by Susan Cohen
I spent Valentine's Day 2010 in bed with my at-the-time boyfriend, watching Peter Jackson's Dead Alive. We cuddled up in front of his laptop as evil rat monkeys terrorized old ladies and zombie fists burst through skulls. It was so romantic.
OK, so in the overall scheme of Valentine's Days, it wasn't incredibly traditional. It wasn't even like we were planning on it; the BF had come down with a stomach bug the night before and had spent the entire day puking and shitting. But ultimately, I'd probably rather watch a gore fest than the latest Katherine Heigl flick on this miserable, lovey-dovey day.
I'm not a big fan of romantic films, but I'm not entirely jaded. If either When Harry Met Sally or Sleepless in Seattle is on TV, I am definitely going to watch it. No exceptions. Though if I had to choose between the two, I'd probably pick the latter, since Tom Hanks is way more attractive than Billy Crystal. Plus that kid is just so darn cute.
But The Notebook? Ick. Bridget Jones's Diary? Gag me. And I'll pass on about 75 percent of all Julia Roberts films or anything with Kate Hudson that's not Almost Famous.
Still, every once in a while, a movie can melt even the blackest of hearts. Woody Allen used to know what he was doing, and the '80s in particular gave us a lot of winners. John Hughes really knew how to make a rom-com, which has left me vainly searching for my own Jake Ryan from Sixteen Candles or Blane from Pretty in Pink. Seriously, where are they?
Those are just the basics. There are plenty of realistically sappy films out there that Lifetime and AMC aren't going to run on Monday.
All the Real Girls is the kind of movie that sticks with you. Written and directed by David Gordon Green, it stars Paul Schneider and a young Zooey Deschanel before she became the cloying, She and Him, 500 Days of Summer, Ben Gibbard-marrying Zooey Deschanel that we know today. Schneider plays the town man-whore who has to deal with his reputation when he falls in love with Deschanel's character (who happens to be his best friend's younger sister). Green is probably best known for making Pineapple Express, but he started out making a lot of simplistically beautiful and sad films. Despite the lead characters' faults, there's a genuine sensitivity to them that makes even their worst flaws forgivable.
Another great one is Totally Fucked Up by Gregg Araki, one of the seminal directors of the '90s New Queer Cinema. The plot itself is about being young and gay and what relationships and sex have to do with that. You have a whole range of situations here: committed lesbians, the faltering couple, the promiscuous boy, and the single guy jaded by casual sex who just wants someone to love him. It's one of the most sincere films I've ever seen. It has extremely low and experimental production values, is told in multiple chapters, and stars the guy who played Frank the Bunny in Donnie Darko. But it's obviously not for everyone. Especially not homophobes.
Finally, I'm pretty sure no one's ever seen 1991's Dogfight, which sucks because it's really good. River Phoenix plays a soldier about to be shipped off to Vietnam, spending weekend leave in San Francisco. He and his buddies decide to hold a "dogfight." They each have to find the ugliest woman they can and bring her to a specific bar, and the winner gets a bunch of money. Phoenix picks up awkward waitress Lili Taylor and, in traditional romantic film fashion, realizes he's being a jerk and falls in love with her. While normally such a plot device would piss me off, their relationship develops — over the course of one night — in such a natural way that you can actually believe it.
I don't currently have any plans for Valentine's Day. I predict the evening will involve more drinking-to-dull-the-pain than movie-watching, but if you're headed to Blockbuster, know that you have more options than to stare at Heigl's shit-eating grin.
However, this is all coming from a girl who actually saw He's Just Not That Into You in theaters. So maybe you shouldn't trust me.