Valentine’s Day is nearly upon us. A day of chocolates and flowers, gifts and dinners. A time to celebrate that most cherished emotion: love. It is a day for couples and there in lies the problem.
What is a single guy or gal, bloke or bird meant to do on this day of love? Certainly, there’s always sitting on a couch in a raggy pair of pajamas eating ice cream straight out of the carton with a rather large spoon while watching Meg Ryan, Katherine Hepburn, Hugh Grant, Cary Grant and all the rest fall in love. Yes, this is the depressing image that society has branded the singleton with.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. For those of us without significant others, we do not have to be stuck watching Rick tell Ilsa, “Here’s looking at you, kid” for the umpteenth time. Seeking cinematic escape doesn’t necessitate watching the typical tear inducing tried and true. We have options.
As loyal readers of this blog know, I have nothing against romantic comedies (for further reading see my article on chick flicks and my review of “The Holiday”), but on Valentine’s Day there’s a sting to these films that leads to too many unhelpful questions: Why can’t I have that kind of love? What is wrong with me? Why is my box of tissues empty?
Valentine’s Day is a holiday of love, but love doesn’t have to be purely romantic. There’s something magical about simply connecting with someone in a way you can’t explain, and yet still feel deeply.
To meet or know someone and share a moment where you feel united intellectually, emotionally or spiritually is an extraordinary thing. At its core, that’s what Valentine’s Day should be about. It is films that embrace that idea that should be sought out by the singleton on Valentine’s Day.
Richard Linklater’s double feature of “Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset” hits the spot quite nicely. They are films that are romantic, but don’t follow the formulas of the typical fare that we are told we should be watching on Valentine’s Day.
In “Sunrise” an American man (Ethan Hawke) and French woman (Julie Delpy) meet on a train and based on an initial spark decide to spend a night wandering around Vienna before having to go back to their respective lives. In “Sunset” the two meet by chance in Paris nine years later and pick up where they left off.
Both films are essentially non-stop dialogue as they discuss love, life, and death in ways that are intelligent, witty and natural. There’s a rhythm and flow to the dialogue that feels authentic. These are sort of conversations you know you’ve had yourself, or that you wish you could have. The films get the little details right, the awkward pauses and uncertain gestures, and capture the essence of meeting someone and feeling an inexplicable bond.
Similarly, Sophia Coppola’s “Lost in Translation” depicts that same hard to explain connection with a stranger. Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson’s characters meet in a hotel bar in Japan and can sense that they are at the same emotional place, albeit from different stations in life. They are able to commiserate and find comfort through each other in surroundings that are unfamiliar.
It is a quiet, slow and largely plotless film, which, for some, makes it difficult to get into. As a society we are trained to have our films, TV and literature follow the reliable three-act structure, but “Lost in Translation” breaks from that and our expectation for the plot’s set up.
Murray and Johansson don’t fall in love, not in the traditional movie sense at least. They don’t have sex, and they don’t run off together. They simply share their time, knowing it is special, important and life altering.
Another worthy choice is Zach Braff’s “Garden State.” It is a bit of tearjerker, but like the above films it is about meeting and wanting to spend time with someone for reasons you don’t necessarily understand.
Braff’s character returns home for his mom’s funeral and for the first time in years is un-medicated. Through meeting Natalie Portman and reconnecting with a high school buddy (Peter Sarsgaard) he begins to come out of an emotional malaise.
For all its quirky charm “Garden State” has a message that is sincere. The film is a reminder of how important it is to let people into your life, even if it is sometimes painful. Although the main pairing is a romantic one, the message transcends that.
Cameron Crowe’s “Elizabethtown,” which was unjustly panned by most critics, takes the same premise as “Garden State.” Orlando Bloom returns home for his dad’s funeral and is changed by meeting Kristen Dunst. It is sort of convenient that these broken guys always seem to find these free spirited girls at the right time, but I suppose it is a male fantasy come true.
What allows these encounters to work though is that they don’t fall into male sex fantasy. There’s an honest exploration of the excitement of meeting someone new. What keeps both “Garden State” and “Elizabethtown” interesting is that these meeting occur during a grieving process. There’s a sense of hope coming out of pain and of a chance for renewal.
As a single guy living alone, these are the films I am drawn to as Valentine’s Day approaches. I watch them and look at my own life and I am happy to know that even if I don’t have a significant other, that I am significant to someone. I can think back on all the times I’ve shared with friends and family and feel loved.