Oh, great. It’s that special day again.
Valentine’s Day always seems to creep up on us, after we’ve already been pummelled by a few months of freezing temperatures, ice-covered roads, fleeting sunlight and the kind of cold monotony that convinced most provinces in Canada to create a statutory holiday, called Family Day in most places, for people sick of suffering through February.
And while Valentine’s Day obviously brings warmth and joy to some couples, you probably know more than a few people who cringe at the sight of sugary heart-shaped treats, overpriced bouquets of roses and cheesy greeting cards. Maybe you’re one of them.
So, for everyone that hates the mainstream, Hollywood version of Valentine’s Day, we’ve decided to use this edition of Stream This to recommend some Netflix movies that take a different perspective on romance – a darker, more nuanced look. Push aside the lovey-dovey stuff and add these titles to your viewing list:
BLUE VALENTINE (2010):
You should never watch this one on a first date – or even on your tenth date, to be honest. Director Derek Cianfrance’s devastating look at a crumbling marriage stars Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, who own the screen as a pair of small-town kids that get married young. Cianfrance juxtaposes the lovers’ courting in New York City – where you realize that Gosling really knows his way around a ukulele – with the ending of their marriage a few years later. It’s very difficult to watch, and the pain will linger with you. But the acting makes it worthwhile.
This is the kind of movie that will make you swear off entering a relationship. Mike Nichols’ 2004 adaptation of the Patrick Marber play features four selfish, insensitive Londoners – two men and two women – who use love and sex to rip each other apart. The movie earned both Natalie Portman and Clive Owen Academy Award nominations, and brought Irish folk musician Damien Rice to a wider audience. Even though it’s been over a decade since this movie hit theatres, it’s tough to forget that sexually explicit argument between Owen and Julia Roberts, the one that ends with “now f— off and die.” How can one conversation be so perverted and angry at the same time?
AMERICAN BEAUTY (1999):
It’s never a bad idea to rewatch this 1999 satire of the North American middle class. Obviously, the relationship between the characters played by Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening has fizzled – they have zero sexual contact, Spacey’s Lester Burnham pursues his daughter’s cheerleader friend and Bening’s Carolyn embarks on an affair. But writer Alan Ball and director Sam Mendes plant multiple layers of meaning in the story, and you’ll likely be discussing the various themes with your significant other afterwards. Even though Wes Bentley’s character Ricky has been parodied in pop culture – you know, with the plastic bag floating in the wind – it’s tough not to feel inspired by his appreciation of beauty in everyday life.
UNDER THE SKIN (2013):
This is the kind of movie that surprised a lot of people when it came out. Sure, Scarlett Johansson gets naked in a few scenes, but it’s about a lot more than that. Johansson plays an alien seductress who preys on vulnerable men in Scotland, driving a cargo van around the country’s west coast, picking up victims and making their bodies disappear. Eventually, something happens to make her question everything. The haunting visuals and subtle storytelling will leave you with a lot to think about afterwards.