherever it lies – even if that happens to be in the arms of an Izod-clad relative. The scene where Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow) gets off the Green Line bus is an emotional knockout punch. Life-imitating-art alert: Paltrow and Luke Wilson were so hot on screen that they became a couple in real life. (N.B.: They are not related.)
Genre: Sci-fi, 1986
V-Day credentials: This predictably gory David Cronenberg flick may not be for the faint of stomach, but it is certainly for the soft-of-heart. Take away the Telepods and much of The Fly’s storyline is standard tear-jerker trope – man and woman fall in love, but the promising romance is cut short by an incurable medical condition: In this case, an irreversible mutation into a human/insect hybrid. Like any loved-up couple facing adversity, Seth and Veronica (Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis) curse the cruel fate that won’t let them be together. So really, it’s Love Story with fewer v-necks. If only love meant never having to shoot your fly-man baby-daddy in the face.
Genre: Action, 1994
V-Day credentials: Nothing like a vengeful madman and a ticking bus-bomb to up the foreplay ante between America’s newly debuted sweetheart (Sandra Bullock) and Keanu Reeves’s newly debuted buzz cut. Chemistry-wise, these two are baking soda and vinegar from the get-go. That our hero must focus on matters more pressing than getting into Sandy’s pants (make that her era-appropriate baby-doll ensemble) makes Speed a gripping action experience with a positively tantric romantic subplot. When Jack and Annie finally do get horizontal on the derailed subway car, it’s just the explosive climax we hoped for. (Because, you know, there was that whole thing about the bomb.)
Genre: Family, 2008
V-Day credentials: Like many of Pixar’s animated “kids’ movies,” this one has themes as deep and existential as any Dostoevsky novel. Wall-E is a lone robot tasked with ridding Earth of the waste left behind by humankind. He dreams of a bigger life, but doesn’t know what that means until EVE (an Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator) arrives on Earth to find proof of sustainable life. Their unusual circumstance raises all the big questions: What makes us able to live versus what makes us want to? Ideally, young viewers see this movie as a morality tale about the dangers of human excess (or, more likely, a bunch of supercool robots), but if your adult V-Day companion doesn’t tear up when EVE and Wall-E kiss at zero gravity you may want to check for knobs and wires.
Genre: Spy thriller, 2006
V-Day credentials: After decades of giving away certain other assets to slews of saucy sexpots, 007 is finally ready to give his heart to the mysterious Vesper Lynd (Eva Green). This movie is notable not just for its introduction of the infamous “Blond Bond” (Daniel Craig, in his equally infamous blue bathing suit), but also because it marks a definitive departure from the franchise’s signature campiness. It’s hard to imagine Roger Moore tenderly kissing his love’s fingertips in the shower, or Pierce Brosnan declaring, “Whatever is left of me, whatever I am, I’m yours.” But then, maybe this is just another case of how the right woman can leave a man shaken. Or is it stirred?