Pop quiz, Hot Shot: if your goal were to charm your newest flame at the start of your first date together the more appropriate gift would be (a) a dozen roses or (b) the bloody severed head of your arch nemesis. Give up? The answer is a dozen roses. If you answered “your enemy’s head”, you have either transported here from some three thousand year old barbaric tribe and/or you’re being an ignorant smartass. Romance is important in life. And you’re missing out on excellent films if you ignore the genre. (No, porn doesn’t count.)
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I was 12 in 1997 when I saw As Good As It Gets in a theater. It was the first romance film I’d gone to see, and I remember understanding then how beautiful an idea it was that even drastically different people, quite imperfect in their own respective ways, could agree on love. That’s what a great romance movie does — it teaches us about what love is and what it can be, trumpeting love’s highs and lows to reassure us that our own real life exploits are survivable while giving us dreams to aspire to. This message is what makes the genre so profound. This message makes these films important; it makes them undeserving of the flippant treatment many a guy (and many a gal, truth be told) give them.
Unfortunately, romances are also too often the most saccharine bits of cinema: disappointing and forgettable “chick flicks”. Those are schlock so sugary and off-putting that I wouldn’t pour them on my worst enemy’s pancakes (just before severing his head, natch). So inundated are we with overly cheesy bullshit like Valentine’s Day and Gigli that the entire category has sort of soured to many of us. While great romance films portray the truth — love is almost never perfect — bad romances give the genre a bad name by misrepresenting and skewing reality, by claiming that love is always fireworks and happy endings.
An entire genre of film simply cannot jump the shark and become uniformly awful — there will always be gems to redeem the chaff, and Romance is no exception.
But do we let one bad burger spoil Five Guys forever? The answer this time is a resounding no, and the lesson is to not generalize. There are shitty movies in every genre, but I refuse to let that fourth Indiana Jones abomination ruin Raiders for me. (For the record, the worst part of Crystal Skull is Shia The Beef.) An entire genre of film simply cannot jump the shark and become uniformly awful. There will always be gems to redeem the chaff, and romance is no exception. If you write off romance movies because Ben Affleck garnered a 6% on Rotten Tomatoes, you’re doing it wrong, you dumb idiot.
While we’re on the subject of romance: it’s important not to write off a romantic gesture here and there because you like to think you’re too manly to be vulnerable and show someone you care. There be glory and riches in vulnerability, lads. There is so much to gain from expressing yourself to a loved one. But be warned: I’m not recommending you go totally overboard. Example: just this week I was expressly (and genuinely) forbidden from showing up on a certain doorstep with “cue cards”. (If you don’t get the reference, get to our list of films at once.) So don’t necessarily take your own cues straight from the celluloid; instead, find inspiration in the language and the happiness that’s proclaimed in a Romance film and sprinkle it into your life from time to time.
Some of the greatest films ever produced have been about love and relationships. And if you want to get deep, no films are not about relationships of some kind. Some of the funniest films are romantic (like When Harry Met Sally); some of the darkest are as well (check out What Dreams May Come). Many of the films on our other “best” lists are borderline romance films themselves, and for a good reason: love is likely the best reason we humans have to go on living day after day. Granted, I mean love in a more general sense there, but the romantic love these movies represent is part and parcel of the grander experience. It’s also one of the better kinds of love because it’s fun, feels incredible, hurts infinitely. Is there a worse feeling than enduring a bad break up? A better feeling than falling at first sight?
And that’s what makes romance films so important. The best ones capture the essence and experience of love — the wonderment, the warmth, the commitment, the heartache, the loss — and convey it artfully. They don’t have to be date movies, either. The main event doesn’t need to be loaded with all sort of mushy bullshit to make it a proper cinematic adventure. The good ones are standalone films just as much as the next great flick. In fact, the day after Thanksgiving three years ago I sat alone on my couch in boxers, hungover, watching The Proposal from start to finish without moving once. Now, granted, that film didn’t come close to making the list, but my point is it wasn’t horrid to watch a film about love. It never is when the flick is great. That’s why I will still watch As Good As It Gets and quote it the whole way through.
I’m here to proclaim that I’ve endured romance cinema, survived it and that I firmly recommend it. You might learn something. You might enjoy yourself. You don’t have to be the sensitive type to appreciate love, and you don’t have to be willing to sniffle and cry for two hours to enjoy a romance movie. You just have to be willing to admit the subject matter is engrossing, honest and as crucial to cinema as it is to life. Now please pass the popcorn and the tissues.