These are movies that treat love as a four-letter word; that bring Cupid down with a rocket launcher.
Are you lovesick? And by that I mean are you sick of love—especially the way it’s idealized and romanticized? Does the mere sight of mushy movie posters, like the one for Safe Haven—the latest dollop of romantic goop from Nicholas (The Notebook) Sparks, strategically opening Valentine’s Day—make you want to toss your cookies? Then chances are that you’ve had some recent unhappy experience with love, and the last thing you need at this time of year is to watch films that celebrate it. Fortunately, there are cinematic cures for all kinds of love-gone-bad. The following are a few choice flicks that offer sober, if not cynical, views on the most glorified of emotions. These are movies that treat love as a four-letter word; that bring Cupid down with a rocket launcher. Take a dose of the one that best fits your situation. Repeat if necessary.
To help you face the fact that she/he was just not that into you: Few films have captured unrequited love’s euphoric highs and despairing lows as accurately or as funnily as the roller-coaster anti–romcom (500) Days of Summer (2009). Joseph Gordon-Levitt is at his hangdog best as a greeting-card writer in thrall to a lovely, maddening fellow employee (played with charming elusiveness by Zooey Deschanel). He’s head-over-heels; she kinda-sorta likes him. His desperate efforts to pin down the exact nature of their relationship are like trying to lasso a butterfly. This is a movie for any lover who has been on the receiving end of those dagger-to-the-heart breakup words, “But you’re still my best friend.”
To show you that marriage can be a blood sport: Richard Burton’s recently published diaries reveal that during his marriage to Elizabeth Taylor, the two of them fought almost daily. It was excellent training for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1966), a scorching screen adaptation of Edward Albee’s play. As George and Martha, a middle-aged couple drowning in booze and disappointments, Liz and Dick sling vicious insults at each other like vials of acid. For an evening’s entertainment, they rope in a naïve young couple (George Segal and Sandy Dennis) and proceed to savage them, too. By the end, the sad secrets at the heart of both relationships have been exposed. This film should be mandatory viewing before applying for a marriage licence.
To remind you that love-and-marriage is overrated: The Cinderella myth takes it on the chin in Lola Versus (2012), an unjustly maligned comedy that subverts its romcom conventions. The inimitable Greta Gerwig is Lola, a grad student on the verge of 30, whose long-time boyfriend-turned-fiancé (Joel Kinnaman) suddenly gets cold feet. When he dumps her, Lola’s initial response is to go fetal and gorge on potato chips. Her next is to try and make him jealous by sleeping with their mutual male best friend (Hamish Linklater). After bottoming out emotionally and alienating all her pals, she comes to the startling conclusion that maybe trying to be a better person is more important than finding your prince.
To help you remember that romantic fantasies are just that—fantasies: In Lina Wertmüller’s sex-and-politics comedy Swept Away… (1974), Giancarlo Giannini plays a poor communist sailor harassed by Mariangela Melato’s rich-bitch capitalist—until the two are stranded on a desert island and she has to rely on his survival skills. Over time, their mutual loathing morphs into torrid love, as they begin to play out a primitive domination-and-submission relationship. But when the sailor thinks they can take that Neanderthal arrangement back to civilization, he gets a rude shock. As a date movie, this Italian classic is more likely to have couples arguing than snuggling.
And for the ultimate Valentine’s buzzkill: If you have the vague romantic notion that Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious and his girlfriend Nancy Spungen were punk-rock’s Romeo and Juliet, then Alex Cox’s determinedly grotty Sid and Nancy (1986) will set you straight. On their first date, Gary Oldman’s skeletal Sid winds up puking in the loo while Chloe Webb’s pudgy Nancy hands him toilet paper. On their second date, he sucks her dirty toes. She’s a whiny shrew; he stumbles about semi-comatose on heroin and walks through glass doors. It all ends in a murder-suicide scenario as messy and stupid as their lives. “Love kills,” sings Joe Strummer as the end credits roll. By then, you’ll find yourself feeling pretty good about being single.