Seven Alternative Romantic Films

Seven great romantic movies from left-field to liven up your Valentine's day film watching

Feature by Jamie Dunn | 08 Feb 2016

No genre is in more need of a shakeup than the romantic comedy. We've seen enough meet cutes and last-ditch dashes to the train station/airport to know that Hollywood has been recycling the same old boy-meets-girl story since the days of Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn, and its champagne fizz is starting to taste pretty flat. But look beyond this tired genre and you'll find plenty of films that have the necessary levels of romance to meet all your Netflix and chill requirements this Valentine's day. Here are seven fantastic movies outside the rom-com genre providing offbeat tales of amour.

Her (Spike Jonze)

Boy meets OS

In an unspecified but not too distant future, our computers have minds of their own. When Joaquin Phoenix's melancholic letter writer (in this future, deeply personal correspondents are farmed out) boots up his new OS, named Samantha and voiced by Scarlett Johansson, he finds someone he can love – and more importantly, someone who won’t judge him when she looks through his hard drive. Initially Samantha helps him find dates, but soon they both want more. Spike Jonze’s take on our solipsistic relationship with our technology treads a fine line between sarcasm and sincerity. In other hands this might have been a distopic look at where mankind is heading fast, but Jonze seems more hopeful: even in this plugged-in age where we shut ourselves off from reality, we'll still find ways to connect.

Lars and the Real Girl (Craig Gillespie)

Boy meets sex doll

It’s always tricky introducing your new romantic interest to your loved ones. Initially they may point out his/her flaws, but hopefully they’ll come to accept them if they make you happy. Lars (Ryan Gosling) finds himself in this scenario in this low-key indie gem when he introduces fiancée Bianca to his brother and sister-in-law. Initially they’re delighted that this emotionally stunted young man has found someone. They’re less delighted when they actually meet Bianca and realise she’s a rubber sex doll purchased off the internet (the delusional Lars claims she's a missionary). But you know what? They see how happy she makes Lars, so they learn to accept her and bring her into the community – they even find her a part-time office job and have her 'reading' to the town’s schoolchildren. Turn the tone of Gillespie's film a fraction and this might be a horror movie, but remarkably it’s sweet and romantic.

Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson)

Boy meets vampire

Tomas Alfredson’s film looks on its surface to be a vampire movie, but as its devilishly clever title suggests, it’s about finding 'the one.' 12-year-old Oskar doesn’t seem picky. Eli, the new girl next door, may smell rotten and wander in the snow barefoot, but the only person Oskar is beating off with a stick is the kid who’s mercilessly bullying him at school. Even when she laps up his blood from a concrete floor he’s not put off. “Will you be my girlfriend?” Oskar asks Eli one night when she flies through his bedroom window, her face smeared with blood. “Oskar, I'm not a girl,” comes the reply. His response isn’t too dissimilar to the classic final line of Some Like it Hot. Nobody’s perfect – Oskar wants a girlfriend, and he’ll happily take Eli, even if she doesn’t have a pulse and has been 12 years old for a very long time.

A New Leaf (Elaine May)

Murderous golddigger meets girl

In Elaine May’s caustic black comedy, Walter Matthau plays Henry, an aging Manhattan dilettante whose lavish lifestyle has exhausted his trust fund. Broke and lazy, his only option is to marry well... and then off his new missus so he can return to his playboy ways. He finds the perfect mark in an obscenely wealthy botanist named Henrietta (played by May herself) who’s all green thumbs. Henry wins her heart by defending her from a snooty hostess who humiliates Henrietta for constantly spilling tea on her rug. "Madam," he says gallantly, "I have seen many examples of perversion in my time, but your erotic obsession with your carpet is probably the most grotesque and certainly the most boring I have ever encountered." In fact, Henry spends so much time defending his new wife – from her crooked lawyer and thieving servants – that he becomes quite fond of her by the time he gets round to murder. Most romantic comedies have the epiphany moment when our protagonist realises that the person they love has been under their nose all along. A New Leaf has that scene too, it's just that it happens mid-attempted drowning.

Something Wild (Jonathan Demme)

Boy meets wild girl

Like so many great screwballs (Bringing Up Baby, The Lady Eve, What’s Up Doc?), Something Wild involves a square colliding with a kook. Jeff Daniels plays Charlie, a straight-laced yuppie seduced by the wily charms of Melanie Griffith’s Lulu, a Louise Brooke look-a-like decked in African jewellry. Lulu convinces Charlie to blow off work for a wild weekend of kinky sex, low-level misdemeanors and harmless role play. The latter appears to be Lulu’s speciality, as she changes alter-ego several times throughout the movie. Delightfully, director Jonathan Demme plays the same trick, with his film flipping from featherlight screwball to heart-stopping thriller as seamlessly as Lulu changes hairdos. The catalyst for the switch is the appearance of Ray Liotta as Lulu’s estranged and deranged husband. A road movie full of unexpected left turns, we’re like Charlie: constantly trying to keep up. And, like Charlie, we fall head over heels.

Show Me Love (Lukas Moodysson)

Schoolgirl meets girl

Lukas Moodysson’s 1998 film follows the classic teen movie structure. Set in the Swedish town of Åmål, if follows a shy, awkward girl (Agnes) who has a major crush on her school’s cool, popular rebel without a cause. The difference is that the school’s social hierarchy isn’t all Agnes has to conquer. Her infatuation is with Elin, another girl. Given that youth culture in Åmål is a decade out of date (we see Elin lament that “rave is dead” before it ever came there) it’s safe to say the town is not ready for a teen lesbian romance. Swedish film fans were though: Show Me Love smashed Titanic, a slightly more bombastic take on star-crossed lovers, at the country's box-office. And that’s despite its less romantic Swedish title, Fucking Åmål.

Y Tu Mamá También (Alfonso Cuarón)

Boys meet girl

This exhilarating road movie has enough fart jokes and wanking gags to fool you into thinking you’re watching a Mexican take on American Pie, but Alfonso Cuarón’s gorgeous fourth feature is actually more like a class conscious Jules and Jim. Horny teenage pals Julio (Gael García Bernal) and Tenoch (Diego Luna) invite unhappily married Luisa (Maribel Verdu) on a road trip to a fabled beach. Both are clearly infatuated with the older woman and the journey becomes a hothouse of lust and jealousy, with Luisa in the driving seat. As entertaining and sexy as this racy romp is, the film’s richness comes from the vivid social commentary that’s quietly unspooling as the backdrop to the ménage à trois.