So it’s Valentine’s Day. Two years ago you and your lover took the Concorde to Paris for dinner, champagne and a moonlit walk under the Eiffel Tower. Last year you got Harry Connick Jr. to serenade you both as you picnicked in the outfield of Yankee Stadium. So this year, you’ve definitely earned a break. It’s time to order a pizza and rent a romantic movie. But… Oh no! All the classics are already taken! So with An Affair to Remember, Before Sunrise and Love, Actually out of the equation, you’re left wandering the videostore, or at least your Netflix queue, wondering what your other options are.
Or maybe you’re just like me, single on the most romantic night of the year, drowning your sorrows in mint chocolate chip ice cream and booze, and thoroughly unsold on the conventional love stories Hollywood repeatedly markets to boundless optimists. Either way, you’re going to need an unconventional romance right now, so here are my picks for three of the four best ever made. (The fourth was stolen for her own list by Julia Rhodes, who unlike me probably has a date this weekend. Grumble-grumble…)
The Palm Beach Story (dir. Preston Sturges, 1942)
So you won the girl’s heart, overcame all obstacles and survived a wacky wedding that almost didn’t happen. Now what? Preston Sturges’ delightful screwball comedy about what happens after all the other screwball comedies ended shows that marriage can be just as ridiculous and exciting as the courtship process. Joel McRea and Claudette Colbert married for love, but now the bills are piling up and hopeless dreamer McRea’s brilliant idea to build an airport suspended over a metropolitan city on a giant net (saving time on airport commutes) just can’t get an investor. Colbert loves him so much that she tries to divorce him and marry the super wealthy John D. Hackensacker III (Rudy Vallee), so that she can convince her new husband to fund the old one’s crazy schemes. Then McRea tries to ruin the courtship, only to accidentally woo Hackensacker’s sister The Princess Centimillia (Mary Astor). Everyone loves everyone else, and the only thing better than the final twist that brilliantly wraps up every loose end is the breathless first scene, my favorite opening sequence of all time.
The Fly (dir. David Cronenberg, 1986)
Can’t find a copy of Arthur Hiller’s Love Story, starring Ryan Reynolds and Ali McGraw? Pick up David Cronenberg’s equally beautiful and tragic The Fly instead. Both films feature two young lovers who should be polar opposites but quickly fall in love, only to have that love quickly tested when one of them falls deathly ill. Will Veronica (Geena Davis) stay by Seth’s (Jeff Goldblum’s) side, or will the sight of Seth spewing acidic pus from his gums be too much for her to take? When Veronica discovers that she’s pregnant, will she abort the child because it may inherit Seth’s deadly condition, or can he convince her to carry a potential carrier of a life-threatening condition to term because it represents the last vestige of his old life, and the only future he has to look forward to? Seriously, compared to drama like that, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry” just feels trite.
Home Fries (dir. Dean Parisot, 1998)
Have you ever said to yourself, “I like romantic comedies, but I wish they had more attack helicopters?” If that’s the case, it’s time you saw Home Fries. Written by Vince Gilligan (who went on to create the Emmy award-winning TV series “Breaking Bad”) and directed by Dean Parisot (who went on to direct the modern comedy classic Galaxy Quest), Home Fries stars Luke Wilson and Jake Busey as two Momma’s Boys who scare their father to death in their badass helicopters after learning he was cheating on their needy and manipulative mother (Catherine O’Hara) with an adorable fast food drive-thru operator played by Drew Barrymore. When O’Hara convinces her two boys to find, and kill, the homewrecker who destroyed their “perfect” family, it’s up to Wilson, who has fallen in love with the mother of his father’s child, to save the day without breaking his mother’s heart, and sometimes while wearing a goofy spaceman costume. It’s as weird as it sounds. It’s also funny as hell, and genuinely adorable.